Richard Garner, Education Editor: Government puts the baccalaureate on the table

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The Independent Online

I think I have lost count of how many times I have used the phrase "new-look league tables" to describe the secondary school performance tables. Here I go again though.

The Coalition Government has stamped its imprint on the 2010 league tables by including a new measure – the percentage of pupils who will be eligible for the new English baccalaureate – in a bid to give parents more information about potential schools for their children.

Plans for the new award were unveiled by Education Secretary Michael Gove last summer. It is to be a certificate that will be available to all youngsters who achieve five A* to C grade passes at GCSE in maths, a science subject, English, a modern or ancient foreign language and a humanities subject – history or geography.

The baccalaureate will not be available until 2013 but Gove and his colleagues decided to publish the information of who would have been eligible for it had it been ready (possibly in an attempt to keep schools on their toes and show them how far they have to go to get a good showing in this column).

Its planned introduction is not without controversy, particularly over the humanities subject. Religious education, taken by more and more youngsters these days, will not qualify them for it. Nor will music. GCSEs in applied languages and sciences – more practical courses aimed at encouraging more youngsters to take up these subjects – also will not qualify,

Andy Burnham, Labour's shadow education spokesman, is worried about the lack of recognition for vocational education.

"How can you have a situation in the modern world where you can get a baccalaureate for ancient Greek or Hebrew but not for IT (information technology)?" he asked at the North of England education conference in Blackpool last week.

Handled well, though , it could give languages in state schools just the boost they need after years of decline following the decision six years ago to make them voluntary for 14- to 16-year-olds. I just hope that more opt to study French, German, Spanish or Mandarin than ancient Hebrew – for the good of our economy.