Writers, poets, actors and journalists should be brought into English lessons to boost creativity, the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority has suggested.
In a report called Taking English Forward, the QCA paints a picture of "mundane" lessons, with teachers under pressure to rely on routines and structures and lacking time to be creative.
The report followed its English 21 inquiry, in which more than 5,000 teachers, parents, pupils, employers, writers and local authorities were asked for their views on what the curriculum should look like in 10 years'
Many employers and universities were unhappy with teenagers' competence at reading, writing, speaking and listening.
Those involved often highlighted the "four Cs" - competence, creativity, cultural understanding and critical skills. To improve cultural understanding the report said England's literary heritage should not be seen as a "static and fixed" list of texts, but be updated to include work from various traditions, including those of young people from ethnic minorities.
Critical skills were seen as vital to success in all aspects of life, including at work - for example, the ability to check the validity and origin of material on the internet.
Ian McNeilly, director of the National Association for the Teaching of English and a teacher at Brantwood school in Sheffield, said: "Creativity is integral to the personality of almost every English teacher. We would like to be creative, but sometimes the curriculum is not as flexible as we would like."
He said English teachers were particularly concerned about lack of creativity in the curriculum at key stage 3 and the fact that Year 9 lessons were often dominated by the requirements of Sats.
Mr McNeilly said poor communication skills among school-leavers after GCSEs reflected the fact that in the past few years the marks given for spelling, punctuation and grammar had declined.
But he warned that the demands of business should not be the sole driver of what happens in the English classroom.
"We should be wary of the idea that the purpose of schools is merely to turn out proper little workers," he said.
Taking English Forward is at www.qca.org.uk
Analysis 23, bethan marshall 27
Brighter sparks in the canon
Following English 21, the QCA has proposed a range of ideas for the renewal of English teaching:
* boost creativity: poets, writers, actors and journalists to be brought into the classroom
* new courses and qualifications in creative writing to increase competence
* speaking and listening to be a priority for pupils of all ages
* eight and nine year-olds to be taught keyboard skills
* boost cultural understanding
* texts from a wide range of cultures to be used in classrooms
* reading and writing texts on screen also to be included
* to help develop critical skills: more flexible qualifications with a greater range of choices