21 August 2014, The Tablet

Religious Studies numbers double but expert issues warning

The number of students taking religious studies at A-level in England has almost doubled in a decade, according to new figures. 

But a leading figure in the field of religious studies warned that this trend could be temporary and warned that the subject is likely soon to go into decline because of changes in secondary education around the English Baccalaureate.

In 2014, 20,196 RS A level entries were recorded, nearly double the number in 2002/03 when 10,313 entries were recorded. Entries increased more than any arts, humanity or social science subject over the past 10 years.

The percentage of students achieving A* at RS A level also rose from 5.4 per cent to 6.8 per cent.

Both Oxford and Cambridge University include religious studies in the top level list of "generally suitable Arts A levels".

Ed Pawson, chairman of the National Association of Teachers of RE, said: "These results are extremely encouraging. They show that schools and students value Religious Education as a key subject that provides great preparation for Higher Education."

However, Dr Peter Vardy, a former vice-principal at Heythrop College, London, who runs courses in religious studies for sixth-formers, said the long-term outlook was of decline. "What we are seeing is a temporary increase." He warned of the pressure placed on religious education by its exclusion from the English Baccalaureate. Schools were under significant financial pressure and wanted to do well in the league tables, he said. Inevitably this will affect RS in the longer term. "It is an inexorable trend. Independent schools will still do it. Hopefully Catholic schools will still do it. But this increase is not an indication of where the subject is going. I am desperately sad about that."

Meanwhile, admissions offices reported that Heythrop College has received an increase in both undergraduate and postgraduate applications this year and clearing has been a busier process than last year.

And a spokesman for St Mary's University in Twickenham said: "We have seen a significant rise, 33 per cent, in student numbers for admission to this year's BA theology and religious studies programme.”


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