Plans to make 90% of pupils in England study the English Baccalaureate (EBacc) by 2020 have been abandoned.
Instead 75% of pupils will be expected to study this combination of core academic subjects by 2022, Education Secretary Justine Greening announced.
The Department for Education has set a new target for 90% of pupils to take the subjects by 2025.
School leaders said the EBacc was increasingly looking like the performance measure that time forgot.
They said it had been overtaken over by the introduction of Progress 8, which measures pupils’ progress and achievement over eight GCSE subjects.
The EBacc requires students to study English, maths, a language, science and history or geography at GCSE.
The revised proposals for the EBacc – which were in the Tory election manifesto – were confirmed on Wednesday in a long-awaited government response to a consultation that closed about 18 months ago.
In a written statement to the Commons, Justine Greening said: “There is no doubt that studying the EBacc subjects up to the age of 16 is right for the vast majority of pupils.
“As a government we are committed to unlocking the potential of all pupils regardless of their background, and this is why, as set out in our manifesto, we would like to see 90% of year 10 pupils starting to study GCSEs in the EBacc combination of subjects by 2025.”
Ms Greening said she recognised the challenges schools faced in increasing take-up of EBacc subjects.
“Taking this all into account, it is our ambition that 75% of year 10 pupils in state-funded mainstream schools will start to study GCSEs in the EBacc combination of subjects by September 2022.
“This will mark an important milestone in driving towards the government’s ambition that the vast majority of pupils – irrespective of background – have access to this core academic suite of GCSEs, which is central to a broad and balanced curriculum.”
But Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said it was hard to see what purpose the EBacc served any more.
“It helps neither students, parents, teachers, nor school leaders. In our view, and in line with the chief inspector of schools, schools should provide a curriculum with an academically rigorous core for all, plus broader opportunities in the arts and sport.
“What schools and colleges offer should be driven by the needs of their students and communities, not by centrally set targets.
“Progress 8 has superseded the need for the EBacc. We would have preferred the government to let it quietly curl up and wither away.”
John Kampfner, chief executive of the Creative Industries Federation, said the government was continuing to pursue an “ill thought through and short-termist” policy.
“The creative industries have been identified as one of five priority sectors in the government’s industrial strategy in recognition of their economic contribution,” he said.
“However, the Department for Education has not answered the sector’s concerns, by continuing to sideline creative education in favour of academic subjects.”
Deborah Annetts, founder and leader of the Bacc for the Future campaign, said the decision was short-sighted and misconceived.
“We would ask Justine Greening to meet with Bacc for the Future representatives as soon as possible so she can understand first-hand the damage this misguided policy is having.
“As the chief inspector of Ofsted, Amanda Spielman said last week, ‘All children should study a broad and rich curriculum.’
“We need to create an education which is fit for the 21st Century and fit for our country post-Brexit. This is not the way to do it.”