Pupils will study two religions in new broader RS GCSE

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The Department for Education has released its proposed new criteria for Religious Studies at GSCE and A Level. For the first time students will be required to study two religions at GCSE level to make it more academically rigorous.

In April this year, the Government announced that GCSEs and A levels in religious studies, design & technology, drama, dance, music and physical education – and GCSEs in art & design, computer science and citizenship – would be reformed for first teaching in September 2016.

The revised content for religious studies GCSE and A level is designed to provide students with a broader and deeper understanding of religion than previous specifications.

For the first time, students studying the religious studies GCSE will be required to study two religions. As well as studying key scripture and religious texts, students will have the opportunity to learn about critiques of religion and other non-religious beliefs through the study of philosophy and ethics.

In addition, it will be a requirement for students to be aware of the diverse range of religious and non-religious beliefs represented in in this country and the fact that the religious traditions of Great Britain are, in the main, Christian.

In future, all RS GCSE students will spend at least half their time engaging in an academically rigorous study of two religions. In all, students will have the option to spend up to three-quarters of their time studying one religion.

In the same way that a well-educated GCSE history student would be expected to learn about more than just British history, well-educated religious studies GCSE students will be expected to know about more than one religion. It will also help to prepare students for life in modern Britain, foster an awareness of other faiths and beliefs, and encourage tolerance and mutual respect.

Under the proposals, pupils will study the beliefs, teachings and sources of wisdom of at least two religions for the first half of their GCSE.

The second half of the syllabus will allow pupils to study one or both in depth: looking at religious practice, religious texts and how faiths tackle philosophical and ethical issues. Students may choose from Buddhism, Christianity, Catholic Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Judaism and Sikhism.

At A level, students will study at least one religion in depth through two of the following three areas of study: the systematic study of religion; textual studies; and philosophy, ethics and social scientific studies. These broadly reflect the main areas of study at higher education and will ensure that students have sufficient breadth and depth of understanding to support progression to higher education.

The plans have been welcomed by leaders of major faith groups.

Ed Pawson, Chair of the National Association of Teachers of Religious Education (NATRE), said: “Religious Studies examination subjects at GCSE and A level have been a massive success story in our schools in recent years. Above all this has shown that young people are interested in engaging deeply with religious, philosophical and ethical ideas. Everyone with an interest in this subject should contribute to this consultation, with the aim of creating an even more relevant and challenging Religious Studies examination curriculum.”

Dr Joyce Miller, Chair of the RE Council of England and Wales, said: “The REC Board has agreed unanimously that the optional systematic study of a non-religious worldview should be introduced at GCSE level.  We want to promote a rigorous and inclusive study of religions and beliefs that is relevant and challenging for young people of all faiths and none.”

Church of England chief education officer the Rev Nigel Genders said: “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.”

The Department for Education says it has worked closely with experts from all the major faith groups to develop the qualification which is due for first teaching in September 2016.

School Leadership Today
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