This article draws on the evidence from two Economic and Social Research Council funded projects which examined the impact of policy on the lives of classroom teachers and the experience of their pupils. The PACE Project concentrated on English primary teachers, reviewing practice in the light of the successive waves of legislative change following the 1988 Education Reform Act. The ENCOMPASS Project was a cross-cultural study which investigated the attitudes of pupils to schooling and the impact of policy on the work of secondary teachers in England, France and Denmark. Evidence from both projects suggested that teachers in England were concerned that externally imposed educational change had not only increased their workload but also created a growing tension between the requirements of government and the needs of their pupils. A perceived demand for a delivery of 'performance', for both themselves and their pupils, had created a policy focus that emphasised the managerially 'effective', in the interests of accountability, while ignoring teachers' deeply rooted commitment to the affective aspects of teaching and learning. This article reviews the main findings from both projects in relation to the current thrust of education policy-making in England and its possible impact on teachers' work and job satisfaction. It also draws attention to the possible long-term effects that such a focus could have on the quality of learning and the ability of pupils to engage with the necessary skills for lifelong learning.