The rolling programme of change to A-levels and general national vocational qualifications has been abruptly stopped by the Government while it considers the merits of a baccalaureate for 16 to 18-year-olds.
The decision is also a response to widespread concern that the introduction of new A-levels, new AS levels and re-modelled GNVQs has been proceeding too quickly.
"Following comments from teachers, schools, colleges and universities, it is clear that the existing timetable for implementation cannot be met," said education and employment minister Baroness Blackstone."
A whole series of changes was planned for September 1998. These had been recommended by Sir Ron Dearing in last summer's review of qualifications.
But this week Baroness Blackstone promised at least one year's delay while further consultation takes place.
This step was widely predicted as time was running out for the new Government to put its stamp on Sir Ron Dearing's reforms.
In fact, the Department for Education and Employment is now considering arguments for an over-arching qualification for all students along the lines of a baccalaureate. This could go much further than Sir Ron Dearing's National Diploma, which is thought likely to appeal only to an academic elite.
"We want to develop a single over-arching certificate for young people, allowing them to undertake A-levels or vocational qualifications, while also embracing the key skills of communication, application of number and information technology," said Baroness Blackstone.
"This would become the basis for progression to higher education and employment at age 18. Our aim would be that it should be available for young people in work-based training as well as in full-time education."