Michael Gove has confirmed he will not press ahead with plans to scrap GCSEs, saying the reforms were "a bridge too far".
The Education Secretary told the Commons that there was a consensus that the exams system needs to change. But he admitted that flagship plans to axe GCSEs in favour of new English Baccalaureate Certificates in core academic subjects was "one reform too many at this time".
The u-turn comes following widespread opposition and pressure from within the coalition from the Liberal Democrats.
Mr Gove told MPs that instead of new qualifications, GCSEs will be reformed, with exams taken at the end of the course, rather than in modules, extended questions and less internal assessment.
He also confirmed that he will not be pressing ahead with plans to hand each of the core EBC subjects to a single exam board - a move he had previously argued was essential to prevent boards "dumbing down" standards to attract more schools.
"Last September we outlined plans for changes to GCSE qualifications designed to address the grade inflation, dumbing down and loss of rigour in those examinations," Mr Gove told the Commons.
"We have consulted on those proposals and there is now a consensus that the system needs to change. But one of the proposals I put forward was a bridge too far. My idea that we end the competition between exam boards to offer GCSEs in core academic qualifications and have just one - wholly new - exam in each subject was just one reform too many at this time.
"The exam regulator Ofqual - which has done such a great job in recent months upholding standards - was clear that there were significant risks in trying to both strengthen qualifications and end competition in a large part of the exams market.
"So, I have decided not to make the best the enemy of the good. And I will not proceed with plans to have a single exam board offering a new exam in each academic subject - instead we will concentrate on reforming existing GCSEs along the lines we put forward in September."
Shadow education secretary Stephen Twigg said the announcement was a "humiliating climbdown" for Mr Gove. Speaking in the Commons, Mr Twigg said: "The words 'GCSE' and 'fiasco' seem to be indelibly linked under this Government. This is a humiliating climbdown."