THE steady rise in the popularity of Religious Studies as an A level continued this year with almost 25,000 RS entries, an increase of 6.8 per cent on last year.
This year’s figures means that the total number of entries has more than doubled since 2003, more than for any arts, humanities, or social-science subject. Over all subjects, only Further Maths has seen a more rapid growth.
The number of AS-level entries was even higher, at 35,808. The AS is usually taken by 17-year-olds after one year of post-GCSE study, and is popular with students pursuing a broad interest in a subject without necessarily taking it to university-entrance standard. Changes in examination rules have resulted in an overall drop in AS entries of 14 per cent this year, although the RS decrease of 4.5 per cent was much lower.
Last week’s A-level results showed a generally high standard of entries: 23 per cent of A-level students were awarded A* or A grades. The results suggest that interest in RS continues, notwithstanding its continued exclusion from the Ebacc, the government-backed core of academic subjects. Religious Studies is well regarded for university admissions.
It is listed as a “facilitating subject” by the Russell Group of top universities. Moreover, 21 per cent of those admitted to study English at the University of Oxford last year had an RS A level, as did one in ten students admitted to Oxford’s PPE (Philosophy, Politics, and Economics) and History courses.
Further evidence of the academic content of RS came from research on the comparative difficulty of A-level subjects carried out by the Centre for Evaluation and Monitoring at Durham University. This showed RS in the middle-difficulty range, similar to Geography, and more difficult than English.
Commenting on this year’s results, the chief executive of the Religious Education Council of England and Wales, Rudolf Eliott Lockhart, said: “It’s fantastic to see how popular RS AS level has become. It is a rigorous academic A level, and attractive as a qualification to universities.”
The success of RS, he added, contrasted with the long-standing shortage of qualified RS specialists. “I hope the Government will now work with us to address this shortfall.”