REC Board response to DfE exam criteria consultation

Response from the REC Board to the DfE exam criteria consultation: 23 December 2014

Question 1

Is the revised GCSE content in religious studies appropriate? Please consider whether:

  • there is a suitable level of challenge
  • the content reflects what students need to know in order to progress to further academic and vocational education
  • the amount of content in the qualification is appropriate and comparable to other reformed GCSEs and, if not, whether you have any suggestions for removing or adding content
  • the number of optional pathways through the qualification is suitable and these present comparable levels of challenge
  • there is the right balance between breadth and depth of study.

Please provide evidence to support your response.

We strongly support the intention of the time scale i.e. that the new RS specifications should be ready for first teaching in September 2016 alongside other subjects.

We agree that there is a suitable level of challenge and that the amount of content is appropriate and comparable to what is required for other reformed GCSEs; we also agree that (with the exception set out below) the content reflects what students need to know in order to progress to further academic and vocational education. There is a reasonable balance between breadth and depth of study. We strongly welcome the requirement (a) to study two religions and (b) to study two denominations where a single religion is being studied in the thematic section.

Where we disagree is that we believe strongly that the Annex should include the option to study a non religious worldview systematically.  The inclusion of non religious worldviews in thematic studies is welcome but does not go far enough.  It is the policy of the RE Council, as embodied in the non statutory National Curriculum Framework for RE (2013) that young people should be able to learn about non religious worldviews as well as religious ones on grounds of educational relevance (the large numbers of people in Britain today who describe themselves as being of no religious belief and whose views matter in any discussion of religious and other beliefs) and the importance of not discriminating unfairly against young people who are of no religious belief and wish to study that perspective in depth.

In para 18 we would like to see explicit flexibility to include examples from religions other than those for which an annex is provided e.g. Zoroastrianism, the Baha'i faith, Jainism.

In the case of the study of a religion for 25% of the qualification, we consider there is an imbalance between beliefs and practices.  A better balance would be achieved if the two sections required were 'Beliefs and teachings' + 'Practices', instead of 'Beliefs and teachings' + 'Sources of authority'.  If the latter pairing is kept, there is a risk of losing learning about the impact of belief on actions and ways of life which would potentially distort the way a religion is represented. 

Question 2

Is the revised A level content in religious studies appropriate? Please consider whether the content reflects what students need to know in order to progress to undergraduate study.

Please provide evidence to support your response.

We agree that the content reflects what students need to know to progress to undergraduate study, whilst also wishing to note that this should not be the sole purpose of A level RS nor the sole criterion by which it is judged. A further criterion is whether the content will enable the development of specifications which are found interesting and worthwhile by the many students who take A level RS but do not intend to study it at undergraduate level.

Question 3

Is the revised AS qualification content in religious studies appropropriate?

Yes

Equalities Impact

In accordance with the Equality Act 2010, public bodies must have “due regard”, when making decisions, to the need to eliminate discrimination, harassment, victimisation; advance equality of opportunity; and foster good relations, in relation to relevant protected characteristics. It would therefore be very helpful to understand if, in your view, there is any potential for the subject content to have a disproportionate impact upon any student with relevant protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010. It would be particularly helpful to understand if you have evidence to support any concerns you may have about such impacts.  

Question 4

Do you think that any of the proposals have the potential to have a disproportionate impact, positive or negative, on specific students, in particular those with 'relevant protected characteristics'? (The relevant protected characteristics are disability, gender reassignment, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation.)  Please provide evidence to support your response.

The proposals for GCSE as they stand risk having a negative impact on students of no religious belief because their own beliefs are not properly taken into account - see answer to Q1.

This is also the case for students from 'minority' religious faiths such as the Baha'i, Zoroastrian and Jain traditions.

Question 5

How could any adverse impact be reduced and how could the subject content of GCSEs and/or A levels be altered to better advance equality of opportunity between persons who share a protected characteristic and those who do not share it? Please provide evidence to support your response.

This could be achieved as far as students of non religious world views are concerned by making an addition to the Annex for GCSE which listed content for the systematic study of a non religious worldview (e.g. Humanism).

As far as pupils from 'minority' religious traditions are concerned, specific reference to these could be written into the content in the thematic part of the criteria.