Ministers are considering setting tougher numeracy and literacy targets when plans for exam reforms in England are published.
Pupils could be offered 'catch-up' classes in maths and English
Catch-up classes could also be introduced in England, skills minister Ivan Lewis told the Independent.
The government is expected to respond to Sir Mike Tomlinson's proposals to replace GCSEs and A-levels with a diploma within the next few weeks.
Mr Lewis promised a "ruthless drive" to raise English and maths standards.
This, he said, would apply to all students aged 11 to 19.
Government figures say 14.9 million adults in England lack the maths skills expected of 11-year-olds.
For literacy, the figure is 5.2 million.
The Tomlinson plans call for pupils to achieve basic levels of competence in the "core" subjects of maths, English and computing.
They would have to demonstrate competence in these, alongside knowledge of academic - or vocational - subjects, to pass the diploma.
Mr Lewis said: "A central feature of our response to Mike Tomlinson's report is a ruthless drive to improve literacy and numeracy, not just for 14- to 19-year-olds but 11- to 14-year olds as well."
The Confederation of British Industry has called for a target of 70% of pupils getting at least a grade C in GCSE maths and English.
Last year the figure was 44% overall - 40% of boys and 48% of girls.
The government is due publish a white paper on the Tomlinson proposals within the next eight weeks.
It is also bringing out a white paper on skills and a green paper on young people's needs.