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Religious studies trends

October 2015

More pupils in England and Wales have taken a full course of GCSE Religious Studies (RS) this year than in 2013–2014, latest government figures have revealed.

According to the Department for Education (DfE), the numbers were up 5.3 per cent against 2014, to 283,756. This echoed the increase in A Level entries, which were up 6.5 per cent this year compared with 2014.

However, the removal of short courses from Department for Education (DfE) performance tables has been having a negative effect on the number of pupils choosing to take RS at GCSE level.

According to Daniel Hugill, chairman of the National Association of Teachers of RE, an increasing number of schools have no pupils at all taking the subject.

This is because DfE performance tables do not take account of results in short courses. The short course is delivered at GCSE standard, but covers half the content of a full course and is only worth half a GCSE.

The damage to take-up of the RS GCSE short course has come at a time when the government is emphasising the importance for young people to have knowledge and understanding of religious and non-religious beliefs. 

Overall, this means that, compared with 2012, over 85,000 fewer pupils in England will complete key stage 4 this year having not gaining a qualification in RS — a drop of 20.3 per cent.

Mr Hugill said, ‘GCSE in RS makes a key contribution to preparing young people for adult life in our pluralistic society and global community. It is clear though that not all students were offered the opportunity to study this important subject. The increasing number of schools that have not entered a single student for an accredited Religious Studies qualification is a grave concern’.

Joyce Miller, chairman of the Religious Education Council of England and Wales, said, ‘I am heartened to see the rising number of entries for the GCSE full course in RS. However, it is frustrating that this enthusiasm among pupils for RS is not being translated into entries for the RS short course, due to it not being appropriately recognised in performance tables’.