EXAMINATION boards have seen a fall of nearly nine per cent in the number of pupils in England and Wales who take GCSE Religious Studies (RS) — the first decline in more than a decade.
In 2017, 13,076 fewer pupils took the full RS course than in 2016: a fall of 4.6 per cent. In addition, there was a decline of 24.6 per cent in those taking the RS short course. The overall fall, from 353,276 entrants in 2016 to 322,910 in 2017, was 8.6 per cent.
None the less, the number studying for the full GCSE course has risen by 70.1 per cent since 2007, even allowing for this year’s drop.
These figures come at a time when RS pupils are enjoying exam success. On Thursday of last week, it was announced that 28.3 per cent of those taking the full RS GCSE were awarded an A or A*. This compares with 20 per cent across all subjects. The figure for the less popular short course was markedly lower: 16.3 per cent gained an A or A*.
The chair of the National Association of Teachers of RE, Daniel Hugill, said: “It is clear . . . that not all students receiving their results today were offered the chance to study this important subject, which is reflected in the decline in entries. It is difficult to see how these schools are ensuring a suitable degree of religious literacy in their students, or, indeed, meeting their legal responsibilities in terms of Religious Education in Key Stage 4.”
The suggestion is that, although schools are legally obliged to provide religious education, no sanctions appear to be applied to those that do not. RS is not one of the core subjects in the EBacc, and thus is not used to measure schools’ performance. In Wales, where this does not apply, the number opting for RS has risen by 8.5 per cent in the past year.
The chief executive of the Religious Education Council of England and Wales, Rudolf Lockhart, called the decline “troubling”.
“Where schools and academies are not offering Religious Studies, GCSE pupils are being denied the opportunity to study an important and valuable subject, and there are serious concerns that the school is struggling to meet its legal obligations,” he said.