If the bold instruction that primary schools should implement first a literacy hour and then a numeracy hour is repeated for secondary schools, how will we cope? My Year 7 pupils currently have three-and-a-half hours of English a week, and the same amount of time for maths. If they need an extra hour-and-a-half, from which subjects should I pinch it? Or will we just extend the day?
We recently held a review of the curriculum in Years 7 to 9. We began with anxieties about under-resourcing in RE and modern languages. Increasing their teaching time meant taking periods from another subject. But which one?
Not from history and geography, for instance, because they only had two to begin with. The time had to come from those with big allocations - maths, English, science, PE. Surely maths and English would be benefiting from pupils having had the new hours in primary schools, and could manage with less time in the early secondary years?
But the new schemes for literacy and numeracy in secondary schools come on-stream in September, and staff are understandably nervous of giving up any time. In addition, isn't next year Science Year? Not wise, perhaps, to reduce science time. PE? But what of the health of the nation and our hopes for Olympic medals in 10 years' time? More seriously, as a timetabler in the past I always tried to break up the days for junior classes with physical activity which wouldn't generate homework and for which you didn't need three textbooks and a big file in an overloaded backpack.
You can guess the conclusion: we waned to redistribute a couple of periods, and back came the request from most departments for more periods and no reductions. What did the review committee want? A 52-period week. To get it, we'd either need a longer day, or have to give up the lunchtime activities to sneak the extra lessons in.
I was reminded of Boxer in Animal Farm, the cart horse who really believed that his masters were right and reasonable in every request and that all he had to do to fulfil what they wanted was to work harder. Conscientious teachers will respond to the pressure for raised standards and better results by working harder, working longer, seeing more of their pupils and less of their families. And, like my review committee, they will volunteer to do it.
Talk of working differently - as in computer link-ups and distance learning via video conferencing, and four-day weeks with pupils emailing super teachers - is entertaining and intriguing. Maybe in five years' time we'll be saying, "Well, of course, that was the obvious solution, wasn't it, and how could people have been so dense as not to see it?" But, right now, such solutions sound alien to most teachers and schools. It would be wonderful if we could all enact the instruction, "work smarter, not harder", but these weasel words imply that being more effective is easy. Teachers do want to raise standards. They believe more time is essential. They may be right. And those who grumble that teachers work short days with long holidays may be delighted. Whether pupils as young as 11 should be working a 30-hour week, with a further hour a night of homework, is another matter.
Hilary Moriarty is headteacher of Bedgebury school in Kent, but writes here in a personal capacity.