Record numbers of students taking Religious Studies

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The number of students taking Religious Studies at A-level has seen a 50 per cent rise since 2003, according to a new landmark study. 

GCSE-level interest in the subject has also increased by nearly a third in the last decade, researchers found. 

Schools with higher entry rates for GCSE-level RS also had higher than average Attainment 8 scores.

The study was carried out jointly by the Religious Education Council of England and Wales (REC), the National Association of Teachers of Religious Education (NATRE), and RE Today Services.

Their report draws from an Ofsted subject report, public surveys, school workforce data, freedom of information requests, and interviews with teachers and students.

Despite record levels of interest, they warn that the subject is being neglected by both the government and schools.

Despite the teaching of RE being a legal requirement in all schools across England, over a third (34%) of academies reported no RE at all in the curriculum, while almost 500 secondary schools had no provision in Year 11.

The study expresses regret over lack of government spending on the subject in the last decade, and the failure of many academies to offer high quality RE despite it being commended by Ofsted for giving students "the opportunity to make sense of their own place in the world".

The data review was led by NATRE Research Officer, Deborah Weston, who said: "With record numbers of students taking the subject, it is a great shame that RE is being neglected by the Government, and marginalised by some schools, particularly in the academy system.

"In the Queen's Speech we saw the government's commitment to 'help every child fulfil their potential, wherever they live'.

"The data has shown us that high-quality RE enables precisely this, being a key marker for both academic achievement and a vital part of young people's development in making sense of their own worldview as part of the diverse and pluralistic nature of belief in the 21st century.

"The planned changes outlined in the Queen's Speech provide a once in a generation opportunity to address most of the issues highlighted in this data." 

Ms Weston is calling for a national plan to safeguard the subject's future in English schools.

"However, without a properly funded National Plan and a system of accountability for high-quality RE under the Government's academy vision for all schools, we risk denying a generation of students access to this vital subject," she said.

"A high-quality education in religion and worldviews must now be part of their plans to help every young person fulfil their potential in school, society and the world of work."

Sir Peter Bottomley, Father of the House of Commons, made similar calls during a parliamentary roundtable in March to discuss the subject. 

Responding to the latest data, Sir Peter said: "Looking at the performance data on this report card, too many young people are not getting a fair deal when it comes to religious education.

"In neglecting the subject, we leave a gaping hole in our school curriculum. At its best, RE prepares young people for the ethical, moral and religious debates that influence life in modern Britain and the wider world."