Michael Gove has admitted his GCSE reforms were "a bridge too far" as he was forced to abandon the proposals.
The move came amid mounting opposition to the plans, which would have seen the qualifications ditched in favour of new English Baccalaureate Certificates (EBCs).
Instead, the Education Secretary announced revised proposals to toughen up GCSEs. Mr Gove's U-turn was described as a "humiliating climbdown" by Labour, and hailed as a victory for campaigners by one union leader.
Speaking in the Commons, Mr Gove insisted there was a consensus that the exams system needed to change.
But he added: "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."
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. The revamp is in line with what was originally planned for the new EBCs.
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. During his speech, Mr Gove made no direct reference to EBCs.
Mr Gove had originally wanted to ditch GCSEs in English, maths, science, history, geography and languages and replace them with new EBCs. Each of the core subjects would have been handed to a single examination board.
But concerns were raised about the scale and timetable of the reforms from a number of groups, including teaching unions, the exams regulator Ofqual and MPs from across the political spectrum.
There was also pressure from within the coalition from the Liberal Democrats. Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has said he did not like the original plan, which he described as "a two-tier system where you tell one set of kids you are not bright enough to proceed".