23/02/2012 15:51 GMT | Updated 22/05/2015 10:12 BST

What's The English Baccalaureate All About?

Teenager revising Getty

My daughter's just reached the stage of choosing her GCSE options, and as if I didn't feel old enough having to remember to call them 'GCSEs', (as opposed to 'O-levels') there's now a new kid in town; the 'English Baccalaureate'.

Basically this means passing a certain combination of subjects at GCSE level, including Maths, English, Science, a foreign language and a 'humanities' subject; that's either History or Geography, and getting a grade 'C' or above in the lot.

From my quick straw poll research, I've found heaps of confused parents who don't have a clue what this is all about and are worried that opting for subjects that aren't in the Baccalaureate means their child will have a disadvantage in later life.

So is this something devised by the Government to make schools look good in league tables or a move to give our children a better education?

What is the 'English Baccalaureate'?

• First up it's not a qualification so you won't get a certificate though you can put it on your CV.
• The Department for Education calls it a 'performance measure' which basically means it's one way of rating schools.
• To reach English Baccalaureate level pupils must get grade 'C' or above across a selection of 'core' subjects at GCSE level.
• Those core subjects are Maths, English, Science, History or Geography, and a foreign language.
• There's currently no equivalent at A-level.

Why is it being introduced?

The Department for Education say students are now studying an increasing number of courses which lead to 'non- academic' qualifications. These numbers are up from 15,000 to 575,000 since 2004 and it feels some of these courses and qualifications don't carry much weight in the outside world. So its idea of the Baccalaureate is about building a general 'all round' education.

Will all schools include it?

They can do but it depends on how the school is run. Sian Humphreys from the National Association of Head Teachers says 'academies' or independent state schools aren't obliged to follow the national curriculum so there's no pressure to include the English Baccalaureate. And he says those that do may face staffing issues - "there's currently a shortage of modern foreign language teachers" - so he says its important to remember that GCSE options are about students expressing a 'preference' rather than a 'choice' over the courses they'd like to study.

Will schools put pressure on students to achieve it?

Some parents worry whether schools could 'bully' pupils into choosing Baccalaureate subjects to boost their school ranking. While there's lots of ways to measure a school's overall performance, (including grades achieved at GCSE and A-level) the English Baccalaureate will also be an additional measure. But realistically this is only relevant if pupils have a good chance of getting minimum grade 'C' across all five subjects.

How long will it be around for?

Right now we don't know, although according to some education experts like Sian Humphreys a more radical shake up of the education system is on the cards for 2013 when further changes to the national curriculum could be introduced.

What happens if my child doesn't achieve Baccalaureate level?

Nothing at all. Some pupils may choose to study a mix of subjects for GCSE that mean the Baccalaureate isn't relevant, say if you don't opt to study a language, or don't achieve the necessary grades.

What's the university line on this?

There's been speculation that some top universities will favour students with the English Baccalaureate but according to the Russell Group, (which includes 20 of the UK's top Universities such as Oxford and Cambridge) this is not true and it says it's 'A-level' results that are crucial for university courses.