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A-Level results: Specialists concerned by a fall in students taking Religious Studies

18 August 2022

Top grades fall from 2021, but are up from pre-pandemic year, when exams were last taken

Lichfield Cathedral School

Lichfield Cathedral School students celebrate on Thursday after receiving their exam results. The school reports that 21 per cent of students gained A* and Distinction*, while 44 per cent gained A*/Distinction* to A/Distinction. The school’s 100-per-cent pass rate was maintained

Lichfield Cathedral School students celebrate on Thursday after receiving their exam results. The school reports that 21 per cent of students ga...

THE number of top grades awarded at A level has fallen this year, together with the number of students taking Religious Studies (RS), although both instances of decline still buck more general trends.

The proportion of students awarded a C grade or above in England has fallen to 82.1 per cent, down from 88.2 per cent in 2021. The figure this year remains, however, almost seven per cent higher than in 2019, when grades were last based on exams. In the Covid-hit years of 2019 and 2020, students were awarded grades based on an algorithm and teacher assessment.

The number of students examined in RS also fell this year, by 2.7 per cent, prompting warnings that underfunding threatened the recent growth in the subject. Last year, there was a 6.1 per cent increase in RS students. Despite the latest decline, RS has attracted increasing numbers of students over the past two decades: this year, numbers were 45.4 per cent higher than in 2003 (News, 10 August 2021).

Responding to the results, the Conservative MP Sir Peter Bottomley called for a national plan to inspire students to take RS. “We must not let down young people by continuing to starve the subject of funding and leadership,” he said: “Schools and colleges need a national plan that sets out a modern and relevant curriculum for education in religion and in the world’s faiths and cultures.”

Sir Peter, who chaired a parliamentary round table in March on the future of RS, said that “generations of students should understand spiritual development and interfaith understanding that is necessary to contribute fully within modern British society.”

The National Association of Teachers of Religious Education (NATRE) and the Religious Education Council of England and Wales (REC) have called for more funding for the subject.

The chair of the REC, Sarah Lane Cawte, said: “Over two decades, RS has become more and more popular for A-level students. However, this year’s results raise serious concerns over the ongoing funding crisis in the subject.” She praised RS as “a tool for social mobility, with many disadvantaged students taking the subject and doing well, opening up a wealth of transferable skills to these pupils that may previously not have been accessible”.

She warned, however, that the Council now foresaw “a situation in which the brightest and best students attracted to the A level risk being let down by a lack of specialism as a result of government inaction over funding and teacher recruitment”.

The chair of the NATRE, Katie Freeman, echoed Sir Peter’s call for a national plan to “ensure we can support current and future teachers by scaling out the best evidenced-based curriculum to ensure every A-level student is taught by the specialist they deserve”.

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