Key stage 2 pupils are spending half their lesson time learning English and maths, official figures show.
The statistics collected for the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority show that the time spent on English and maths has steadily increased over the past six years. By contrast, geography, the least well-taught subject according to inspectors, has seen its slice of the junior-school timetable fall from 5.6 per cent in 1997 to 4.2 per cent in 2003.
Children at KS2 now spend 27.1 per cent of their time on English and a further 22.2 per cent on maths: approximately 12 hours a week. In 1997 the figures were 23 per cent for English and 19.3 per cent for maths.
No primary-school subject in 1997 had less than 4 per cent of the timetable devoted to it - roughly one 55-minute lesson per week.
But by 2002, three subjects - music, design and technology, and personal, social and health education - had dropped below this level and less time was spent on all subjects except English, maths and ICT.
Pupils in infant schools who are learning to read and write spent more time on English than their older classmates in 1997 and 2003, but the increase in time devoted to English has not been as large. David Bell, the chief inspector, condemned the "two-tier curriculum" earlier this year. The Office for Standards in Education's annual report on primary geography found teaching was good in only one in three schools and too little time was spent on the subject.
David Lambert, chief executive of the Geographical Association, said:
"These figures are shocking. Geography is being marginalised. It is perceived to be harder to organise than other humanities subjects because quite a lot of it is about studying the locality of the school.
"It requires teachers to think creatively. We do not want teachers just to be given a pack or CD-Rom, but to have time and training to talk to colleagues locally about developing a curriculum for their area."
There are no statutory time allocations for subjects, but the literacy and numeracy strategies suggest hourly lessons every day. The QCA recommends that seven to 11-year-olds spend between 21 and 32 per cent of their week on English and between 18 and 21 per cent on maths. It adds that geography, design and technology, ICT, history, art and music should have around an hour a week each.
QCA guidelines leave between one and four hours a week to "top up" subjects, but admit that many schools will allocate some of this time to English and maths.