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Numbers sitting RS soar

29 August 2014


Result: students jump for joy at Archbishop Justus C of E school, Kent, on Thursday of last week 

Result: students jump for joy at Archbishop Justus C of E school, Kent, on Thursday of last week 

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 other subjects.

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 this."

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".

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