Ed Miliband is due to highlight his own education at a London comprehensive school as he promises a shake-up of vocational qualifications to help the "forgotten 50%" of children who do not go to university.
In his keynote speech to Labour's annual conference in Manchester, Mr Miliband will propose a new Technical Baccalaureate offering work experience, school-based vocational training and academic courses in English and Maths up to the age of 18, coupled with a boost to apprenticeships which could see 100,000 extra entry-level posts created.
Aides said the TechBacc represented the biggest change to vocational education in England in decades, creating a "gold standard" qualification to stand alongside A-levels.
Under the TechBacc system, even teenagers who have failed English and maths at 16 would continue to study the subject to 18. Unlike current vocational courses, a young person studying to be - for example - a hairdresser would learn not only how to do a trim but how to keep the salon's books and communicate with customers.
Association of Colleges chief executive Martin Doel said: "We watch with interest the Labour leader's proposals for a technical baccalaureate and welcome the concept. It is important that all young people have an opportunity to succeed in a way that best suits their ambitions and learning styles. We particularly welcome his recognition that many young people do not go to university and seek other avenues.
"Many students who attend colleges to study vocational qualifications gain high-quality positions or progress to higher education already. In order to meet Ed Miliband's aims of building a country where vocational qualifications are not seen as second-class certificates - a view we would refute - the further education sector is ideally placed and can offer substantial experience and success."
Professor Alison Wolf, who conducted a review of vocational education for the Government last year, welcomed an "emerging consensus" on the need for maths and English teaching to 18. She said: "I was very pleased when the coalition Government accepted all the recommendations of my review. I have also been delighted and impressed by the speed with which they are being implemented, including specifically those relating to English and maths for 16 to 18-year-olds, which have now gone into effect.
"I was, therefore, also pleased to learn, from the reports on the Labour Conference, that there is finally an emerging consensus in this country on the critical importance of maths and English in the modern labour market, and for the whole population."
Chris Keates, general secretary of teaching union NASUWT, said: "The NASUWT welcomes the fact that this announcement has not only opened up the important debate about the future of the qualifications system, it has the potential to address the scandal of over one million unemployed young people.
"Ed Miliband's proposals are seeking to give greater status to vocational qualifications, which the Secretary of State has condemned as second-class. Labour will need to ensure that the Technical Baccalaureate has parity of esteem with academic qualifications. Labour should be bold and radical in developing proposals for reform in order to develop a coherent national qualifications framework that values equally all forms of learning, both academic and vocational."