EVERY primary teacher should be given a day away from the classroom each fortnight for marking and preparation, employers will tell the Government.
Graham Lane, chairman of the National Employers' Organisation for School Teachers, believes that the measure could drastically reduce workload and improve recruitment and retention.
The suggestion was being put to Education Secretary Estelle Morris this week. However, headteachers' leaders have warned that the Government would need to recruit more than 20,000 new teachers to make the idea work.
Currently, primary teachers get an average of just 50 minutes of non-contact time a week, according to the recent PricewaterhouseCoopers report on staff workload.
NEOST's suggestion would boost this to 2.5 hours, which teachers could take as a five-hour block every fortnight. Mr Lane said that this approach would mean the teacher's class could be covered by the same colleague every time they were away.
Teachers would be free to take the time at home, he added. He wants all staff to be guaranteed a non-contact day every fortnight from 2004. Mr Lane told The TES: "Primary teachers need time away from classes to mark and prepare - why not give it to them in a block?
"It's not only potentially attractive to people who are already teaching. We also think that retired teachers might be persuaded back into classes by the prospect of working one or two days a week covering for their colleagues."
Secondary teachers get an average of three hours' non-contact time a week, but often find themselves having to use it to cover for absent colleagues, for example when they are on training courses.
NEOST plans to combat this by reducing the amount of training that takes place during the school-day. Teachers could be paid extra to go on courses in the evenings, at weekends or during the holidays.
The Government, which is to give its final response to the 18-month workload review in September, has reportedly considered offering teachers at least three hours a week of non-contact or "professional" time.
David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: "I think it's a great idea, providing we can find the teachers to make it work.
"We estimate it will take an extra 21,000 teachers to give school leaders more time out of the classroom, and you can add on thousands on top of that to make this work."
Eamonn O'Kane, general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, would not commit himself to supporting the idea. But he said: "Anything which attempts to tackle workload is worth considering and this is certainly an interesting suggestion."
A Department for Education and Skills spokeswoman said it would be premature to speculate on its response to the Government's workload inquiry, which concludes in September.