The new curriculum will also oblige infant teachers to include phonics - the use of letter sounds to work out words - in the range of methods they use to teach reading.
John Patten, Secretary of State for Education, said the new proposals would 'simplify, streamline and strengthen the present curriculum by defining clearly the essential skills which English teaching should promote'. The list of classics would ensure that all pupils are introduced to the literary heritage in English.
But critics said the proposals would further damage teachers' morale, and encourage dull grammar lessons.
The National Association for the Teaching of English said that the row over testing made it 'a wholly inappropriate time to be producing a document which will bring yet more disagreement, dismay and disarray'. The new curriculum would lower standards.
Nigel de Gruchy, general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, said: 'When will this nightmare end? Even Stalin did not force 'standard Russian' down his subjects' throats.'
Anne Taylor, Labour's education spokeswoman, said: 'The Secretary of State cannot resist any opportunity to interfere. It is not his job to prescribe a reading list for schoolchildren.'
David Pascall, outgoing chairman of the National Curriculum Council, said English was the most important subject in the national curriculum because it was fundamental to all learning and to success beyond school.
Standard English will have to be taught from the age of five, but not in traditional grammar lessons. Targets are set for learning spelling and punctuation all the way to 16 - which English teachers reject as too prescriptive.
For primary children, the reading lists are merely recommended. Secondary teachers will have to choose some texts from a large range of options, including at least one Shakespeare play for all children aged 11 to 14.
Sir Ron Dearing, chairman of the testing and curriculum authorities, will oversee three months of consultation. Mr Patten wants to introduce the curriculum in September 1994.Reuse content