By Charles Maggs
GCSE's will be replaced with an English Baccalaureate Certificate (EBacc), Michael Gove confirmed today.
The shift to the new system, which was greeted by dismay Labour and teaching unions, will only take place after the general election.
"We believe that if we remove modules and reduce coursework, get rid of the factors that encourage teaching to the test and, above all, ensure there is just one exam board for each subject, we can restore faith in our exams and equip children for the challenges of the 21st century," Gove and Nick Clegg said in a statement.
Speaking in the Commons, the education secretary said the new exams will be drawn up by boards who will compete to construct challenging tests.
There will only be one exam board marking exams for each subject because competition between exam boards is widely believed to have created grade inflation.
It is expected that struggling pupils will be able to take the new exams at 17 or 18, a year or two after the majority of students.
But there will be no return to a 'two tier' system like the old O-Levels, which Gove had previously been in favour of. The watering down of the proposals is being treated as a significant victory for Clegg.
The deputy prime minister said: "You can raise standards, increase rigour and confidence in our exam system, but still do so in a way which is a single-tier.
Labour questioned whether enough had been done to water down the reforms.
"Whatever the reassurances, this risks a return to a two-tier system which left thousands of children on the scrap heap at the age of 16," shadow education secretary Stephen Twigg said.
“The proposals do not meet the requirements of society and business.”
The brightest pupils will now be given a 'One' grade, rather than an A, and it will be harder to attain.
Modules will be assessed by an end of year three hour exam, rather than a series of smaller tests throughout the course. There will also be a return to essay questions in English Literature and more algebra in Maths.
"The secretary of state has embarked from the outset on a cynical and wholly unjustifiable attempt to discredit the quality and rigour of the GCSE qualification," Chris Keates, general secretary of teaching union NASUWT, said.
"Instead of celebrating the hard work of teachers and pupils in securing sustained improvements in GCSE pass levels, the coalition government has sought to claim, aided and abetted by commentators, that these improvements are merely the result of a 'dumbed down' GCSE qualification that has become increasingly easier to pass."