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Rise in numbers taking RE exams

30 August 2013


Tested: students open their GCSE results at St Mary Redcliffe and Temple school, Bristol, last week

Tested: students open their GCSE results at St Mary Redcliffe and Temple school, Bristol, last week

MORE than 239,000 16-year-olds took the full-course GCSE examinations in Religious Studies (RS) this summer - a ten-per-cent rise on last year's figures. The percentage rise was the highest among the humanities subjects.

In contrast, there was a dramatic drop of 60,000 (28 per cent) in entries for the popular RS short course that leads to a half-GCSE award. Entries had previously risen every year for almost two decades. Religious-education experts blame the Government's discounting of the short-course award as a measure of school performance - leading some schools to encourage only full-course entries - and also the introduction of the EBacc. The latter, they argue, is leading to the replacement of RE teachers by specialists in EBacc subjects.

The chairman of the RE Council, John Keast, said that the decline in the short course was a serious concern. "It shows fewer teenagers are being given the chance to experience good-quality religious education."

Religious studies is the only short course that has ever attracted substantial interest. It was widely supported by schools, because it led to an an examination award for a subject that they are legally obliged to teach, and to which they are expected to allocate five per cent of curriculum time.

Teenagers liked it, Ed Pawson, who chairs the National Association of Teachers of Religious Education (NATRE), said "because it was often the only area of the curriculum that created opportunities for the expression of their thoughtful enquiries about life".

In a survey of 18 to 25-year-olds last year, many of the respondents said that RE was responsible for their most memorable lessons.

Decline in this wider area of religious education is what most worries RE specialists and church leaders. Mr Pawson said: "RE is a core part of Britain's education system, but, as this year's results show, while the need for religious literacy has never been greater, it is becoming harder for schools to provide good RE."

As part of its campaign to restore the status of RE, central to which is a national-curriculum-style review of the subject due to start next month, the RE Council will ask the Government to reinstate the short-course award's contribution to school-performance outcome.

Teachers' association welcomes RS results. NATRE has welcomed this month's A-level results, which showed a slight rise in the number of RS entrants, and one in four awarded A* or A grades. One fifth of successful applicants to read PPE at Oxford had RS as one of their A-level subects, a spokesman said.

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