A new government strategy is needed to revitalise religious studies, a group of teachers and educators has warned, after rising students numbers at A-level demonstrates demand exists for “a high-quality education”.
The Religious Education Council of England and Wales (REC) and the National Association of Teachers of RE (NATRE) said that the uptick in students opting for religious studies was a vote of confidence for the discipline that, it says, needs better resourcing and more professionally trained teachers.
Exam boards recorded 16,645 religious studies A-level entries in England and Wales this summer, an increase of 6.1% since 2020, against a backdrop of 5.1% more A-level entries overall.
The REC and NATRE point to long-term growth in religious studies since 2003, despite changes to AS assessments which encouraged many schools to recommend students study just three subjects in the sixth form. In 2003, there were 750,537 A-levels awarded – in 2021, that figure was 788,421. In that period, religious studies achieved a 6.1 percentage point increase – from 11,132 to 16,645 entries.
Among arts, humanities or social sciences, only sociology (up 74.8%), economics (up 92.8%) and political studies (up 100.2%) have demonstrated stronger growth since 2003.
The two bodies argue this ascent reflects “the value of RS A-level for higher education entry, graduate employment, and as an essential life skill”.
The REC want a National Plan for religious studies, more resources and a guarantee of more professionally trained teachers. Some state schools have required teachers in other subjects, like history, geography, sociology, to teach across the humanities.
We urge it to fund a National Plan for RS to ensure it is properly resourced and taught by professionally trained teachers, and to enact a statement of entitlement to a high-quality education in religion and worldviews for all pupils – Prof Trevor Cooling, REC
Prof Trevor Cooling, chair of the REC, said: “The government should recognise the essential role that RS plays in ensuring young people receive a balanced education, helping create a more cohesive society, and supporting a vibrant economy by preparing employees and future business leaders for the globalised workplace.
“We urge it to fund a National Plan for RE to ensure it is properly resourced and taught by professionally trained teachers, and to enact a statement of entitlement to a high-quality education in religion and worldviews for all pupils.”
“Everyone has a unique, personal view of the world, whether it is religious or non-religious, and the enormous variety and complexity of worldviews that exist today need skilful navigation,” said Katie Freeman, chair of NATRE.
“RS helps young people understand those worldviews and make sense of their own, giving them the valuable ability to succeed and thrive in social and professional situations, she continued.
“Future government and school policy must reflect the vital nature of the subject. We must afford RS greater protection and ensure that it remains a staple element of the school curriculum.”