School and government performance on religious education failing record number of students, says landmark data review
Neglecting RE leaves ‘gaping hole in the school curriculum’, says Father of the House Sir…
August saw the publication of RS GCSE and AS/A Level results. Congratulations to all students on their success and many thanks to their teachers. I am delighted that both AS and A Level entries are higher than last year, showing how popular these subjects have become for young people. We are still benefiting from the higher rates of entry for GCSE RS, which reached an all-time high in 2011-12. It was also good to see standards holding up too.
The GCSE RS picture is much more mixed. Full course entries are up by about 10% in England and across the UK as a whole. This has caused some surprise as many were expecting a fall due to the introduction of the EBacc. EBacc subject entries did increase this year as well, but why should RS entries also be higher? No definitive data is available, but anecdotal evidence suggests many schools are switching to the Full Course from the Short Course and trying to teach it over three years rather than two, possibly in less time per week, possibly with additional lunchtime lessons, rather than let GCSE RS go entirely. This could mean that schools value GCSE RS rather highly and are seeking ways to fit it in despite the EBacc, though the ways chosen are not at all ideal and could prove problematic in the longer run. There has been a massive drop in Short Course GCSE RS entries in England, of almost 30%. The discounting of achievement of this qualification for school performance data purposes is undoubtedly a cause, as also is the introduction of the EBacc, but there may well be more technical factors at work such as schools not using the Short Course as a module for Full Course entry this year. Only next year’s results will show how far that might have been the case.
The net result is that all GCSE RS entries in England fell by almost 9% this year, which is not good news whichever way we look at it. There is no doubt in my mind that the EBacc and Short Course discounting is fundamentally responsible for this decline in RS, as predicted. I have already made known my concern to officials at the DfE at a meeting two weeks ago, and we shall continue to work with and through them as the reform of GCSE RS takes place in the coming year or two, ready for 2016. The REC response to the recent Ofqual consultation on GCSE reform will shortly be put on the REC website.
The REC is now putting the finishing touches to its RE Subject Review, and we hope to launch the report on 23 October. Central to this will be a new Curriculum Framework for RE, parallel to the new National Curriculum subject frameworks which schools are getting ready to teach from September 2014. There will be much more about this in subsequent blogs and news from the RE Council, so do keep an eye on the RE Council website.
You may have seen coverage of PM David Cameron’s visit to a mosque in Manchester early in August, where he was seen chopping onions in preparation for Eid. He called for a greater understanding of Islam. Well, let him reflect on RE in schools where such understanding is attempted all the time, and let him reflect further on what Michael Gove might be doing to help rather than hinder this. Chopping vegetables may look good on TV, but it is no substitute for a good religious education policy, something we are still waiting for. Rest assured, we are working on this behind the scenes to ensure the conversations that Michael Gove referred to in July take place.
In the meantime, let me wish you a happy new academic year. I am optimistic that for RE it will be a better one than the last.