Number of students choosing Religious Studies GCSE continues to fall

(Photo: Unsplash/Aaron Burden)

The number of secondary school students opting for the Religious Studies GCSE in England and Wales has continued to fall, according to latest figures. 

In England, entries for the full course fell to 225,719, slightly down from 227,913 in 2019. In Wales, entries fell by a similar amount in the last year, from 10,129 to 10,037. 

Full and short course entries reached a high of 461,795 in 2011 but declined rapidly after this following changes to Government policy that saw the subject left off the list of 'core' disciplines.

Students taking the full course at GCSE peaked in 2016 at 269,839, but has been in gradual decline since then. 

Numbers taking the full course in England this year are still nearly a third higher than in 2010, when there were 170,767 entries.

Short course figures, though, have suffered a sharp fall in England since 2010, when over a quarter of a million students were enrolled.  This stands at just 18,067 this year, a further drop from 21,530 last year. 

Despite the fall in entries, the Religious Education Council of England and Wales (REC) said the figures provide "some optimism" as they suggest the "decline may be levelling off". 

Professor Trevor Cooling, Chair of the 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." 

He said the figures were "evidence of the continuing relevance of Religious Studies, with recent events bringing racial awareness to the forefront and bringing worldviews into greater perspective".

He called on the Government to protect Religious Studies as a subject in schools.

"Its continuing popularity among pupils is also clear," he said. 

"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, National Association of Teachers of RE (NATRE), said: "With entry numbers 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."