(e)        Teacher Training

Look-and-say reading methods should be abandoned.  Teacher training courses should be instructed to adopt the phonics reading scheme and existing primary teachers should go and buy a set of phonics-based learning-to-read books.  The present 1 to 2 years, subject to non-subject ratio in the B.Ed degree should be reversed.  The formal content of post-graduate education should be reduced to one term and a move made to the articled teacher scheme of direct teaching practice for 2 years.

(f)        National Curriculum

Further work on the National Curriculum should be stopped for the time being at least.  The present staff should be reduced and they should concentrate instead on establishing a series of three foundation tests, the knowledge required for these tests to be defined by the tests themselves, sample papers being made available to all parents.  The standard of the tests should be determined by what 90% of the population should know and be able to do at three ages – 7, 11 and 14[10].  The tests should be objective, written, and the same everywhere in the country, with a high pass mark (say 75%) required.  The tests should in total last not more than bout one and a half hours at age 7 and three hours at 14.  They should cover:

at age 7 – reading and writing (including spelling a set list of common words), addition, subtraction, multiplication tables, division by simple integers;

at age 11 – reading, writing (sentence construction and spelling), further arithmetic (including long division and long multiplication), basic chronology of British history, basic geography of the British Isles, measurement and units;

at age 14 – reading, grammar and comprehension (writing letters, accounts of daily life), use of fractions, decimals and percentages in everyday situations, area, volume and angle, basic chronology of world history and basic world geography.

Tests could be taken by individuals at any age any number of times and certificates given for each subject – no grades, just pass or fail.  These tests would in effect define a set of foundation achievements, which is what is needed nationally rather than the hugely complex and opaque structures of the National Curriculum (about 300 million attainment statements are needed per annum in science alone).

7          Control of Syllabuses

SEAC should be disbanded and control of subject syllabuses for A and O-level and GCSE should be returned to the Examining Boards, with an instruction to halve the number of syllabus options in the sciences and reduce by 80% the number of such options in the arts.  All teacher-assessed course work should be removed from public examinations.

8          Direction

The Exacting philosophy, as spelt out in Table 4, should be adopted formally in schools and on Teacher training courses, in place of the Permissive one which has brought on the present crisis.  Key senior staff unable to accept the change should be replaced.


1 J Blears, “1983 Outputs of Bachelors in subjects from which industry draws its professional employees”, Engineering Professors’ Conference Report no. 3020 (1988)

2 HMI Series: Developments in the B.Ed Degree Course, HMSO (1979)

3 Central Statistical Office: Annual Abstract of Statistics (1990 edition)

4 Selected National Education Systems, DES Statistics Branch (November 1985)

5 For example, the recent Public Eye programme, BBC2, 26 October on A-levels, where the “narrow” criticism was repeatedly made, but not allowed to be answered.


[1] Hamlet, Act II, Scene 2.

[2] This is a slightly revised version of a paper delivered on 11 December 1990 at Gresham College London as part of a conference organised by Peter Pilkington, former Head Master of St Paul’s Boys’ School.  Tragically for two-thirds of a generation of young people, the educationally destructive trends identified in the paper have if anything been intensified despite (or in some cases) because of the spending of huge amounts of money.

[3] Now Emeritus Professor of Process Manufacture and Polymer Engineering at the University of Manchester, Managing Director of Prosyma Research Ltd.

[4] i.e. most of the membership of the working groups of the National Curriculum Council (NCC) and the Council itself, most of the membership of the Schools Examination and Assessment Council (SEAC) and its predecessor bodies, the Local Education Authorities (LEA), most members of Her Majesty’s Inspectorate (HMI), and the main teacher unions, the NUT and the NAS/UWT.

[5]The writer sat on one of the SEAC (Schools Examination and Assessment Council) committees set up by Ken Baker (Education Minister at the time) to consider exam standards, when it was clear that not one of the other 14 people present (“representing” industry, other qualification awarding bodies, e.g. the RSA, LEAs, etc.) had ever seen a contemporary A-level Science or Maths paper, or opened a text-book for 20 years.

[6] Full-time equivalent years per pupil.

[7] As tragically has happened on average over the last 20 years.

[8] This now includes the “Academies” introduced by the Blair government.

[9] My view now is that there should be only one national examining board, run by the universities – eliminating the pernicious competition between boards to actually lower standards.

[10] This has come out today as key stages 1, 2, 3.

University Admissions and Fees

This booklet was written for the Campaign for Real Education in January 2004 by Prof Stephen Bush.

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