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Numbers swell for A-level RS

CHURCH OF ENGLAND secondary schools were again among the highest scoring at A level this year. In newspaper league tables based on this summer’s A-level results, published last week, six Anglican schools were among the top 50 comprehensives in England and Wales.

They were: Canon Slade School, Bolton; the Kings’ School, Peterborough; St Aidan and St John Fisher Joint Sixth Form, Harrogate; William Farr School, Lincoln; Lady Margaret School, Fulham; and Crompton House School, Oldham. Two more, the Blue Coat School, Oldham and Hutton School, Preston, were ranked in the top 75. Wilson’s C of E School, Sutton, and St Olave’s, Orpington, were among the 50 leading grammar schools.

Record numbers took A-level examinations in religious studies (RS). More than 14,400 students sat the examination, a 14-per-cent rise on last year’s entry — a higher increase than for any other subject. At AS level, the increase was even steeper: more than 20,000 students took the examination, almost 3000 more than last year.

The overall figures, however, remain low compared with, for example, history and geography, which attracted about 43,000 and 44,000 entries respectively. The performance of RS entrants compared well with other subjects. Almost 25 per cent were awarded A grades, 30 per cent received Bs, and 24 per cent received C grades.

The Revd Tony Parfitt, an RE specialist at Culham College Institute, said the growing popularity of RS at A level was attributable in part to the success of the GCSE short course in the subject. Entries for both the short-course and full-course GCSEs in RS have increased substantially over the past five years.

A further factor was the development by examination boards of modules in philosophy and ethics, which many sixth-formers find attractive and relevant to their lives. However, the increase in A-level RS does not imply a comparable improvement in biblical literacy; teachers report that the study of biblical texts still lacks appeal for most sixth-formers.

The greater interest in RS in schools has also yet to yield a substantial increase in applications for the hundreds of undergraduate degree programmes in theology and RS currently being advertised. Institutions with a long tradition in theology, such as the Universities of Cambridge, Oxford and Durham, have no difficulty in filling their places. Nor do the established provincial universities, though they may now be giving applicants slightly lower offers than in previous years; the knock-on effect of this on recruitment to theology and RS courses in newer and less prestigious institutions in the university sector is already being felt.

Two areas are at risk, Mr Parfitt says. One anxiety is that “hard” theology and future scholarship might be losing out to philosophy and ethics. Another is the shortfall in applications for courses leading to teaching qualifications in RE. This year, more than 700 specialist RE teachers will be needed to replace those retiring or leaving the profession. The number of acceptances due to be published next week is expected to show a shortfall of 300.

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http://www.culham.ac.uk/

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