A teaching pack about the transfer of students from primary to secondary schools says teachers with such degrees could disadvantage their pupils. This is because English in secondary schools concentrates on the study of novels, plays and poetry, while primary pupils are taught how to read and write, use grammar and spell. Secondary teachers with linguistic qualifications could therefore help make the transition smoother for their pupils.
English teachers have reacted angrily to the suggestion that they are too focused on literature and not capable of teaching language. And they fear that the overhaul of English lessons under the new strategy will erode the role of literature because it leaves no time for extended reading.
Ruth Moore, chair of the National Association for the Teaching of English, said: "It raises issues about the status of literature in secondary schools and the professionalism of teachers. English teachers are perfectly capable of teaching language without having a specific degree in it - that is what professional development is about."
Most secondary English teachers have literature degrees, as do many primary school teachers, according to NATE.
Kevin Morris, a postgraduate certificate in education lecturer at De Montfort University, Bedford, where 90 per cent of trainees have literature degrees, said: "This is a blow to my students. It raises the bigger question of where literature fits in secondary schools given the demands of the KS3 strategy."
A spokeswoman for the strategy said: "We value the skills of literature that teachers bring to KS3. It is important that pupils have a full range of skills in order to access English, including non-fiction."
Other problems with the transfer to secondary school pinpointed by the strategy include less curriculum time for English, lessons taught by different teachers, giving pupils an easy start to ease them in, lost time because of re-testing in the first term, loss of momentum after key stage 2 tests and the long summer break.