It's one of the best-known rules in the English language.
But the mantra "i before e, except after c" may about to be consigned to the history books.
Official guidance distributed to schools across England declares that the rule memorised by generations of children is no longer worth teaching.
Primary schools have been warned the traditional memory aid is too confusing for young children.
So many words fail to fit with the phrase that schools should drop it altogether, it is claimed.
Staff are encouraged to use more modern methods to teach spelling, including using drama, games and even analysing television guides.
But the move has sparked anger among traditionalists.
Judy Parkinson, author of the bestselling book I Before E (Except After C), said: "It's an extremely well-known phrase, easy to remember, and it obviously struck a chord.
"There are words that it doesn't fit, but I think teachers could always get a discussion going about the 'i before e' rule, and the peculiarities of the English language, and have fun with it. That's the best way to learn."
Guidance will be distributed to more than 13,000 schools as part of the Government's National Primary Strategy, set up to improve lessons for under-11s.
The document - Support for Spelling - recommends ways to turn children into competent spellers, giving them more time to "channel their time and energy into composition, sentence structure and precise word choice".
It says "the i before e except after c rule is not worth teaching" because there are "so few words" following it.
The rule only applies to words in which "ie" or "ei" stands for a clear "ee" sound. Without knowing that, the rule breaks down, as in the words "sufficient", "veil" and "their", it says.
The rule also fails in other ways. In some words, "e" comes before "i", even though there is no "c", as in "heinous", "protein" and "seize". The word "species" also fails to fit.
Masha Bell, an author who has campaigned for spelling to be simplified, said it was "not a good rule".
"People like it because it's a kind of silly rhyme," she told the Times Educational Supplement. "There are other sayings that are more useful, like 'one collar, two socks' for 'necessary'."
But the guidance suggests other rules can be employed.
This includes telling children that words do not end with the letter "v" unless they are abbreviations, such as "rev". If a word ends in the "v" sound then "e" must be added, as in "give" and "have".
Pupils are also told the letter "a" should be used for the "o" sound if it follows "w", as in "was", "wallet" and "want". The same applies when the "w" sound becomes "qu", as in "quality" and "squash". By Graeme Paton, Education Editor Published: 2:51PM BST 19 Jun 2009