NEW English GCSE courses have been scrapped at the 11th hour over concerns that they do not do enough to improve students' spelling, grammar and punctuation.
The new syllabuses - which had been due to start in autumn 2001 - were combined English language and literature courses.
However, Education Secretary David Blunkett has ordered a rethink after suggestions that it is better if pupils take separate language and literature courses. He has asked the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority to investigate if this is true.
A QCA spokesman said Mr Blunkett had agreed that the current English courses should continue for a further year until September 2002, while the QCA consults on the merits of separate language and literature GCSEs.
The investigation could recommend that all pupils take separate language and literature GCSEs - something only a minority do at present.
The spokesman added that delaying the introduction of the new courses would avoid teachers "being faced with an unreasonable number of changes n English". The delay until 2002 means the first candidates for the reshaped English exams will complete their GCSEs in 2004.
Separate exams were recommended by the QCA's predecessor, the Schools Curriculum and Assessment Authority, in 1996, after it found that students' spelling, punctuation and grammar were deteriorating.
An earlier study by the University of Cambridge Local Examinations Syndicate, compared exam scripts from the 1980 O-level English course with those from English GCSE students in 1994. It found a sixfold increase in non-standard English and a decline in spelling and punctuation standards.
John Wilks of the National Association for the Teaching of English said: "We would need to see the new syllabuses before we can know what effect this (separate language and literature GCSEs) would have. I would want them to give more emphasis to exciting coursework which engages students, something the current syllabuses fail to do."
The consultation will not affect the introduction of revised syllabuses in September which have been brought in line with the new national curriculum.