neglect of the classics is putting English literature in danger of becoming a "glorified form of media studies", according to veteran educationist Lord Randolph Quirk.
The former British Academy president and English literature professor, is advising the Specialist Schools Trust on plans for secondaries to specialise in humanities subjects from next year.
He hopes new specialist English schools will put greater emphasis on classic novels and poetry in the curriculum.
The 82-year-old told The TES that, though schools should not be "captive to the past", he was concerned that young people were increasingly unable to recognise quotes from literary classics or understand their historical context.
"We are in an alarming downward spiral towards a culture that values only the contemporary," he said.
Lord Quirk said he hoped English specialist schools would take a catholic approach to literature and encourage pupils to study a broader range of authors than they would need purely for GCSE or AS exams.
He suggested they should read Marlowe, Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Tennyson, George Eliot and George Bernard Shaw while they should also study the Bible and classics in translation.
Secondary schools can apply to specialise in humanities from October, opting for English, history, or geography as a core subject with an accompanying "minor" specialism such as religious education or classical civilisation. The historian Lord Asa Briggs is also advising the trust.
Sir Cyril Taylor, the trust's chairman, said he understood Lord Quirk's concerns and that he hoped English specialists would eventually lead the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority to rethink the English curriculum.
However, Trevor Millum, director of communications for the National Association for the Teaching of English, said classic boooks already had a place in the national curriculum alongside contemporary writing.
Mr Millum also said he was sceptical about the impact of English specialist schools.