The GCSE exam will be abolished and replaced by a new English Baccalaureate Certificate (EBacc), Education Secretary Michael Gove declared yesterday.
He told MPs the decision would bring an end to "years of drift, decline and dumbing down" of the exams system. However, his remarks provoked fury from teachers' leaders who claimed the new qualification would only be for an "elite".
Mr Gove said the EBacc would be more rigorous than GCSEs and concentrate on traditional academic subjects. The vast majority of pupils will now be expected to work towards the certificate, which will be given to those who obtain top grade passes in English, maths, the sciences, foreign languages and the humanities – history or geography.
The first students will sit the new English, maths and science exams in the summer of 2017.
Each subject in the EBacc will be delivered by a single exam board on a five-year contract to avoid what Mr Gove has described as a "race to the bottom" as rival exam boards have competed for schools' custom by "dumbing down" exams. "After years of drift, decline and dumbing down, at last we are reforming our examination system to compete with the world's best," Mr Gove said.
However, Martin Johnson, deputy general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, warned the new exam would not be "in children's best interests" as it concentrated solely on achievement in academic subjects, adding: "We want everybody to be well educated. The days of an exam system for an elite should be over."
Other key elements of the EBacc include the scrapping of modular units as well as coursework and other forms of internal assessment.
Mr Gove and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg stressed they expected the vast majority of pupils to sit the EBacc. Mr Clegg's office said the main sticking point to agreement – the threat of introducing a two-tier system, with one paper for advanced learners and a foundation paper which can only lead to a C grade pass at best – had now been removed.Reuse content