In a television interview marking the 21st anniversary of his charity, The Prince's Trust, Prince Charles suggested that trendy teaching policies had led to a decline in standards in the last four decades. "I don't believe it's served young people well at all," he said.
"In fact, I believe that in many ways my Trust have been picking up the pieces of a somewhat failed system," he added.
A disciplined framework to life, bestowed through education, would help young people compete for jobs in an increasingly competitive market, said the prince, who once characterised the regime at Gordonstoun as "Colditz in kilts". He left the Morayshire school with five O-levels and two A- levels at grades B and C - substantially below the typical entry qualifications for his next educational pit-stop, Trinity College, Cambridge.
The comments by Prince Charles who, it emerged yesterday, is to meet Tony Blair, the Prime Minister, and David Blunkett, the Secretary of State for Education, to discuss the Government's plans to help unemployed young people, sparked criticism from teachers' unions.
Nigel de Gruchy, leader of the National Association of Schoolmasters - Union of Women Teachers, insisted that condemnation of the whole education system as a failure was "a right royal travesty" which did a great disservice to teachers and children. The prince was abusing his position and should decide whether he wanted to be a member of the royal family or a politician," he said.
Doug McAvoy, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said the failure the prince referred to had its roots in society as a whole, not the education system.
David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Headteachers, said he was delighted that Prince Charles had thrown his weight behind the drive for higher standards in schools, since heads were already dedicated to the same goal. However, there was a need to look forward rather than backwards and address problems of teachers' working conditions and resources.
In his BBC interview with Sir David Frost, Prince Charles called for an end to "fatuous arguments between so-called progressives and so-called traditionalists" over education in favour of a "consensus approach". His suggestion that Britain should look abroad to select the most successful elements of other education systems chimes exactly with the "if it works, use it" approach being promoted by education ministers.
Last week, shortly after the Frost interview was filmed, Estelle Morris, the junior Schools minister, announced plans to encourage primary school to put the three Rs at the centre of the curriculum with a focus on traditional literacy and numeracy teaching methods.
Stephen Byers, the Schools Standards minister, yesterday welcomed the Prince's comments. He told GMTV's Sunday Programme: "I think he is expressing the concern that many parents have, and many employers have, that for a large number of our children we are not giving them the quality education service they deserve and as a country we are falling behind other countries."