Church leaders concerned over drop in RE numbers

The number of students taking short course Religious Education at GCSE level has fallen by eight per cent, latest figures show.

2011 figures reveal an increase in the number of students taking the full course version of RE for the 13th year in a row, up by 17% on 2010 figures, from 170,767 to 199,752.

However, the number of RE short course candidates has fallen by 8.1 per cent on last year’s figures from 254,698 to 233,998.

It notes that although this year saw a significant rise in the number of students taking the full course version, this course began before the EBacc had been introduced.

Church leaders have expressed alarm over the drop and blamed it on the Government’s decision not to include the subject in the English Baccalaureate.

They fear that the year on year rise in students taking the course will be thrown into reverse as more schools cut back on resources for subjects not included in the EBacc and stop offering RE at GCSE altogether.

The Bishop of Oxford and Church of England’s education chief, the Rt Rev John Pritchard, responded to the results by reiterating the call for RE to be included in the EBacc.

“Education is about the whole person, not just results and targets. RE is an academic subject that not only teaches pupils about different faiths and cultures but gives room for discussion that develops values, understanding and responsibility,” he said.

“We only have to look at the events of recent weeks to see how important this is.

“This is not about the church guarding its territory but about safeguarding a subject that has value to all. We shall continue our conversation with the Government on this.”

RE was excluded from the EBacc despite cross-parliamentary support for an Early Day Motion and a massive nationwide campaign calling for its inclusion. A petition by the RE:ACT campaign amassed 115,000 signatures in support of the call.

Speaking on behalf of the RE Council, the Rev Dr John Gay, urged the Government to enable schools to continue offering the subject.

“RE has been an important part of our education system for many years but we fear that the subject will start to lose its key role due to the latest changes,” he said.

“The popularity of the A-Level course, particularly philosophy and ethics, illustrated in the latest results shows that pupils enjoy the opportunity to think around their subject and have the chance to consider wider issues in our society.

“Many only go on to study at A-Level due to the enthusiasm they picked up at GCSE level and we fear this will be very different over the next few years.

“Despite the EBacc decision, we hope that the Government will come up with a constructive way forward to ensure schools resource RE as they have in recent years.”