Schools will face being penalised by the education watchdog unless pupils take a set of "core" academic GCSEs under Tory plans.
State schools will be urged to enrol all pupils for GCSEs in English, maths, science, a language and history or geography, with Ofsted banned from awarding its highest ratings to those which refuse.
The Sunday Telegraph said under the plans Ofsted would not be able to give a "good" or "outstanding" rating to schools which did not enrol pupils on the English baccalaureate subjects.
"We want students to be able to keep their options open for as long as possible in terms of what they are going to do after school or college," Education Secretary Nicky Morgan told the newspaper.
"In selective schools or schools with a low proportion of free school meals, that is what they are already doing.
"But that is not always happening in less advantaged areas."
She added: "These core academic subjects offer children great opportunities. They are what universities are looking for."
Mrs Morgan, who replaced Michael Gove at the Department for Education in the reshuffle, said her job was to implement the sweeping changes made by the "great reforming secretary of state" who preceded her.
She said academies and free schools - championed by Mr Gove - were "a very important part of the programme, but they are a part, and there are still many maintained schools".
"If schools want to convert (to academy status), we will support them and help them through the process. But what I want to get across is a recognition that there are still a significant number of maintained schools."