Religious Studies and social tensions

I was struck by some of the latest information coming out of exams recently. I said on a previous post that I was ambivalent about School assemblies. But this is different. I don’t know if you know that the number of students taking GCSE Religious Studies has risen by a significant amount in recent years.

According to the British religion in numbers website:

There was a 17.6% increase in the number of candidates sitting the full course GCSE in Religious Studies (RS) in June 2011, compared with the summer before, according to results released today by the Joint Council for Qualifications, and covering England, Wales and Northern Ireland (there is a separate Scottish Qualifications Authority).

Entrants for the full course were 221,974 (almost double the figure of 119,550 in 2001).

In addition to the full course, there is also a short course GCSE in RS, which attracted 257,793 candidates in June 2011 (7.9% fewer than the previous year but well above 165,520 in 2001).

In 2001 there were a total of 285,070 pupils taking a short or long course in RS. This year that figure is 479,767. A huge leap in numbers studying RS of some kind at GCSE. Indeed there is a trend upwards at A level as well with a 4.9% increase in students taking RS since last year. Indeed the numbers taking A level RS have gobe up by about 140% since 2000!

Now this is important for a number of reasons. Firstly, it is important for social cohesion and to understand where we come from as a country. The Christian faith has played a major role in forming the values and the inheritance that we have received. But RS doesn’t just look at the Christian faith it also help young people to look at other faiths and to try and understand them.

This understanding is even more vital given another report out. The Pew Forum has just come out with a study that says that there is a significant rise in social hostility to faith in the UK. They identify between two forms of hostility, government and social. Social hostility is defined by Pew Forum as:

The Social Hostilities Index (SHI) measures hostile acts by private individuals, organizations and social groups that restrict religious beliefs and practices.

The United Kingdom has now been categorized as High for this. The Pew Forum defines their categories as:

the levels of social hostilities by percentile. Countries with scores in the top 5% are categorized as “very high.” The next highest 15% of scores are categorized as “high,” and the following 20% are categorized as “moderate.” The bottom 60% of scores are categorized as “low.”

In other words the UK is in the worst 20% of countries for social hostility against religion. This is mainly due to social hostility towards Muslims, Jews and other minorities. So Christina Odone in the Telegraph notes:

The riots brought out a nasty streak in thousands of looters – and in thousands of ordinary citizens too. They didn’t kick in a shop window or make off with a pair of Nikes. But they gave their xenophobia free rein. While the sikhs, Turks and Poles drew praise for their efforts in defending their neighbourhoods and restoring order, hostile little Englanders gave vent to their paranoia: immigrants can’t be patriots, was their mantra – and Muslims above all.

Therefore, the rise in the taking of GCSE and A level Religious Studies should be very welcome to help with social integration. It is a positive sign that people, especially after 9-11, want to understand and get on with their neighbour. I would go further and say that Religious Studies should be positively encouraged as a major plank in learning and understanding.

There is a fly in the ointment. The government is introducing an EBacc into schools to measure how well a school is doing which is defined as English, maths, two sciences, a language and a humanity. Now I may be unpopular by saying that I have nothing against an EBacc per se. But I do believe that Religious Studies ought to be part of it. For the sake of understanding of our past and for our future. For the sake of understanding each other.

There is a petition asking the government to think again. Do please sign it and lets see if things can be changed. The petition is here:


7 comments on “Religious Studies and social tensions

  1. johnm55
    September 19, 2011 at 7:15 pm #

    The skeptic in me thinks that the increase in numbers taking Religious Studies at GCSE and A level may be due to the perception that getting an A* grade in Religious Studies is slightly easier than getting an A* in say Physics or Maths.

  2. Will Cookson
    September 21, 2011 at 2:51 pm #

    John, I understand that view but then if that were the case I think that there are even easier A levels to do! It is still in the list of academic A levels. It also does depend on the teaching. I know that one of my daughters did it and was taught in 2 separate places – one paper she got 98% and the other she got far less!
    Also, admit it John, you don’t like the art subjects so much do you!?

    • johnm55
      September 22, 2011 at 6:10 pm #

      It’s not that I don’t like them, it’s just that I tend to see them as recreational rather than educational.

      • Will Cookson
        September 22, 2011 at 8:34 pm #

        Waiting for sue to reply! (Whistles whilst looking around)

  3. Sue
    September 21, 2011 at 10:27 pm #

    Am just catching up on some of your blog posts…. As a former RS teacher I would have to dispute with John and argue that there is nothing easier about RS as a subject at GCSE or A Level. It is accepted as a fully academic A Level by universities, unlike some other subjects. In fact, it can be argued to be harder than some subjects at GCSE as there is no option to take controlled assessments, therefore everything rests on the actual exams and there is no confidence going into those exams that a decent number of marks have already been secured. Furthermore, RS requires skills that some pupils find harder than learning facts, pupils have to know the facts and then know how to apply them to arguments, evaluate them and draw balanced conclusions. There are more marks for the application and evaluation of knowledge than for the simple presentation of it.

    I agree that the EBacc is a valid option, but I do think that it must be made to include Religious Studies, or at the very least have it as one of the humanities options.

  4. Sue
    September 22, 2011 at 10:59 pm #

    John – sadly we will have to disagree, the arts subjects are not recreational at all. They are serious and credible subjects and I can guarantee you that my pupils did not feel they were having an easy lesson or working any less hard because they were in RS. In fact, in pupil and parent surveys it was a top subject, because they felt they were being challenged and were given plenty of work to do and so were encouraged to succeed. The RS department achieved the top results in the school at all levels, not because it was easy but because the teachers were dedicated professionals who set work and marked it regularly. Our value added scores and residuals were frequently the highest. There was nothing recreational about it for the pupils or the staff.

    The arts subjects need to be given higher priority as they contribute to the broader education of the child, they stop schools becoming exam factories and pupils being seen as machines. They contribute to the development of humanity and spirituality.

  5. Angela Baker
    September 23, 2011 at 11:04 am #

    Hear hear! Well said, Sue x
    Humanities and arts are a very important part of a balanced education, & no single subject is more important than any other.
    Please don’t get me started on music in schools though…we could be here all year!

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