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RS exams will now focus on two faiths

20 February 2015


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 

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 diverged.

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 September 2016.

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.

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