FAR-REACHING reforms to public examinations in religious studies
have been announced by the Government.
Consultation began this week on new-look rules that, from 2016,
will require entrants for GCSE and A-level RS to demonstrate their
understanding of at least two religions instead of one, as at
present. They will also have to answer questions on ethics, or
It is understood that the new rules had been considered
politically controversial, and were subjected to scrutiny by
advisers at 10 Downing Street. The announcement, expected for
several weeks, was made two days after the chairman of the All
Party Parliamentary Group on RE, Stephen Lloyd MP, raised the issue
during Prime Minister's Questions.
The Secretary of State for Education, Nicky Morgan, said that
the reforms would add greater rigour and breadth to
Although general RE programmes commonly cover Christianity and
five other faiths, as well as ethical issues, until now RS
syllabuses used by both faith schools and those without a religious
designation have allowed students to study only their own religion,
and answer questions on ethics from a personal standpoint, without
reference to specific religions.
The new rules retain some flexibility. Schools that offer RS at
examination level will be able to spend 75 per cent of teaching
time on one religion, and 25 per cent on another, or divide study
time equally between two religions. None the less, studying two
religions to exam level will be obligatory.
The new stipulation is being seen, in part, as a response to the
Trojan-horse Islamic-extremism inquiries at a group of Birmingham
schools earlier this year. Member organisations of the RE Council,
including Muslim experts, were, however, consulted over the
detailed examination criteria.
The final proposals were published with endorsements from the
Church of England and the Roman Catholic Education Service, as well
as from Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, and Sikh educational spokesmen, the
National Association of Teachers of RE, and the RE Council.
At a meeting with the RE Council just before last week's
announcement, the Minister of State for School Reform, Nick Gibb,
emphasised the Government's determination to raise standards in
religious education. And he praised the contribution made by
members to the examination revisions.
The appeal of religious studies has increased dramatically over
the past decade. It attracted more than 280,000 entrants this
summer - more than either history or geography.
The new proposed new structures are likely further to increase
its popularity, the director of the Culham St Gabriel's Trust, Dr
Mark Chater, believes. "I am an enthusiast, and delighted they
retain the options of questions on philosophy and ethics." The
reforms would strengthen the academic reputation of RS, he
The new structures have also been welcomed by examination
boards: a statement from the Oxford, Cambridge, and RSA Board (OCR)
said that it would be "an interesting challenge".
During the consultation period, a significant change, to add the
option of studying a non-religious world-view, will be pressed by
the British Humanist Association. In spite of support from the RE
Council, this option was rejected by Ministers.
Other critics are likely to ask why, because of its importance
in the religious and cultural heritage of the UK, and given that it
is a part of the RE curriculum at every stage, there is no
compulsory paper on Christianity.
Leader - 'Doubling up in
Should the study of Christianity be compulsory in RS exams?