Children would face fewer but tougher tests under moves by an incoming Tory government to "inject common sense" into the examination system, the shadow Schools Secretary Michael Gove announced yesterday.
There would also be a drive to increase the number of youngsters who take up competitive sports and to encourage schools to organise more days out for pupils.
The Conservatives would streamline the system of standard assessment tests (SATs) faced by seven, 11 and14-year-olds after protests by teachers and parents that youngsters spent too much time preparing for exams.
Mr Gove told the Birmingham conference: "Children are increasingly failed by a curriculum and exam system which squeezes our curiosity, suppresses originality and stifles creativity. As a nation, we now spend more on exams than books in our schools."
He said: "It must be our mission to inject common sense into our examination system so we have fewer, better, more rigorous exams, because we cannot go on as we are." The Conservatives are expected to replace the SATs faced by seven-year-olds – where their ability in reading, writing, maths and science is assessed – with a reading test.
The number of tests undergone by 11 and 14-year-olds would also be reduced in an effort to reduce the time pupils spend preparing for exams.
Mr Gove also said that an incoming Tory government would take action to "put adventure back into learning" by tackling the bureaucracy that deters teachers from organising extra-curricular activities.
He said: "If we're worried about raising a generation of obese children, nothing will be as effective as getting them active. That means expeditions, school trips and competitive sports.
"But many of these activities are made impossible by red tape, so we will act to give teachers the power to take children beyond their comfort zone by sweeping away absurd health and safety regulations which attempt to squeeze all risk out of life."
Mr Gove promised to sweep away the "massively prescriptive, overly bureaucratic, politically correct mish-mash" of directions on the curriculum taught in schools. They would be replaced by a new emphasis on mastering English, mathematics and science.
And he pledged a comprehensive overhaul of the history curriculum to highlight the "great things that we as Britons have achieved".
Mr Gove said: "Instead of being taught about the Magna Carta, the Glorious Revolution and the heroic role of the Royal Navy in putting down slavery, our children are either taught to put Britain in the dock or they remain in ignorance of our island story. That is morally wrong, culturally self-defeating – and we would put it right."
Mr Gove set out plans to create a network of 5,000 state-funded "academies" which would be independent of "suffocating bureaucracy". The plans are modelled on the system in Sweden, where cash is given to private organisations or groups of parents to set up schools and more money if they attract extra pupils, leading to competition between schools.
Existing comprehensives that have high standards and can show a commitment to helping neighbouring schools boost their performance will also be allowed to become academies.
He said: "We will give the best of our comprehensive schools the chance to free themselves from bureaucracy to enjoy full academy freedoms."
But Lord Adonis, the Schools Minster, was sceptical and said the plans would cost the taxpayer "many billions". He added: "Michael Gove calls for 'straight talk' but it's time the Tories came clean about the true cost of their Swedish model. He needs to tell us what he would cut to pay for these 5,000 schools."Reuse content