A major parliamentary report has called for an urgent overhaul of secondary education in England that would reverse many of the Conservatives’ key educational changes of the past decade.

The House of Lords report says the education system for 11- to 16-year-olds is too focused on academic learning and written exams, resulting in too much learning by rote and not enough opportunity for pupils to pursue creative and technical subjects.

Published on Tuesday, the report also calls for the English baccalaureate, introduced by then education secretary Michael Gove as a school performance measure to encourage the uptake of a narrow suite of academic subjects, to be scrapped.

The government’s ambition was that 90% of year 10 pupils should enter the English baccalaureate, or Ebacc, by 2025. However, the criticism has been that in pursuing such a limited range of subjects there has been a dramatic decline in other subjects. “Opportunities to experience more practical, applied forms of learning have become increasingly limited, even though many pupils enjoy, and excel in, this way of acquiring knowledge and skills,” the report says.

The report also challenges the government’s focus on a “knowledge-rich” approach, complaining it has resulted in a curriculum that is “overburdened” with content, which is then examined by 25 to 30 hours of assessment at the end of year 11.

The criticisms by the Lords education for 11- to 16-year-olds cross-party committee echo many of the concerns raised over the years by school leaders, academics and unions in response to the series of changes introduced by the Conservative government.

The committee recommends instead that schools and teachers should be allowed to offer a more varied range of learning experiences, to help pupils develop a broader set of skills that will better meet the needs of a future digital and green economy. It says there should be more opportunities to study creative, cultural, vocational and technical subjects. Pupils should also have the option to take functional literacy and numeracy qualifications that are equal in value to GCSE English and maths.

The report also calls on the government to consider cutting the amount of external assessment undertaken by pupils during key stage 4 and introducing more non-exam assessments. It is also in favor of more on-screen assessments in GCSE exams.

“The evidence we have received is compelling,” said the former Conservative education minister Jo Johnson, who chairs the committee. “Change to the education system for 11- to 16-year-olds is urgently needed, to address an overloaded curriculum, a disproportionate exam burden and declining opportunities to study creative and technical subjects.”

Another member of the committee, the former education secretary Kenneth Baker, said dropping the EBacc would give schools greater freedom to decide which subjects they wanted to teach. “There has been a tremendous drop in technical subjects – design and technology entries have dropped by between 70% and 80% in the last 13 years and many cultural subjects, such as drama, performing arts, music, dance, have dropped by 50% , at a time when there is now a huge demand from the creative sector and a boom in the entertainment industry,” Lord Baker said.

Daniel Kebede, the general secretary of the National Education Union, said: “Any current or future government must take note of calls like this one, from across the sector, for curriculum and assessment modernisation. The future success and wellbeing of young people, and the nation, depends on it. However, without addressing real-terms school funding cuts and tackling the intense workload of staff, which drives our serious teacher recruitment and retention challenges, the changes needed have little chance of materialising.”

Geoff Barton, the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, added: “Government policies have prioritized a set of academic GCSEs, and increased the time students spend sitting exams as well as the amount of information they must remember. It is not conducive to good mental health or enjoyment of learning.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “We are constantly seeing the success of our reforms. Just last week, England was ranked 11th in the world for maths up from 27th in 2009, and in May we were named ‘best in the west’ for primary reading out of a comparable 43 countries.”