RELIGIOUS Studies (RS) remains the fastest-growing A-level exam subject among the arts, humanities, and social sciences in the UK, and the second fastest after Further Maths.
A-level students received their examination results on Thursday of last week. More than 23,800 chose to sit RS exams this summer — down four per cent on last year, but still more than double the number taking the exam since 2003 (11,132 students).
The nearest comparable subject was Political Studies, whose uptake increased by 90 per cent in this time. The data provided by the Joint Council for Qualifications reports that among all subjects, only Further Maths had seen more rapid growth than RS.
A contrasting drop in the choice of RS at AS level (down more than 50 per cent) in the past year has been explained as part of the UK-wide abandoning of AS level entries across all subjects.
Of all RS students collecting A-level results this week, 23.5 per cent were awarded an A or an A* — higher that 13 other subjects, including English (17.9 per cent), and Business Studies (15.2 per cent).
Further Maths students gained the highest percentage of As and A*s (58.2 per cent — 42.2 for single maths), compared with the lowest achieving subjects: Media (11.5 per cent), and General Studies (12.1 per cent).
Overall, the proportion of students awarded A* and A grades in all subjects increased for the first time since 2011.
Responding to the figures, the National Association of Teachers of RE (NATRE) and the Religious Education Council of England and Wales (REC) emphasised the importance of the subject in the UK. Universities and employers were increasingly recognising the value of religious literacy.
Pointing to data from the Higher Education Career Services Unit, which suggests that 25 per cent of university graduates in 2015 went on to work in the legal, social, or welfare sectors, NATRE and REC state that career prospects are “very bright” for those studying RS or theology at degree level.
They also point to the creation in February of a diversity-and-inclusion training programme from Ernst & Young: Religious Literacy for Organisations, designed to help organisations better understand religious inclusion and its impact on business process and performance.
Russell Group Universities are also keen to take on students who studied religion at A level, NATRE says. Its data, accumulated from Freedom of Information requests, suggests that 21 per cent of students admitted to the University of Oxford to study English, and 13.5 per cent admitted to study History, in 2015, had an RS A level.
The chair of NATRE, Daniel Hugill, congratulated A-level students and teachers on the latest results. “It is of little surprise to those of us who teach RS that it remains so popular amongst young people. RS A level is an excellent preparation for both further study and for entering the world of work. The subject matter and approach of an RS A level helps to equip students with the skills, knowledge, and attitudes necessary to succeed in modern Britain.”
The chief executive of the REC, Rudolf Eliott Lockhart, said that, while its popularity and the results were encouraging, there was still work to be done to support religious education in the country.
“This is a highly rated subject that offers pupils the opportunity to explore crucial questions in relation to beliefs, values, and morality. In doing so it provides an excellent preparation for living in a multifaith, multicultural world.
“I hope that the Government will want to work with us to turn enough of today’s keen A Level pupils into tomorrow’s teachers, to help meet the shortfall in appropriately qualified teachers of religious education that we currently face.”