THE increasing popularity of Religious Studies (RS) as an
academic subject over the past decade, continued this year with a
further increase in numbers taking RS at both A level and GCSE.
This month's examination results showed more than 20,000
students' gaining an A-level in RS - five per cent more than last
year, and almost double the number ten years ago. At GCSE, the
number of RS entrants in England and Wales rose to 269,494 - a
seven-per-cent increase in a year.
At GCSE, it attracted significantly more candidates than either
history or geography. Over the past decade, the number of RS
entrants has increased more than those for any other subject.
RS has been declared a suitable preparation for higher education
by Oxford, Cambridge, and the Russell Group universities. Studies
in 2011 and 2012 showed that one fifth of students admitted to read
mathematics also had an RS A level, and applicants who had studied
RS were more likely to be accepted to read history than those with
Ed Pawson, who chairs the National Association of Teachers of
RE, said: "A-level RS is not an easy option. Research from Durham
University has shown that it is more challenging than some other
'facilitating' subjects, and universities have recognised
The rise of RS as an academic subject has, however, been
countered by a dramatic 30-per-cent fall since last year in the
number of entrants for the GCSE short course in RS. Short-course
entries for England and Wales were 118,421 this year, compared with
169,088 in 2013. The reason for the drop was the Government's
decision that success in short-course exams in any GCSE subject
would no longer count towards a school's exam ratings.
The decision hit hardest at RS because it was the only short
course with a substantial take-up. Moreover, RE specialists say, it
gave a valuable focus at Key Stage 4 (the two years of GCSE) to
religious education as a compulsory subject widely acknowledged to
play an important part in educating young people about the range of
beliefs in a multicultural society.
They believe that, without the lure of exam points that add to
their league-table positions, many head teachers squeeze out RE at
Key Stage 4 to make room for other subjects. The Religious
Education Council says that the decline of the short course means
that, this year, 70,000 more 16-year-olds will leave school without
any RS qualification.
The chairman of the council, John Keast, said that "too few
students are now receiving a soldi grounding in RE", and expressed
fears that this could "create a section of society that lacks the
understanding of diverse faiths and beliefs essential to growing up
in 21st-century Britain".