New academically rigorous RS GCSE backed by faith groups

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Pupils to study 2 religions to develop broader and deeper understanding of religious beliefs.

Students will all have to study 2 religions as part of proposals for a more academically rigorous religious studies (RS) GCSE approved by all the major churches and faith groups.

Ensuring pupils have a strong understanding of the central role of religion in Britain’s culture is an important part of the government’s plan for education.

The new RS GCSE content, published for consultation today (7 November 2014), is designed to be broader and more demanding than the existing GCSE. To ensure pupils gain a much better grounding in religious studies than ever before, the Department for Education has worked extremely closely with representatives and experts from all the major faith groups to develop the rigorous new qualification.

This new GCSE will not affect the emphasis faith schools put on their individual teachings, but will increase pupils’ knowledge of other faiths. Under the proposed new model all students will study the beliefs, teachings and sources of wisdom of at least 2 religions for the first half of their GCSE.

They can then choose to study 1 or both of those religions in more depth in 1 or 2 of the following ways:

  • through studying their practices, ways of life and forms of expression in detail
  • through a thorough study of religious texts
  • by studying how the teachings of 1 or both religions inform their thinking on philosophical or ethical issues

Building on personal discussions with a range of religious leaders and organisations, Secretary of State for Education Nicky Morgan said the new content would allow pupils to develop a broad understanding of religion. She said:

It is of paramount importance that young people understand the central importance of religion in Britain’s cultural heritage and high-quality religious education in schools is key to achieving that.

Every major faith group agrees that the current religious studies GCSE fails to do this. That’s why we have developed a new GCSE that, while protecting the right of faith schools to focus primarily on their own religion, will require students to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of the diversity of religious beliefs in Great Britain.

By ensuring that young people learn about more than just 1 religion this new GCSE will better prepare students for life in modern Britain. I would like to thank all the religious organisations who have contributed to this process for their help developing the new content.

Pupils could choose to spend up to 75% of their time studying 1 religion but others may choose to balance the study of 2 religions equally.

The content will help to prepare students for life in modern Britain through developing an awareness of fundamental British values such as respect and tolerance for those of different faiths and none; values which are a vital part of a secure future for Britain.

The consultation opens today and the department is keen to hear further views from all stakeholders.

Commenting on the new proposals

The Church of England’s Chief Education Officer, Reverend Nigel Genders, said:

We were pleased to work closely with the Department for Education in the development of these proposals, and look forward to this opportunity for our schools to engage with them before they are finalised.

Looking at the world today, it is hard to overstate the importance of equipping the young people of this country with a challenging and rigorous education which includes religious literacy. That is why it is so important that we have a broad, demanding GCSE.

Lord Singh of Wimbledon CBE, DL, Director of the Network of Sikh Organisations UK, said:

Sikhs believe that our different religious paths all lead to an understanding of our responsibilities to the same one God. At times, the paths merge to reveal shared values and aspirations. We therefore warmly welcome these changes, which will ensure that the new religious studies GCSE gives young people a better and broader understanding of the different faiths in our society. High-quality religious education today is essential for those of all faiths and none, and we think this will be a really positive step forward.

Paul Barber, Director of the Catholic Education Service, said:

Catholic schools are the single largest provider of entries to both RS GCSE and RS A level, accounting for 25% of the entries at RS GCSE and 20% of the entries at RS A level. Our partnership with the government has enabled these qualifications to be both academically rigorous and in keeping with church teachings.

Hamid Patel, Chief Executive at Tauheedul Education, a leading sponsor of academies, said:

The best schools, including faith schools like ours, already teach religious education in a broad and respectful way. This ensures our pupils have a real knowledge and positive understanding of all the different faiths in our multicultural society. I am pleased that the content of the new religious studies GCSE will see all children studying more than one religion.

General Secretary of the Hindu Council UK, Rajnish Kashyap, said:

The Hindu Council UK are fully supportive of the proposed reforms to RS GCSE and A level subjects. We hope the new qualification will help pupils across England to understand a much wider range of faiths and beliefs.

Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner, Senior Rabbi to Reform Judaism, said:

We welcome the Education Secretary’s consultation on GCSE and A level religious education. This is an opportunity to encourage schools to teach about other faiths. When people of different faiths understand one another better, it strengthens diversity and cohesion within Britain. Studying religions other than our own tests our beliefs, and ensures more confident, robust and positive faith communities in the long term.

Muslim leader Maulana Muhammad Shahid Raza OBE said:

I am glad to support the launch of the new approach in respect of the GCSE religious studies course. With the provision of extra funding and resources, our schools will be playing an important role in fostering religious tolerance and an enhanced level of cohesion among our young generation by adopting this new plan.

Aliya Azam, Education and Interfaith Co-ordinator at the Al Khoei Foundation, said:

The Al Khoei Foundation welcomes the new criteria for religious studies and values the efforts of the Department for Education and the Religious Education Council of England and Wales for emphasising the importance of inclusion of the diverse traditions within each faith in the religious education curriculum.

Benjamin Wood, Subject Leader for Religious Studies, Haslingden High School, Lancashire, and member of the National Association of Teachers of Religious Education (NATRE) executive, said:

I am excited to read the new criteria for GCSE and A level religious studies. Both strike an excellent balance between the breadth of approaches to the study of religion and the depth of knowledge and understanding I want my students to have about religion and its role in the world around us.

Joyce Miller, Chair of the Religious Education Council, said:

The Religious Education Council was delighted to be asked to take a leading role in the creation of the new exam criteria for religious studies, and that many of its member bodies were involved in the process. We encourage all our member bodies to respond to the consultation document. We hope that there will now be an informed public debate to which teachers, school leaders, governors and everyone committed to high quality religious education will contribute.

Ed Pawson, Chair of NATRE, and Head of Religion, Philosophy and Ethics at The King’s School, Devon, said:

I welcome the proposed changes to GCSE RS criteria, which will now require all students to study 2 religions. An understanding of the diversity of religious and non-religious belief and practice in contemporary society should be a prerequisite for all young people growing up in this country today.

The new A level RS criteria, which demands more breadth in students’ understanding, is to be welcomed. Philosophy and ethics routes have, understandably, become very popular in recent years, but the new specifications will require a greater level of textual or religious understanding alongside these areas of study. This will ensure that students develop greater religious and theological literacy, which is to be welcomed.

Daniel Hugill, Teacher of Religious Education, at The Coopers’ Company and Coborn School, Upminster, and member of the NATRE executive, said:

I welcome these changes to religious studies GCSE and A level, and believe that they will help to build on the success and popularity of the subject, and will contribute to further strengthen the place of religious studies in the school curriculum as an academically rigorous area of study.

Laura Marks, Senior Vice President of The Board of Deputies of British Jews, said:

It is essential that our faith schools turn out children who not only understand their own customs and beliefs but who are open to other people, able to thrive in the wider world and are prepared to contribute to Britain at large. We commend the department for consulting widely on how to shape the curriculum for these purposes, and know that it reflects their belief in, and respect for religious education.

The Department for Education has also launched a consultation on new A level content which will see students study at least one religion in depth. The new content broadly reflects the main areas of study at higher education and will ensure students have sufficient breadth and depth of understanding to support progression to university. The consultation will last until 29 December 2014 with first teaching of the new GCSE and A level planned for 2016.

To help recruit the best and brightest graduates, with the potential to be exceptional religious education teachers, the government has introduced a new bursary for trainees starting in the academic year 2015 to 2016 worth £9,000 for a 1st class degree and £4,000 for a 2:1.

  1. See the GCSE and A level reform: religious studies consultation.
  2. Ofqual, the independent regulator of qualifications and examinations for England, will consult on the proposed assessment objectives for this subject: Religious studies GCSEs, AS and A levels: new qualifications for 2016.
  3. In April 2014, the government announced that GCSEs and A levels in religious studies, design and technology, drama, dance, music and physical education – and GCSEs in art and design, computer science and citizenship – would be reformed for first teaching in September 2016.
  4. DfE has already consulted on proposed subject content for art and design, computer science, dance, music and physical education, and is currently consulting on proposed subject content for drama, design and technology and cooking and nutrition.
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