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Number of students taking GCSE Religious Studies declines

by Chantalle Edmunds

The number of pupils taking GCSE Religious Studies in England and Wales has fallen slightly overall in 2021. 

That's despite the numbers previously remaining stable since 2017. 

In England, RS GCSE entries for the full course fell by 2.4 percent to 221,419 compared with 226,767 in 2020. In Wales, entries rose by 3.6 percent from 9,997 in 2020 to 10,358 in 2021. However, overall entries in England, including both full and short courses, fell by 3.4 percent to 237,091, compared with 245,544 in 2020. In Wales, combined entries fell by 5.4 percent from 15,436 in 2020 to 14,583 in 2021.

Zameer Hussain is Head of RE at a London secondary school, he told Premier he wasn't surprised by the latest data: "Because RE is not part of the performance measures in some schools, it is not something that some schools fit into their curriculum. So for example, it's not part of the EBacc. {EBacc stands for English Baccalaureate and refers to the subjects, English language. literature, maths, the sciences, geography or history and a language}. I'm not that surprised. But it's not nice to see either."

To safeguard the future of the subject, the Religious Education Council of England and Wales and the National Association of Teachers of RE are now calling for a National Plan, as recommended by the Commission on RE in 2018, to be funded by Government.

"We would like the government to fund the national plan for good quality RE. We need specialist teachers who have the knowledge to teach it. I myself am a specialist. And there's so much for me to learn, which is the best part of my job. There are so many non-specialists teaching already in this country, who may not have the skills and the competence to teach RE to the highest level. On one side, we want to raise the standards of RE in every school in the country, but on the other side, we've got teachers who are not qualified to teach RE and not given the correct funding to do so. So if we want to raise the standards of RE, we need the funding and the national plan in place to make this actually happen," Hussain added.

Despite a decline since the peak in entries in 2016, the number of pupils receiving a full course GCSE in Religious Studies in England in 2021 (221,419) is still 29.7 percent greater than in 2010 (170,767). In Wales entries for the full course are 70 percent higher in 2021 (10,358) than in 2010 (6,100).

Furthermore, RS was one of the most popular subjects for early entry, 15.9 percent of total early entries, the second highest subject after English Literature.

Religious Studies GCSE focuses on both religious beliefs and non-belief around the world, Christianity forms part of the curriculum studied.

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