The Prime Minister has abandoned the decisions made by his ministers on league tables by committing the next Conservative government to publishing seven and 14-year-olds' results as well as those of 11 and 16-year-olds.
The attempt by No 10 to take the high ground in the pre-election battle found John Major promising more league tables, tougher measures to get rid of incompetent teachers and the takeover of badly performing local authorities.
In one of his presidential-style briefings this week, Mr Major outlined plans for target setting in individual schools, already part of the Education Bill, Local authorities which fail Office for Standards in Education inspections could find their education committees replaced by officials, he said.
In 1993 Gillian Shephard, Education and Employment Secretary, said the Government had no plans in the "foreseeable future" to go beyond tables based on test results of 11 and 14-year-olds.
The Government already publishes tables for 16-year-olds' performance at GCSE and next month it will for the first time issue tables of 11-year-old test results for every primary school. Mr Major described them as "one of the most effective disciplines on schools".
But ministers are unlikely to want more tables. The new primary league tables, covering 18,500 schools, are already proving a headache for the DFEE. While the 16-year-old results have proved popular, newspapers are doubtful about printing the primary school tables in full.
Where they are published at all, they are likely to be truncated with, possibly, little more than one average test score per school.
The Prime Minister's proposals met with a frosty response from the teaching unions. John Dunford, past president of the Secondary Heads Association said, "It is a scandalous waste of money. It speaks volumes that the announcment came from Conservative Central Office. This is a pre-election gimmick. Parents in Durham really don't need to know what the age 14 results are in Devon."
Mr Major said that the new scheme of school targets would help move Britain into "the top international league".
Mrs Shephard, who spoke alongside the Prime Minister, promised a new system for dealing with poor staff. "We shall now be introducing a rigorous appraisal system for teachers, judging them on their pupils' performance. Where necessary we will be removing teachers who cannot reach the required national standards. "
A senior party source said that the current appraisal methods are bureaucratic and ineffective. "We don't want to be hounding teachers any more than those in any other profession. But there are systems in other professions for removing people who just shouldn't be there."
School governors would still be responsible for employing staff but a new appraisal system would make it easier for them to act.
Mrs Shephard announced schools and local education authorities will set their own targets for improvement at 7, 11, 14 and 16, while the Government will extend the national targets to these age groups. This is a policy already under preparation by the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority and provided for in the Education Bill.
Schools will have to publish their test results in their annual reports, set alongside local targets, national targets and the achievement of similar schools. Schools are already required to publish their own test results and national averages.
She promised a "transparent and accountable system" under which schools would present figures in a way that would be "very easily understandable for parents and teachers". "The performance of schools will be an open book and not a sealed volume," she said.
She defended the total of teachers identified by HM Chief Inspector as incompetent - 4 per cent of the workforce. "The figures are exactly what you'd expect," she said.