Gordon Brown has pledged to eradicate failure from England's schools, saying those which let children down will be taken over or closed.
He said local authorities would be encouraged to use new powers to intervene in "failing" schools.
Britain needed to do more to close the achievement gap between children from different backgrounds, he said.
And he announced plans to overhaul the apprenticeship system to make training more widely available.
Minimum standards in England's schools would be raised over the next five years, with all schools needing to have 30% of their pupils achieving five high grade GCSEs by 2012-13 including English and maths, the prime minister announced.
Schools which failed to meet that target could face being taken over by interim management boards, or by other successful schools including independent schools, or being turned into academies.
"We can no longer tolerate failure," he said.
He outlined his vision for education: "No longer acceptable for any school to fail its pupils, no longer acceptable for young people to drop out of education without good qualifications without us acting.
all schools must have 30% of pupils achieving five A*-C grade GCSEs including English and maths, or face intervention and possible closure
raise status of teaching, with more opportunities for professional development to have the best teachers in the world in a generation
single biggest determinant of a child's educational achievement is parental engagement so schools must do more to maximise this
every child should aspire to an apprenticeship or to higher education, with new grants and placement system for advanced apprenticeships.
"No more toleration of second best in Britain - no more toleration of second best for Britain."
He said the number of failing schools has dropped dramatically in the past decade.
In 1997 more than 600 secondary schools in England had fewer than 25% of children getting five or more good GCSEs including English and maths. Now there were only 26.
But statistics showed there were still 670 schools where fewer than 30% of pupils attained this benchmark level.
He promised: "We will put in place a systematic plan of ever tougher measures for eradicating failure".
Mr Brown talked of the need for greater parental engagement with schools and children's learning.
That was the "single biggest determinant" of a child's achievement at school, he said.
Parental involvement in schools is key to pupil success, Brown said
Schools would be encouraged to give more feedback, through regular e-mails, meetings and more parents' sessions at key transition points for children, such as discussing the next stages in learning or new goals.
Mr Brown also outlined his aim to have the best teachers in the world in a generation, with a new focus on recruitment of the brightest and best, and continuing professional development.
He pointed to countries seen as having top education systems - such as Finland and South Korea - and said Britain could learn lessons from them.
Gordon Brown highlighted a drive to increase vocational training.
He said every child should aspire either to an apprenticeship or to higher education, and that whatever choice they made, they would receive substantial financial support from the government.
He said there would be a new scheme to match students to potential employers offering apprenticeships, working along the lines of Ucas, the university places body.
Every 18-year old who found a prospective employer to take them on for an apprenticeship would be entitled to an advanced credit to meet the costs of their training, from £3,000 for some skilled jobs up to £15,000 for a high-cost sector like engineering.
The money would go to employers to fund the apprenticeships.
"Our final goal for world class education will be 100% success for young people making the transition from school to college, university and skilled work, the Prime Minister said.
"Every young person should know that they have something to aim for in their education.
"So at age 18 or 19, each should graduate from school, college or an apprenticeship with good qualifications or an apprenticeship certificate."
The need to raise aspirations of and for children was central to Mr Brown's speech.
Giving children good opportunities would only lead to greater achievement if they had high aspirations for themselves.
He told of a primary school in a former mining area where the head teacher - who had been at the school for 35 years - said in that time she could only remember six children eventually going on to university.
Head teachers represented by the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) said schools had been vilified by the language of failure for two decades and it was time for a change.
Mick Brookes, the general secretary of the NAHT said: "We call on parents, children and young people to unite in getting behind their school to maintain their right to a good education which is crucial to life chances.
"Children must insist on their right to a learning environment that promotes success, and have zero tolerance of peers who try to take away that right by constant disruption."
Steve Sinnott, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers said he welcomed the Prime Minister's vision of success for all, but said teachers now wanted to see "more flesh on the bones".
"Arbitrary targets accompanied by threats of school closure demoralise not motivate. The target which inspires is eradicating illiteracy amongst all young people," he said.
Shadow children's secretary Michael Gove said: "It's good that Gordon Brown has finally admitted we have a crisis in our schools.
"However, Gordon Brown's promise of a crackdown on failing schools is unfortunately no more believable than his promises of a crackdown on illegal immigration.
"A decade of top down targets has failed to raise achievement but all he offers today is more of the same."