Ministers have unveiled proposals for a back-to-basics curriculum focusing on times-tables, spelling, reading and arithmetic but a union leader warned it would lead to an unexciting "uniform education" for children.

New draft curricula for English, maths and science in primary schools were published by the government today, which it says will help to boost standards.

Under the plans, pupils will be expected to memorise their times tables up to 12 by age nine, multiply and divide fractions by age 11 and begin to learn and recite poetry at five years old.

But the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) raised concerns that politicians had presented a "heavily prescribed curriculum" that will leave little chance for teachers to excite children and adapt lessons to suit their pupils.

ATL general secretary Dr Mary Bousted said: "The detailed programmes of study will lead to a uniform education, with next to no opportunity for teachers to excite children and adapt learning to suit their pupils in their local area, developing the skills they need for life, future education and work. ATL believes that the curriculum must help all children learn and develop."

Others said the new proposals contained some good suggestions, but warned that publishing details for the new primary curriculum is only half the picture.

Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) said: "We welcome the emphasis on English and maths at primary as these are the building blocks of secondary education. The proposals appear to be a development of the current curriculum rather than a radical change, but it is clear that it will be more rigorous.

"There are still many unanswered questions about how it will look in the classroom and our full response to the primary proposals will depend what the secondary proposals look like."

Lightman said it was "unfortunate" that the primary programmes had been published before a final decision had been made about the secondary curriculum.

"There needs to be continuity between what happens at primary and secondary and, without joined up thinking, many of the issues with transition to secondary school will remain," he said.

Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), said: "In our minds, the curriculum review is perhaps the most significant reform yet, and one with great potential to affect standards."

He added: "There is no doubt these programmes are more demanding, particularly in maths and grammar.

"It is appropriate to express high expectations in a statement of curriculum aims, but schools will need time and support to develop their teaching to reach those aims.

"Let's ensure that these programmes become a source of inspiration rather than a cause of desperation for schools."

The Department for Education (DfE) said that the new plans, which are being published for informal consultation before a formal process later this year, are designed to "restore rigour in what primary school children are taught in maths and science."

In maths, pupils will be expected to know all their times tables up to 12 times 12 by age nine, whereas under the current system they should know up to 10 times 10 by the end of primary school.

By the age of seven, children will be expected to have memorised all so-called "number bonds" - simple addition and subtraction sums such as 9+9=18 or 15-6=9 - up to 20.

And by the time they finish primary school at age 11, children will be expected to be able to add, subtract, multiply and divide fractions and decimals.

Many of these topics are not covered by the current curriculum, which means that pupils struggle when they get to secondary school and do not have the right grounding for more difficult concepts such as algebra, the DfE said.

The new science curriculum calls for pupils to be taught topics such as static electricity, magnetism and the basic parts of a simple electrical circuit.

The solar system and galaxies, which are not in the current curriculum for primary schools, are also included, as well as life cycles, including reproduction, the human circulatory system and evolution.

Pupils will also be expected to learn about the lives of key scientific figures such as Charles Darwin, Sir Isaac Newton, the Wright Brothers and David Attenborough.

The new English curriculum contains for the first time a compulsory spelling list for children in Years 5 and 6, including words such as Europe, receipt, syrup, villain and wizard.

Five-year-olds will be expected to start to learn and recite poetry by heart, with six and seven-year-olds "building up a repertoire of poems learnt by heart"

There is also a stronger emphasis on reading for pleasure with children from Year 1 "becoming very familiar with key stories, fairy stories and traditional tales".

A spokesman for Education Secretary Michael Gove said that children had been "let down on the basics" by the current curriculum, with the UK falling behind other nations.

"The new curriculum will raise standards for all and equip children better for secondary school."

Ministers have also announced proposals to make foreign languages compulsory from the age of seven, with schools potentially offering lessons in Mandarin, Latin and Greek as well as Spanish, German and French.

The proposals also say that ministers plan to scrap the national curriculum levels system.

These levels are used to grade children; for example, level 4 is the standard expected of a pupil by the end of primary school.

There is no decision on what form of grading there may be in the future, the DfE said.

In a letter to Tim Oates, chair of the expert panel on the curriculum, Mr Gove said some form of grading of pupils' achievement in English, maths and science will be required.

Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers (NUT), said: "Much of what is in the proposals can already be seen in schools. Children learn poems, do mental arithmetic and learn grammar. By making this prescriptive along with a whole raft of other requirements, Michael Gove's cries for 'freedom' and 'choice' in the way teachers teach are ringing increasingly hollow."

She added: "Whilst the abandonment of awarding of 'levels' may be positive, we await the detail of what 'grading' will look like. The creation of league tables on the basis of 'grades' poses as many problems of teaching to the test as those based on 'levels'."