Children should be taught that Schubert's "Ave Maria" is better than Blur's latest hit, and that Milton is better than Mills and Boon, the Government's chief curriculum adviser said yesterday.
Dr Nick Tate, chief executive of the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority, who recently made a controversial call for a clearer lead from schools on morality, told a conference in London that a stronger emphasis on a national identity and a common heritage was needed.
At the conference, which aims to examine ways in which culture can be passed on through the curriculum, Dr Tate said that pupils should not be introduced to "an array of cultural delights" and then left to "make their own cultural choices as if one's choice of culture were like one's taste in clothes or food".
He attacked the prevailing view among intellectuals that no book or piece of music was more valuable than another, a view which surfaced in teachers' resistance to the introduction on the national curriculum of a canon of pre-1900 literary works.
Dr Tate argued that the key purpose of the curriculum was to introduce young people to some of the characteristics of what traditionally has been known as high culture. "I am not suggesting that young people should spend all their time studying Jane Austen and Shakespeare or listening to Bach and Mozart," he said. "What I am suggesting is that we (their educators) should give these things proper value." The book, not television, videos or computers should be at the heart of education, he insisted.
Outside the conference he said: "There is a danger of the book withering away because of developments in visual communications. At this conference we are asking: if the book is under threat, is there anything the school can do?"
Schools needed to combat the current "sense of rootlessness and confusion of identity", he said. We should try to agree on the aim that young people should be helped to develop a sense of civic or national identity.
Dr Tate said: "The curriculum needs to be firmly and proudly based on a cultural heritage. It has its roots in Greece and Rome, in Christianity and in the many-sided traditions of European civilisation." It should give young people a sense of past achievements and to help them see the relevance of those to the present day, he said.
In the past, young people had not been taught enough about the richness of other cultures. But such study could reinforce messages from Western traditions - in morality, for example.
All school leavers should know that the Chinese were writing sophisticated poetry centuries before Christ and about the artistic and literary heritage of India. "The best guarantee of minority cultures is a strong majority culture which values itself and which signals that traditions and customs are worthy of respect."Reuse content