Michael Gove's U-turn comes two days after he publicly defended his EBacc proposals.
The announcement of the U-turn, made today in the House of Commons, follows widespread opposition to the introduction of the EBacc, which had been earmarked for September 2015.
An Education Select Committee report published at the end of January criticised the proposals, saying the government reforms were “too much, too quickly”.
It said the committee had “serious concerns” about the EBacc as well as questions as to how the reforms would help lower-attaining pupils.
In a parliamentary statement, Michael Gove said future GCSE qualifications would not differentiate between higher and lower-achieving pupils.
“Reformed GCSEs will no longer set an artificial cap on how much pupils can achieve by forcing students to choose between higher and foundation tiers,” he said.
“There should be no disincentive for schools to give an open choice of papers to their pupils.”
He said the examinations regulator Ofqual, which also raised concerns about the EBacc at the end of last year, would no longer be expected to create universal GCSE exam papers.
“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,” said Gove.
It is understood civil servants warned Gove his plans to have a single examination board could face legal challenges over European Union laws on public service contracts.
Gove also faced strong opposition from teaches and teaching unions after setting out his EBacc plans in October last year.
Russell Hobby, the general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: “We are pleased Gove has at last listened to the grave concerns of the business and arts communities and the education profession. It has taken months of lobbying and hard work to get to this point.
“There were many things wrong with the English Baccalaureate proposals, for example, the sidelining of arts and vocational subjects and the lack of coursework in the sciences.”
His comments were backed by Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, who said Gove’s forthcoming GCSE reforms must be “robust and challenging”, and recognise “talents and skills that go beyond a limited range of subjects”.
“The Education Secretary must now learn a lesson from this fiasco and consult with those who know far more than he appears to do about education,” she said.
Two days ago, Gove defended the EBacc saying it would raise educational achievement among disadvantaged children rather than create an elitist education system.
In a speech delivered at the think-tank Social Market Foundation, he refuted accusations that the EBacc, which demands students achieve a C grade or higher in core academic subjects, would put some young people at a disadvantage.
He described the qualification’s subject focus on English, maths, two sciences, a language and either history or geography as “the most liberating of all options in school”.
“They are facilitating subjects, which are a precondition for many universities, while at the same time providing a solid foundation for any student who wishes to pursue a technical or vocational course after 16,” he said.