If we had any lingering doubts that the lunatics have taken over the asylum in education, the report on the alleged "dumbing down" of the A-level maths syllabuses will have confirmed all our suspicions.

The aim of the changes, so we are told, is "a positive move in terms of helping all students to succeed", thus confirming our suspicion that the whole aim of making exam syllabuses progressively easier is to make sure that, ultimately, nobody fails.

One might wonder why they don't cut out all the syllabus and exam setting, teaching, learning and taking exams and just give away the certificates in cereal packets, so that every child, by buying a packet of cornflakes, can collect a handsome array of exam passes.

Seriously, it is not a matter of levity. The fact that many adults are functionally innumerate and thousands of children leave school unable to do basic sums ought to warn us that there is something radically wrong that making syllabuses easier and giving a C-grade at GCSE for 16 per cent cannot disguise.

The rot set in, for maths and many other key subjects, when the GCSE exams were introduced in the 1980s.

To cater for a wider clientele the exams had, of necessity, to be easier than the O level, but simplistic syllabuses and sloppy standards soon palled for many well-qualified graduates from good universities, who got out of education pretty quickly, taking their skills into business and commerce.

If they were too young to take early retirement, teachers of maths, physics, chemistry and modern languages got better-paid jobs in industry, leaving schools to cope without them.

Thus, for the past 15 to 20 years, subjects such as sciences, maths and languages have progressively become shortage subjects: good graduate teachers just can't be found. Thus, it follows that vacancies are filled by just anybody who can be engaged.

Now, with physics, chemistry, maths and language teachers as rare as hens' teeth, all the science for the GCSE exam is often taught by biologists (whose skills are less valuable in industry).

Why do you think that the Government changed its mind about insisting that all children should do a foreign language up to 16? Because they realised that so many well-qualified language graduates wouldn't touch the dreary GCSE syllabus with a bargepole, so there would never be enough teachers to teach every child to the age of 16.

Even teaching languages to the age of 14 seems almost to be beyond the resources at present and many children are taught French by people with no qualifications in the subject and who are only a couple of steps ahead of the pupils they are teaching.

What does this scandalous shortage of teachers who can do the job say for Tony Blair's much-vaunted education reforms? He will give us new schools, new names, new buildings, new governors, new resources but no new decent, well-educated specialist teachers.

You can pretend all you like that all is well because more and more children pass easier and easier exams, taught by illeducated teachers who can't teach the subject they're employed to teach, but as long as this state of affairs remains, all changes can be nothing more than window-dressing.