An independent inquiry into the future of the curriculum will be launched today, amid a belief that the current regime is failing hundreds of thousands of pupils.
Teachers and pupils need to be involved in these discussions, say the academics behind the investigation, because education has been taken over by politicians and civil servants who impose reforms without proper consultation.
A report, the Nuffield review of 14 to 19 education, which is launching the inquiry, highlights the Government's recognition last year that "not enough young people feel engaged by the education on offer". But it is critical of ministers' moves to address this, principally by introducing vocational or "specialised" diplomas and more stretching A-level questions.
What was needed was a proper look at why the curriculum was a turn-off for many young people.
The report was compiled by eight academics, led by Professor Richard Pring of Oxford university, with support from 27 educationists, including Tony Breslin of the Citizen Foundation and David Lambert of the Geographical Association. It said: "Solutions are too often sought by policy-makers in the reform of qualifications, in ever-more targets and tests, in the creation of more vocational routes, and in (other) quick answers.
"Rarely are more fundamental questions asked about the aims of education and... the learning best suited to achieve those aims. Addressing disaffection has to be seen within the much broader parameters of reforming secondary education as a whole to tackle the roots of alienation, rather than simply treating its symptoms." Professor Pring said the group was concerned that practical, "hands-on" learning, through field trips, science experiments, cookery and craft skills, had been sidelined in favour of written work and computing.
The report also describes a Government target to increase the proportion of 17-year-olds in education or training from 76 to 90 per cent by 2015 as a "forlorn hope".
It was unrealistic because it did not take into account the fact that employers were offering jobs for teenagers with few qualifications.
The Nuffield review of 14-19 education is to hold curriculum focus groups with teachers throughout England and Wales over the next nine months. Visit www.nuffield14-19review.org.uk