Children in secondary schools and at sixth-form colleges would be allowed to start later than usual at 9.30am, but they would be expected to stay until at least 5.30pm, to do more work or to take part in organised sport.
The aim of the extra time at school, with a more flexible day, would be to raise education standards. But it might also prove popular with working parents, who are worried about their children being left unsupervised before they return home from work.
The Prime Minister has been working out the plans with Norman Blackwell, head of the No 10 policy unit, and his political secretary, Howell James, in meetings at his home in Huntingdon during the New Year break. He has called in key ministers to discuss the manifesto plans, which will be thrashed out with the Cabinet in a special Chequers meeting at the end of the month.
City training colleges have pioneered the longer students' day. Mr Major believes it has been a success which could be introduced in schools.
The longer school day could be costly, and it may upset teachers who are already protesting about low morale in the profession. However, it could mean higher earnings for teachers who carried out the supervision, or it could provide jobs for assistants brought in to cover the extra hours.
Mr Major will present the Cabinet with draft plans for the manifesto on a range of issues, including law and order, but Conservative Party sources said he wanted to focus on the "social agenda", including the provision of more cottage hospitals, improved education, and help for working women.
The Prime Minister wants to avoid the special Cabinet being used by senior Euro-sceptic ministers to force through a change of policy on Europe. The Chancellor has made clear that he would regard any change as a resigning issue.
Kenneth Clarke is to present a paper to the Cabinet next week on the criteria for judging whether Britain's European partners can meet the terms for entering a single currency without "fudging" the figures.
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