Regular readers of this column will know that I have very little time for the teachers' unions, organisations ruled by people who appear to live in a fantasy Alice in Wonderland world where "everybody has won and all must have prizes".

So I was hardly surprised to hear that Liz Beattie of the Professional Teachers' Association was seriously suggesting that the union should debate, and vote on, a motion at its annual conference banning the use of the word "failure" in schools, and replacing it with the phrase "deferred success".

The reaction to this suggestion by the press and public was, to their credit, one of incredulity and unbridled mirth, and justifiable scorn was heaped upon what was seen by all as a brainless notion.

The newspapers had a field day with the story - there was a cartoon of two people sitting in the dark, with the caption: "Oh damn, there has been a deferred success in the power" and sensible people dismissed the idea as just another batty notion put forward by people who refuse to face up to the real problems facing education.

Laying aside all this mirth for a while, however, it seems to me that what it shows, worryingly, is the mentality schools. of those in education.

Leaving aside the plainly foolish notion that none of us must be allowed to fail at anything we attempt to do, it seems that this obsession about not failing anyone seems ominously to have already found its way into our syllabuses and exams in our

No one must be allowed to have to face failure and so syllabuses and exams must be made so easy that anyone can cope with them and ensure a satisfying massive pass rate.

Could this attitude explain why pupils can be awarded a C grade at GCSE for only 17 per cent in a maths exam, or why A-level students can do "modular" courses, having the right to take the same module exam several times in order to get a better grade?

Is this why course work is manipulated by students and teachers alike to maximise the grades the pupils receive?

Just how does such dishonest subterfuge prepare children for life outside the classroom in the real world?

How many employers are prepared to accept shoddy work and pretend it is acceptable?

How are children going to react when told by their boss that their work isn't good enough?

How can they function in a fiercely competitive world if they have spent their school years being shielded from any thought of failure?

It's true that the union, stung by the hostile reaction to "deferred success", may have decided not to vote for the motion, having had delegates describe it as "a foot in mouth motion", but the damage is done. The whole can of worms about the dumbing-down of education, the simplifying of syllabuses and exams to babyish levels, the lowering of expectations of pupils, has been well and truly opened.

As far back as the 1980s, as this dumbing-down process got under way, a disillusioned teacher friend of mine said, (and I thought he was joking), that in the future they'd print GCSE certificates on toilet rolls, with the invitation, "please take one."

I wonder which union will adopt that motion for its next annual conference?