Employers are to be asked to endorse the vocational qualifications they believe are the best, it has been announced.
The new qualifications will become known as Tech Levels and will have the same status as an A-level, the DfE said, and will count towards the government's new Technical Baccalaureate – not a qualification but a measure to be used in league tables from this autumn.
Under the move, exam boards will be asked to show the quality of the qualifications they offer by winning support from businesses or universities with ministers saying it would give young people information on which courses offered them good job prospects.
Skills minister Matthew Hancock says: "Tech Levels will recognise rigorous and responsive technical education. High-quality rigorous vocational education is essential to future prosperity, and the life chances of millions.
"Because technical education is so important, it is vital the qualifications young people take are stretching, high-quality and support their aspirations.
"These reforms are unashamedly aspirational and will ensure Tech Levels help people into apprenticeships and jobs."
Only those qualifications which have public backing will be included in school league tables from 2016, the Department for Education (DfE) said.
Vocational courses that lead to recognised occupations, for example in areas such as engineering or hospitality, will need to be endorsed by five employers registered with Companies House or professional organisations.
Other vocational courses that are not directly linked to a particular industry will need the support of three universities, and will have to be at least the equivalent size of an AS-level, the DfE said.
To achieve the Government’s TechBacc, 16 to 19-year-olds in England will have to complete a programme of three separate courses, including a Tech Level, a maths course, and the ''extended project'' – an existing qualification designed to test skills such as writing, communication and research.
“This is very welcome news which will hopefully boost the number of students taking up engineering apprenticeships,” says Peter Finegold, head of education at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.
“Current forecasts suggest that the UK needs to double the number of people taking up engineering careers by 2020 in order to avoid a severe skills shortage. Many industry leaders started their working lives as skilled apprentices and we would expect Tech-levels to produce many of tomorrow’s successful business leaders.
“But while this is a welcome step, much more needs to be done to encourage students at an earlier age. Every young person needs face-to-face sustained careers support from professionals who understand the breadth of opportunities in engineering and technology.
“This means that there needs to be much closer links between schools and colleges and industry – in particular local employers.”
Neil Carberry, CBI director of employment and skills, says: "The litmus test is that Tech Levels offer the gold-standard training that employers want, while not being seen as second-class. Courses must have stretching subject knowledge; rigorous assessment; hard-nosed practical experience, and be a stepping stone to a great career.
"It's right that businesses will have a strong voice in Tech Levels' design but they need to command respect across entire sectors. We must make sure the approval process can show broad industry backing, using subject panels and sector bodies not just a handful of firms."
Shadow minister for young people Tristram Hunt says: "After three years of the Government downgrading vocational education, there are almost a million young people unemployed.
"It's no surprise that David Cameron and Michael Gove are now desperately playing catch up while Labour sets the agenda on skills. It is right that pupils have a choice of taking new vocational courses, but Michael Gove needs to reassure parents that it will be a gold standard to sit alongside A-levels and not an afterthought.
"Labour's plans for a Tech Bacc would ensure that pupils do rigorous vocational courses accredited by employers, English and Maths to 18 and a quality work experience placement."