Secondary teachers will begin preparing their pupils for sitting restructured GCSEs a year later than initially scheduled in most subjects, Ofqual has revealed.
Planned changes to GCSEs will see modular courses abolished, with full exams - centred on a more testing essay-based system - instead taken at the end of two years.
The reforms will also see the current letter-based grading system replaced with a number-based one, pass marks raised and controlled assessments abandoned.
It was originally intended that this regime would be introduced for pupils beginning key stage four in September 2015, with the new GCSEs being sat for the first time in 2017.
Yet in a letter to education secretary Michael Gove, Ofqual's chief regulator Glenys Stacey has revealed the education watchdog feels the extent of these changes means it cannot be confident new, high quality GCSEs will be available for all subjects by 2015.
Ofqual has therefore decided to focus initially on English literature and language and mathematics, as these are the areas in which it believes the need for reform is greatest.
It intends to have GCSEs in these subjects accredited and ready to go into schools during the autumn term of 2014, so they can be taught for the first time from September 2015.
However, Ms Stacey told Mr Gove the regulator would aim for new GCSEs in other subjects to be taught as of September 2016 instead, claiming changes already made to strengthen science, history and geography render the need for exam reform less pressing in these subjects.
She remarked: "The reform programme will be challenging for all those involved, but I am confident - as are the exam boards - that the end result will be more good qualifications which will be more worthwhile, better assessed and more resilient."
Responding to Ms Stacey, Mr Gove branded existing GCSEs "inadequate" and said adjusted qualifications need to be introduced at the "earliest opportunity".
However, the education secretary agreed this would require more rigorous regulatory demands being put in place and that Ofqual would need more time to develop them.
Mr Gove therefore accepted reforms to English and maths GCSEs should be prioritised, identifying these subjects as particularly important to students' progression and concurring the new timetable would help schools better prepare for teaching the new GCSEs.
Posted by Alan Douglas