Education secretary Michael Gove has all but confirmed he is to scrap GCSEs in England and replace them with a system similar to O-Levels - which were used some 30 years ago.
Following a leaked report published on Thursday, suggesting the exams system was set for its biggest overhaul for a generation, Gove told the Commons GCSEs were failing pupils because fewer than 40% of 16 year-olds were getting five good grades, including in English and Maths. He told MPs this was "a crime against social justice, and we are determined to put it right".
Although Gove did not say explicitly O-levels are to make a comeback, he was clear GCSEs are to go. He told MPs the current exams "privilege bite-size learning over deeper understanding" and that the league table system "inceitiveises weak schools to choose easy subjects".
"We want to tackle the culture of competeitive dumbing down," he said. "We want a curriculum that prepares all students for success at 16 and beyond."
Announcing a consultation on the changes, Gove said it would be "a conversation about how we raise standards, it will be broad but it will be conclusive".
"We want a clear conclusion," said Gove, suggesting GCSEs below a D grade had little value for employers and were considered a meaningless qualification.
"It is the case that with employers there is a lack of confidence in many of the qualifications that exist at the moment. I'm convinced we have the best generations of teachers in schools, and students are working harder than ever. That is why we have to change the exam system."
Labour warned the government was "in danger of going back to the future", accusing the government of returning to a two-tier education system with O-Levels and CSEs. Labour's shadow education minister Kevin Brennan suggested Gove was conducting a "softening-up exercise" to disguise a fall in standards under the coalition because of budget cuts.
"We already have a two-tier system in education in this country," Gove said in response. "Some of our most impressive schools have left the GCSE behind."
Teachers Unions have described Gove's plans as "ludicrous", with Mary Bousted from the Association of Teachers and Lecturers telling the Guardian: "The idea that you would see a return to an exam that was designed for 20% of the population and expect England to compete with high performing countries like Finland, where they test far less.
"The aim should be to get as many people as possible to the best standard they can achieve and you do not do that by dividing everyone as sheep and goats at 14."