Primary school children in England will have to learn about evolution and British history under a shake-up of the national curriculum.
Schools Minister Vernon Coaker says the subjects will be compulsory elements of a new primary school curriculum being introduced in 2011.
Scientists and humanists had lobbied ministers for the inclusion of evolution in the theme-based timetable.
History is already compulsory, but there were fears it would be sidelined.
Schools will not be told which parts of British history to teach.
Earlier this year, when the curriculum changes were announced, critics complained that children would learn more about the internet than history.
Ministers say they want to "reinforce" history by making it a statutory element of the new primary curriculum.
The curriculum is set out in a new education Bill just introduced to Parliament.
It was drawn up after a review by Sir Jim Rose, which called for distinct subjects to be replaced by six new "areas of learning".
Mr Coaker said: "What and how our children learn lies at the heart of our policies to raise standards.
"We've seen that an inspiring and rigorous curriculum can transform failing schools, which is why these plans are based on the very best practice from this country's top-class teachers."
He added: "Teachers will have more freedom to use their professional judgement and creativity to make links between subjects that make sense to their pupils: from linking history to the arts, or science to PE."
Evolution is arguably the most important concept underlying the life sciences
Andrew Copson, British Humanist Association
The British Humanist Association (BHA) had led a campaign to have Darwin's theory of how life evolved through natural selection made a compulsory element of the new primary curriculum.
It organised a public letter signed by more than 500 from scientists and supporters.
Andrew Copson of the BHA said: "This is excellent news. Evolution is arguably the most important concept underlying the life sciences.
"Providing children with an understanding of it an early age will help lay the foundations for a surer scientific understanding later on."
He added: "Public authorities clearly need to do more to tackle the growing threat to the public's understanding of science from creationist-inspired beliefs and other pseudoscience".
Evolution is already taught in secondary schools and many primary schools, but under the curriculum changes, it will become compulsory for primary pupils, with the recommendation that they are taught the subject in their later years at school.
The new curriculum says schools must "investigate and explain how plants and animals are interdependent and are diverse and adapted to their environment by natural selection".
Professor Sir Martin Taylor, vice-president of the Royal Society, said: "We are delighted to see evolution explicitly included in the primary curriculum.
"One of the most remarkable achievements of science over the last two hundred years has been to show how humans and all other organisms on the earth arose through the process of evolution."