This is an edited version of a much more substantial article in which Pring examines political arguments made about falling standards in education, and ways of monitoring and measuring this supposed phenomenon.*


There has in the last fifteen years been a steady flow of warnings from government about ‘declining standards’. The 1977 consultative document Education in Schools commented on Callaghan’s Ruskin speech in the following way:

[it] was made against a background of strongly critical comment in the press and elsewhere on education and educational standards. Children’s standards of performance in their school work was said to have declined. The curriculum, it was argued, paid too little attention to the basic skills of reading, writing and arithmetic, and was overloaded with fringe subjects.