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GCSE candidates up this year, despite complaints of underfunding

25 August 2022


Students at the Oasis Academy Hadley in Ponders End, London, receive their GCSE results, on Thursday

Students at the Oasis Academy Hadley in Ponders End, London, receive their GCSE results, on Thursday

THE number of pupils taking Religious Studies at GCSE in England and Wales this year rose by 0.6 per cent to 253, 225 — in contrast to the decline in numbers taking the subject at A level (News, 18 August). But campaigners say that the subject is starved of funding and have reiterated calls for a national plan for it.

The Religious Education Council for England and Wales (REC) attributed the rise to increased take-up of a GCSE short course in RS: 16.5 per cent more pupils took it this year (18,257) than last (15,672). The number of candidates sitting RS GCSE in Wales, however, dropped by 11 per cent (compared with a five-per-cent overall fall in pupils sitting GCSEs).

The number of students achieving grades 7-9 — equivalent to A and A* — in RS fell by, on average, one per cent, data published by Schools Week indicated. The fall in such grades awarded across all subjects was three per cent.

The overall pass rate has fallen by four percentage points, although, as with A-level results last week, the decline was expected, after Ofqual’s decision to reverse the sharp increase in top grades awarded during the pandemic, when results were determined by algorithm and teacher assessment.

The REC and the National Association of Teachers of Religious Education (NATRE) have reiterated their calls for a National Plan for RS, and have drawn attention to a lack of funding for the subject.

The Conservative MP who first proposed the intervention, the Father of the House, Sir Peter Bottomley, said on Thursday that the rise in numbers taking RS showed that it was “widely popular at GCSE”, and so “we must not let down young people by continuing to starve the subject of funding and leadership.”

He continued: “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. Generations of students should understand spiritual development and interfaith understanding that is necessary to contribute fully within modern British society.”

The chair of the REC, Sarah Lane Cawte, said: “At its best, RS is one of the most personally enriching and academic subjects on the curriculum. Yet sadly, I cannot think of another subject that has ever attracted such a large cohort of students, yet received such little corresponding government support [News, 20 May],” she said on Thursday.

This was reiterated by the chair of the NATRE, Katie Freeman, who praised the hard work of teachers and called on the Government to “back up their hard work with a properly funded National Plan. This will ensure that every young person has access to an excellent RE teacher, armed with the best evidenced-based curriculum that will allow them to take their place in modern society.”

Among those opening their GCSE results on Thursday were students at Lichfield Cathedral School, where 84 per cent of students achieved the top grades — almost three times the national average.

On Thursday morning, when results were released, the Archbishop of York invited people to pray “for the young people who may be feeling anxious about what comes next”.

Writing on Twitter, he continued: “Help us to value each and every young person and enable them to flourish and become who God wants them to be.”

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