As an international study confirmed British pupils' poor performance in the basics compared with competitor countries, ministers also announced schools would be urged to adopt more structured ways of teaching maths.
Schools minister Estelle Morris yesterday called for urgent action to address poor literacy and numeracy in primary schools and asked curriculum experts to advise schools on how to give a "sharper focus" to the three Rs. Trainee teachers would be schooled in "traditional" teaching methods.
However, she stressed the shift of emphasis would take place within the existing nine-subject national curriculum, which ministers have pledged will remain unchanged for children up to 14 until 2000.
Teaching unions yesterday welcomed moves to concentrate on the basics, but warned against excessive government interference in the classroom.
The National Association of Head Teachers cautioned against any attempt to prescribe a particular time slot for each of the basic skills.
General secretary David Hart said most primary schools already ensured reading and writing took up a significant proportion of the timetable.
"It is the quality of the teaching rather than the time spent which counts," he said.
Doug McAvoy, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said teachers "do not wish to see a return to the bad old days of imposition from the centre".
Ms Morris, addressing a conference held by the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority (SCAA), insisted the Government had no intention of dictating how, or what, schools should teach.
However, she made clear that a daily literacy hour, recommended last February by a Literacy Task Force set up by Labour while in opposition, was looked upon favourably by ministers.Reuse content