Literacy and numeracy is taught daily in primary schools
One in 14 pupils left school in England last year without sitting a GCSE in English and maths, figures obtained by the Conservatives show.
Some 44,101 pupils did not attempt the exam in either subject, ministers revealed in answer to question from Shadow Schools Secretary Michael Gove.
Schools face a target of ensuring at least 30% of pupils get five good GCSEs including both English and maths.
A £200m package has been announced to raise all schools above this threshold.
Mr Gove said these figures revealed a less optimistic picture of standards in secondary schools.
"Every year tens of thousands of students are not even sitting the core GCSE subjects of English and maths that they need to continue studying or get a job.
"The government is failing our children and it is those in the poorest areas that are missing out.
"We urgently need to improve these schools - with tried and tested teaching methods and more setting by ability so the brightest are stretched and others get the targeted help they need - so that future generations donít get left behind."
The Department for Children, Schools and Families said no school should accept low attainment as the status quo and that teachers would be supported to make long-lasting change.