Is it finally time to lose Paradise Lost?
Schools could be encouraged to broaden the range of texts youngsters read after teachers voiced strong support for modernising the list of literary works covered by the national curriculum. And speaking and listening, under-represented in English exams, could be given more emphasis.
The findings result from a six-month inquiry, called English 21, into the future of English teaching, conducted by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority.
At present, secondary pupils must study 19 major prose writers published before 1914 and 28 poets published before World War One. Teachers are given a list of writers published after 1914 - including EM Forster, George Orwell and Ted Hughes - from which they have to choose works to study.
Pupils must also study recent drama, fiction and poetry written for a young audience, plus work "from different cultures and traditions".
Most respondents to the pound;50,000 QCA inquiry backed the idea of a shared "cultural heritage" that needs to be nurtured.
In the report, Andrew Motion, the poet laureate, is quoted as saying it is "a deep crime (for pupils) never to have come across things like Paradise Lost, some key Shakespeares, William Wordsworth's The Prelude, Great Expectations ..."
But many respondents said the list should be updated. Others said it should be scrapped.
The report said: "The place of the literary heritage is secure but the concept needs now to be refreshed in the light of changes in society so that their full cultural heritage is available to all pupils."
The consultation, which asked the public what the English curriculum should look like in 10 years' time, found that speaking and listening was "unanimously" emphasised as important for pupils of all ages.
A-level English students told the inquiry that they had very rarely been taught about the role of intonation, expression and gesture in speech, and that speaking and listening were undervalued at GCSE.
The report also identified much support among teachers for the vision for future secondary qualifications expressed last year by Sir Mike Tomlinson, the former chief inspector.
Sir Mike's model, which could have seen post-14 English split into a compulsory core with options such as drama, media, history of language and film studies, won widespread support.
spelling, Friday magazine 11