Overall GCSE Religious Studies exam entries in 2013 have fallen as a result of the introduction of the English Baccalaureate, according to analysis by the Religious Education Council of England and Wales (REC) and the National Association of Teachers of RE (NATRE).

Whilst RS subject entry numbers have been reported as rising, with those electing to take a full GCSE increasing by 10.6%, the growth has been eradicated by a drop of almost 30% (28.7%) in entries for the short course, or half GCSE. This is equivalent to an overall net drop of 9% in students taking GCSE RS this year, reversing an upward trend since 1995. It is a direct result of the discounting of the short course as a measure of school performance and the introduction of the EBacc. Both are leading to a decline in specialist teacher provision, and lessons being cut despite a legal obligation to teach RE.

By contrast, Religious Studies results at both GCSE and A Level remain strong, bucking the national trend of falling grades in England. This reinforces research that has shown RE to be a popular, relevant and challenging course that many teenagers want to study.

John Keast, chair of the Religious Education Council said:

“There is good news – most notably schools, students and teachers have worked hard in a constantly changing and confusing education environment.  Overall standards and grades remain high, showing that when Religious Studies is taught well and offered as a viable choice, it is both popular and rigorous.
While the increase in full course GCSE RS entries is positive news, showing schools value it highly, the decline in the short course is a serious concern. It shows that fewer teenagers are being given the chance to experience good quality RE as part of their secondary school education.
The National Association of Teachers of RE (NATRE) campaigns to show Religious Studies offers a good preparation for university.  This year at RS A Level, the number of A* and A grades remained constant at 25.5%, compared to 2012. The same is true of the A*-C measure at 80.3%.”

Ed Pawson, chair of NATRE and head of RE at the King’s School in Devon, said:

“Teachers tell us that students who do well at GCSE and go on to study Religious Studies A Level are often at an advantage when entering university. This is borne out in Oxford University figures: 20% of successful applications to study a degree in  Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE), 18% of those for English and 13% of those for History had Religious Studies as one of their three A Levels.”

RE is a core part of Britain’s education system and this year’s results are an indication of how much harder it is to help schools deliver high quality RE at a time when the need for religious literacy is greater than ever. With religious and non-religious diversity increasing, recent YouGov research shows adults attach a value to young people being able to articulate their own beliefs, as well as engaging with and respecting others.

Commenting on the overall fall in GCSE RS entries, Ed Pawson concludes:

“This year’s results show the professionalism and commitment of RE teachers around the country. It has been a turbulent and uncertain year, yet RE remains a subject that young people want to study. It helps them ask and answer significant questions about the way people think, believe and act in contemporary society. It is often the only area of the curriculum that gives voice to the existential questions that many teenagers ask, creating opportunities for the expression of their thoughtful enquiries about life.”

If the fall in the number of students being entered for the short course continues there will be even fewer specialist teachers than there are now, more schools not following their legal obligation, and a continued pattern of decline. The RE Council on behalf of the whole RE community will continue to lobby hard for the subject to be fully included in school performance measures.

Further media information:

Colin Hallmark / Harriet Johnson, 3:nine Communications
Tel: 0207 736 1888; 07745 914170; email: info@3nine.co.uk

The Religious Education Council of England & Wales (REC)

Established in 1973, the REC is a national organisation that represents a range of religions and beliefs. Members include the Church of England, the Catholic Church, the Free Churches, the Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh, Jain, Zoroastrian and Bahá’í faiths, and the British Humanist Association and professional teaching associations including the National Association of Teachers of RE (NATRE).

NATRE is the subject teacher association for RE professionals in primary and secondary schools and higher education, providing a focal point for their concerns, a representative voice at national level and publications and courses to promote professional development. NATRE’s Executive consists of a majority of serving teachers from primary and secondary schools who are elected for a three-year term of service. NATRE is a member of, and works in collaboration with, the Religious Education Council for England and Wales.

Research sources

YouGov study across a total sample size of 1825 adults.
Fieldwork was undertaken between 9th – 12 March 2012. Revealed over half (53%) of all adults in England and Wales who gave  an opinion either way say RE should remain a compulsory subject and 58% agreed it is beneficial for all pupils to participate in lessons.

NATRE research across 625 individual schools in England.
Responses were gathered through an online poll during June/July 2012.  24% of schools reported a reduction in the number of specialist staff employed to teach RE for 2012/2013, and 82% of these reported that the introduction of the EBacc was the main reason for this change (a 27% reduction in specialist staff was reported for 2011/2012).