TOUGH new requirements for GCSE and A-level courses in religious
studies were announced by the Government last week after extensive
consultation. For the first time, GCSE students will spend at least
half their time studying the beliefs, practices, and texts of two
religions, chosen from a prescribed list that includes Buddhism,
Christianity, Catholic Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and Sikhism.
Current rules allow them to focus on just one religion.
The remainder of the course will allow students to prepare for a
textual paper, or to study religion, philosophy, and ethics in the
modern world. A spokesman for the Department for Education said
that students would be expected to understand where religious views
were common both within and between faiths, and also where they
At A level, all students will have to demonstrate a broad
historical understanding of religious thought and its contemporary
expressions. They will choose three out of four options from: a
systematic study of one religion, including a comparison between
the thought of at least two theologians, a textual paper,
philosophy, and ethics.
The new requirements have been broadly welcomed by
religious-education experts and religious leaders. The Church of
England's chief education officer, the Revd Nigel Genders, said
that the compulsory study of two faiths at GCSE, and added rigour,
would encourage religious literacy among young people. The
requirement at A level for deeper religious understanding, as well
as the opportunity to focus on one religion, would be a good
preparation for future theologians and RE teachers.
A statement from the Religious Education Council (REC) said that
the subject, which has doubled in popularity since 2010, deserved
the increased rigour of the examination criteria. The statement
said, however, that it was regrettable that the new criteria did
not allow for in-depth study at GCSE of a non-religious stance,
such as humanism.
The chief executive of the British Humanist Association (BHA),
Andrew Copson, who is a member of the REC, said that he was
"bitterly disappointed" by the decision; but a government spokesman
said that non-religious views could be included in the philosophy
and ethics sections of the exams.
Awarding organisations, formerly known as examination boards,
have until September to prepare syllabuses for the new-look
examinations. Schools will start teaching the new courses in
The publication of strengthened RS courses will almost certainly
result in further pressure on the Government to ensure the training
of more qualified specialists. An analysis of recent
teacher-training applications suggests that those for RE courses
are substantially lower than last year.
School leaders and governors will also be urged to increase the
amount of curriculum time that schools give to the subject.