Sir Christopher Ball, director of learning at the Royal Society of Arts, told the North of England education conference that much more public money should be spent on nursery and primary schooling and much less on higher education.
He also said GCSE exams should be scrapped and replaced by a broad exam at 18.
In his presidential address he argued that class sizes should changed so that they were equivalent to roughly twice pupils' average age. Nursery children would be in classes of only six per teacher and 12-year-olds in classes of 24. "In a world where such a rule applied young people would more easily become autonomous, responsible learners - and become so earlier."
The effect on higher education would be dramatic. "On the assumption of an average age of 25 in universities today, it would need to be remodelled on a staff student ratio of 50." The present ratio is 15:1. In addition, more funding for higher education should come from private funds.
The average class size for five to 18-year-olds would be 23. The average class size at present is 26.6 for primary school children and 20.9 for secondary.