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Religious Studies GCSE numbers remain stable, showing continued relevance of subject say teachers

by Premier Journalist

The number of students taking GCSE Religious Studies in England and Wales has remained consistent. 

In England, RS GCSE entries for the full course decreased by less than 1 per cent to 225,719, compared to 227,913 in 2019. In Wales, entries for the short course fell from 10,129 in 2019 to 10,037 in 2020. Overall, entries in England for the full and short course decreased by 2.3 per cent to 243,786, compared with 249,443 in 2019. Full course entries in 2020 were logged as almost a third higher than in 2010. In Wales, combined entries fell by just under 2 per cent from 16,327 in 2019 to 16,003 in 2020.

After peaking in 2016, there has been a steady decline in full course entries, with 269,839 recorded that year. Full and short course entries peaked at a high of 461,795 in 201 and fell rapidly as schools in England opted not to enter pupils into the short course following Government policy changes. 

The latest figures indicate that the decline may be levelling off, indicating that the subject of religion is still of great interest to students. 

In response to the latest numbers, Professor Trevor Cooling, chair of the Religious Education Council of England and Wales (REC), said:

"Over the past decade we have seen short course entries plummet as a result of school performance measures and academisation. Some pupils opted to take the full course instead, which led to a significant rise until 2016. Full course entries have tailed off since then, but we are cautiously optimistic that they may now be levelling out.

"These figures are evidence of the continuing relevance of Religious Studies, with recent events bringing racial awareness to the forefront and bringing worldviews into greater perspective. Its continuing popularity among pupils is also clear.

"RS has an important role to play in preparing pupils for life in multicultural Britain and a globalized workplace. Government policy needs to reflect this and ensure that religion and worldviews is firmly embedded in the school system, by adopting the recommendations of the Commission on RE, which have widespread support from across the education system."

Ben Wood, chair of the National Association of Teachers of RE (NATRE), said: "Congratulations to those pupils receiving their GCSE RS results, and to their teachers. They have all faced unprecedented challenges this year, but I have no doubt that their efforts will pay off, as they see the value of a deeper understanding of religion and worldviews in later life.

"With entry number falls appearing to level off, we are witnessing how much pupils value and enjoy studying Religious Education. The Government clearly agrees and has repeatedly emphasised the importance of young people developing their knowledge and understanding of religious and non-religious beliefs.

"It's now time to underline that commitment by addressing the issues that may threaten the future of the subject and deny pupils access to the subject they clearly consider vital for life in modern Britain and an increasingly global social and professional environment."

Remarking on the Government's decision to use centre assessed grades as opposed to applying Ofqual's algorithm, Ben Wood added it "is good news for pupils receiving their GCSE grades. However, this U-turn has caused an enormous amount of distress and disruption to students, in particular those A-level students who may have missed out on their first-choice university. These students deserve every support possible at this challenging time."

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