By Gary Eason
Education editor, BBC News website
GCSEs are being changed from 2010 to include more functional elements
The government has dropped the key part of its pledge to improve teenagers' functional English and maths skills.
It had promised employers that no-one in England would be able to get a good GCSE grade without knowing the basics.
But qualifications advisers have said that making GCSE results dependent on a separate skills test could bring the qualifications into disrepute.
Ministers have accepted their advice and say they will just encourage young people to take separate skills papers.
In 2005, the then education secretary, Ruth Kelly, had said it was totally unacceptable that people could obtain a grade C or above in English or maths but be weak in basic literacy and numeracy, echoing a long-standing complaint from employers.
We accept that we should not make a link between the functional skills assessments and the GCSE
Schools Minister Jim Knight
She said there would be a "relentless drive" to improve those basic skills.
She announced that pupils taking GCSE maths and English would have to pass a test in functional skills, such as writing a letter or working out their family budget.
Without passing this test they would not be able to gain a grade C in these exams.
That was the plan, and the qualifications regulator for England, Ofqual, has been investigating ways of realising it.
In a letter to the Department for Children, Schools and Families - sent last October - Ofqual chair Kathleen Tattersall said that having a basic skills "hurdle" that was separate from the main GCSE "causes problems with the perceived fairness of the outcomes, as well as technical difficulties".
It might mean, for instance, that the same script could be awarded different grades in England and Wales.
"That outcome would be unacceptable and would risk bringing the qualifications into disrepute."
Ofqual recommended having separate tests of functional skills but finding other incentives to get students to take them than linking them to their GCSEs.
The department has finally written back accepting this advice.
Schools Minister Jim Knight said it wanted functional skills to be at the heart of all its 14-19 changes.
Newly-published criteria would mean that new GCSEs to be taught from September 2010 would test functional skills extensively, he said.
"So, for now, we accept that we should not make a link between the functional skills assessments and the GCSE".
In the meantime schools would be encouraged to give young people opportunities to take freestanding functional skills qualifications.
This is the approach adopted in Wales and Northern Ireland, where having the skills qualifications is not a condition for getting good GCSE grades.
The Association of School and College Leaders welcomed the change. Its general secretary, Dr John Dunford, said the exam system was "overburdened".
He said the tests would be useful, but "school and college leaders will need to feel confident that the tests will be valued by employers before they decide to enter all students".
The change means the government accepts the impracticality of its promise that youngsters should not get a good GCSE without demonstrating functional numeracy and literacy.