Sunday, 23 November 2014

GCSE RE Consultation Response – Mark Shepstone

GCSE RE Consultation Response – 

Mark Shepstone: Assistant Principal Hethersett Academy, Norfolk; NATRE Exec member 2013-2014; Head of RE & Citizenship 2011-2014. @MrShepstoneRE


Before I respond to the consultation document, perhaps I should set out my current thoughts on GCSE RS. We teach Edexcel GCSE (Units 2&8) to all students, in one hour per week across y10 &11 (starting after Easter in y9). The results we have got are very good, but I feel that the current GCSE spec is not fit for purpose. It is not challenging, doesn’t require an in depth understanding of either religious or moral issues, and does not give students a good idea about faith in the 21st century, the range of views within faiths, or of non-faith positions (beyond ‘some scientists disagree with religious people’ – you think?!)

The fact that I and many others teach this qualification in 1 hour a week highlights the lack of challenge in the GCSE. I have the pleasure of overseeing geography, history, Spanish and French in my SLT role and all of these GCSE are far more challenging than the RS one in terms of depth, challenge and range of knowledge and understanding needed at all levels. 

Finally, before I start, I should also declare my view on RS is that it should not be compulsory post-KS3, and that if it were not, we would have a far stronger argument for inclusion in measures like the EBacc and to be included in option blocks more widely. 


So, onto the consultation which asks ‘Is the revised GCSE content in religious studies appropriate?’ Broadly, I would say ‘yes’. Bit of a cop-out to leave it there, though, so I should probably give a bit more of an answer!


It obviously remains to be seen what the exam boards come up with, but based on the document I welcome the fact the new GCSE appears far more challenging than the fudge we can get away with now. There are numerous examples that could be cited, but that simple fact that the various sections (beliefs and teaching, sources of wisdom and authority, etc)  appear to be quite different in their content represent a much greater challenge than now, where a handful of teachings/quotes can be regurgitated in response to questions in nearly every topic. 


All candidates having to study 2 religions is a positive step. There is no reason to allow students to continue only to study one religion, even in faith schools. I welcome that all students will have to study (at least) 2 religions. I have considered the exclusion of humanism from the list of ‘religions’ and initially I was disappointed that it was not an option to be studied. However, it isn’t a faith, so I do wonder why it would seek to be part of RS. I would however hope to see non-faith positions examined and considered within the GCSE specifications, and would encourage the exam boards to include reference to humanism by way of contrasting the various faith positions studied. 

Comparison with other GCSEs

This consultation sees RS much more closely matched to other GCSE subjects, most notably geography and history. This is good for the standing of the subject, and can throw weight behind discussions of what should be in the EBacc. There are clearly implications of this, though…

Implications of the new GCSE

The main one is that it won’t be able to be done in one hour a week. This raises questions for all stakeholders in RE/RS, and the way the subject is treated. Firstly, if it is to remain compulsory (which it is for the foreseeable future), what will be taught in an hour per week? Short course is a possibility, although the value of this for performance measures has been reduced. Non-exam RE is of course an option, but this would set the subject back against the huge gains it has made in terms of exam entries and value to students and schools. What I think should happen is that RS is a compulsory option (ie, it must be offered) in all schools for GCSE, but is no longer something that all students should have to study.

A knock on of this will be that fewer students study RS/RE to 16. Not ideal, but I feel that it is a trade-off that we need to embrace in order to have our subject viewed with the same level of respect as other comparable GCSE. Historians would love everyone to study history, I am sure, but accept that they can’t. Why should we be different?

So, in summary:

I like the changes

You can’t do the new GCSE in an hour a week

Fewer students will study GCSE RS

This isn’t a problem



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