Does RE make the grade?   Leave a comment

GCSE results came out on Tuesday in England and Wales; so how does the Religious Education (or Religious Studies) GCSE compare to other exam results?

The first interesting point to note is that Religious Education is a more popular GCSE subject than it used to be – entries have risen by over 60% since 1999!  I would reason that this is due to both schools and pupils recognising the value of the subject: employers look on it favourably because it shows that a person is aware of other people’s points of view and is able to both respect and understand those with cultures different from their own.  Skills of empathy, tolerance and sustained argument are gained, which are increasingly important now we are working in a multi-faith society.  Of course, one more simplistic explanation might be that schools and RE Teachers are making their students aware that it is worth their while to sit the GCSE exam as it is a requirement of the National Curriculum that pupils be educated in the subject, so why not get something out of it?  This was a thought that was voiced back when I was sitting my GCSEs in 2002 and I found it was still something mentioned when I became an RE Teacher.  Also, along with Citizenship Education, which made its way into the National Curriculum in September 2002, the subject of Religious Education has enjoyed promotion as a worthy subject by those in Government.

We all know that GCSE results have been improving year on year and we have now reached a pass rate of over 98%; but what about those RE exam results?  This year, 32.1% of RE students received A* or A grades, compared to the national average of 22.6%.  These are obviously impressive results and they clearly show that those pupils who choose to take the GCSE exam in Religious Education are at least concerned (or interested) enough about the subject to put in reasonable amounts of study and revision.

Now, so far I have been talking about full or ‘long course’ GCSEs but not including short course GCSEs: those of you who are only aware of what you personally did at school for Religious Education may not know this, so I shall explain before I go on.  A full course GCSE is when you study towards one complete GCSE, but a ‘short course’ GCSE is when you study the same topics but in a more condensed way (and so you will have less classroom time devoted to the subject), and you receive a grade which is worth only half a GCSE.  However, as my RE Teacher told me: don’t write that you have half a GCSE on your CV, describe it as a short course – it means the same but not every employer will realise that.  She was basically saying that you might be able to fool some employers into counting it as a full GCSE but without lying about it.  Nowadays though, I think more employers do know what short course GCSEs are.

Religious Education GCSE Short Course results have had a similar growth to their full course counterparts and probably for similar reasons.  Usually a student takes a short rather than a ‘long’ course in RE for one of two reasons: either their school doesn’t provide teaching of the full course (true in my case sadly) or the pupil wants to study a certain number of GCSE courses and can only fit the short course into their timetable.  There is little real difference between what is studied in the full and short courses on the same exam boards; the short course is usually just a condensed version of the full GCSE and the exam will be shorter.  This year’s RE Short Course saw 18.1% of students receiving an A* or A grade, whilst other short course subjects had an average of 15.9% of students gaining A* or A.  These are lower than the full course results (for both RE and the average) and I’m not sure why, but possibly because pupils don’t see the point of spending as much time revising for a subject which only gives them half a GCSE.

What does this all mean for Religious Education?  I think it shows that British society is evolving into a place where the study and subsequent understanding of other faiths and cultures is seen as valuable.  This is something that I am hugely glad of as I want people to recognise that media stereotypes and scare-mongering about religion needs to be challenged: Muslims are not all terrorists, some Christians do actually go to church still, many atheists respect and value people of faith, and so on.  Just by reading this blog you are playing a small part in ensuring that the future of Religious Education is intelligent and informative debate, and that sweeping generalisations are not how faith is viewed.

You can find more statistics about this year’s GCSE results here.


Posted 28/08/2010 by thinkmindy in Education, Religion

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