Bethan Moss, who attends Groby Community College in Leicestershire, was among the thousands of pupils to receive their GCSE results today. She was delighted to discover she had achieved an A grade in GCSE Religious Studies. Bethan was also one of 70 pupils to attend a Youth Debate held at the Houses of Parliament earlier in the summer, debating the role of religious education in schools. The debate was attended by a number of MPs, including former Secretary of State for Education, Nicky Morgan, and was hosted by Mary Glindon, MP for North Tyneside.
In this interview, Bethan speaks about the important role she believes religious education has in promoting respect and tolerance in multicultural modern Britain.
What made you choose Religious Studies at GCSE?
I felt like I needed a subject to develop my cultural and religious understanding, and RS gave me the perfect opportunity for that. It also came highly recommended by my parents.
What do you think you have gained from studying RE?
I have greatly enhanced my ability to argue my own viewpoints clearly and concisely, but also learned to understand the viewpoints of others. I think RS has shown me the importance of tolerance within the community and I’ve learnt (to quote Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird) that ‘you never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view […] until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.’ RS has taught me that there are many ways to approach any issue, that different people can believe the same things for completely different reasons, and that within religions, or even within denominations, there are often many contrasting beliefs and opinions.
What have you enjoyed most about studying RE?
I’ve enjoyed hearing different beliefs, especially those commonly misrepresented in the media. I’ve also enjoyed being challenged with questions about controversial issues such as abortion and weapons of mass destruction, and weighing up arguments to discover what I believe about things.
How do you think RE helps prepare you for life?
I think RE helps prepare students for life by promoting respect and tolerance for those with views opposed to your own. In this way, it helps people understand people of other cultures and religions living alongside us, reducing the ‘fear of the unknown’ and therefore nipping xenophobia and racism in the bud, and creating a more happily multicultural society.
Some people believe that life’s ‘big questions’ can or should be answered in science lessons, not in RE. What is your view on this?
I think that life’s big questions aren’t purely scientific, and so can’t be answered with cold, hard facts, but should be discussed and explored in a way that encourages students to challenge and debate each other respectfully. Informed opinion and the chance to consider wisdom and ideas from different religions are important too.
Some people argue that Citizenship or a subject called “Life Skills” could take the place of religious education. Do you agree?
No, as I have sat in life skills lessons, and whilst they can teach you about budgeting, they can’t help you understand the other people in your community, and will never be as valuable in preventing widespread intolerance as is RE. Also, RE is an academic subject with a body of knowledge just like history or geography and is just as important.
Do you think RE can make a difference in helping to tackle sensitive issues such as religious extremism and other extremist views?
Yes; by helping students to understand the roots of the beliefs held by extremists, they can be educated in the difference between ordinary religious people and the minority that hold such beliefs. RE teaches us to understand sources and texts and to understand when things like that are being misused.
What are your plans now, and how do you think RE might help you with them?
In September, I intend to stay on at college to study French, Spanish, Maths and History. The essay writing and opinion-forming skills I have developed in GCSE RE will help with History. After this, I would like to study for a degree in languages and politics, and RE has given me the debating skills necessary for this.