Government advisers on the curriculum and exams said they had agreed in principle to examine cuts of between 5 and 10 per cent on top of the 20 per cent proposed in Sir Ron Dearing's curriculum review. A final decision will be taken next month.
The inspectors from the Office for Standards in Education also attacked the requirement that secondary school pupils should have to choose from a prescribed list of authors in English literature.
Earlier this year the list caused a row between English teachers and Sir Ron, who was backed by ministers. The former said it should not be compulsory. The inspectors say: 'It is unlikely that the list will bring much additional benefit in extending the range of pupils' reading and it may well prove to be counter-productive.'
They argue that the list 'confers as much legitimacy on the study of poor quality poems by Shelley or Wordsworth as on the study of what is widely deemed to be their best work.' They also criticise the fact that Shakespeare is the only playwright named, suggesting that drama has a lower status than fiction or poetry.
The inspectors welcome Sir Ron's review but join the teachers' unions in arguing that further slimming is necessary. John Patten, the former Secretary of State for Education, ordered the review after protests from teachers about workload.
The report says teachers of 7- to 11-year-olds will 'find it very difficult to teach all the required, revised content to sufficient depth'.
They propose further reductions in science and history.
A spokesman for the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority, which advises the Government on the curriculum, said the cuts would not fall in English and mathematics. He said the authority had been persuaded to consider reductions after a consultation exercise which ended last week.
A spokeswoman for the National Union of Teachers said: 'If this really is going to reduce prescription and overload, we would welcome it, but we want to see the detail.' She said the union challenged Sir Ron's claim that his review had reduced the time taken by the national curriculum to four days a week.Reuse content