The Great GCSE religious studies hoax


Around the country, students and teachers have been hoaxed. They’ve been made to believe that GCSE religious studies is, and should be, studying philosophy & ethics. Symptoms of the hoax seem to be that all they want to teach is philosophy and ethics and their reaction to teaching religion in depth, is one of horror and disgust.

A bit dramatic and a bit of click-bait but I think the world of RE has a huge pending issue that needs to be discussed…

The cause 
The current popular non- religious text/pure religion specifications seem to be a mix of social,moral,geographical, historical issues with some religion in to allow it to be called RS or it’s mainly philosophy and ethics. There are many teachers who seem to be mourning the loss of these. They’ve lost a grasp what religious studies should be; the study of religions. The new specifications (from what I can see are still 50% old style anyway) will challenge teachers to update their knowledge. This can be scary but there is a great network of support for subject knowledge including cheap confer end such as the London RE Hub and forums with kind, members of faith who are willing to answer questions.

Graduates that come in to teaching RE can come from a variety of backgrounds. If their degree and/passion doesn’t lie in the study of religions then a course which does this may not appeal. It is natural that philosophy graduates will want to teach philosophy. 


There are teachers that seem to think that the new focus on religion is ‘dry’ and even ‘boring’. Unfortunately I come from the un -pc, unpopular stand point that it is a teacher’s job to make content accessible to students. If a teacher thinks that this GCSE is the worst ever subject they have to teach, then it may not come as surprise that the children pick up on this. 
I think that the confusion of what religious studies is, is yet again another way to undermine it. The RE world is so disparate and this divides even further. 


Of course, one of the simplest solutions would be to have a philosophy GCSE but we know this hasn’t happened. Probably a good job as there will be many teachers around the country trying to justify meeting the current law on RE with it. 

In the mean time I hope that those who dread this new GCSE, spend some time reading about religious stuff they need to teach. In my opinion it’s absolutely fascinating.


2 thoughts on “The Great GCSE religious studies hoax

  1. Dawn,
    I love your enthusiasm and optimism for the new GCSE, I share some of it, however, I disagree on a couple of points. I like some aspects of the new specification with original texts and doctrine having a more important place and it is definately our job to make the course accessible and most of us love designing resources and being creative, even in the new assessment schemes! ;-).
    Religion is a ‘complete way of life’ as some would define it and involved with all aspects of the human condition. This is what I see in my own spiritual life, the Church I am part of and in the classroom; they are all integrated with one another. We all obviously have different definitions on the nature of RE, however, the new syllabus has gone way to far in replicating a basic version of my first year of my Theology degree!
    The inclusivity and flexibility of the old GCSE RE, was a strength, the ability to see religion as involved in all areas of life, be it politics or the creative arts, was inclusive and challenging. There was so much more choice, thank you to the exam boards for this.
    My main criticism is having read the different specs is, there is no difference! They appear like carbon copies of one another in the fear of being alternative or too different. Perhaps it is just we are all dictated to by not having enough examiners for the new spec. I would love to see more variety?
    As for planning a new key stage 3 curriculum, GCSE and A level all this Summer, well thanks, you really thought that one through! That is my Summer holidays ruined… Please let’s have a GCSE in Philosophy, at least this would give us some choice!

  2. Hi Dawn,
    I disagree with your sentiments. The old Philosophy of Religion GCSE taught them critical thinking skills and allowed them to form their own sober assessment of how relevant or otherwise religious traditions/doctrines are to their lives. Those of us who think the government has destroyed our subject are not complaining about having to learn new information. Nor are we not capable of enthusing our students or making the content accessible. Our concern is that that the new content is not relevant to the lives of the vast majority of students we teach. We live in a secular world in which religious traditions still play a small but diminishing role. Christian views on Euthanasia or abortion are relevant and inform debate but the role of infant baptism, the importance of religious pilgrimage, styles of worship etc etc are irrelevant to the lives of the students we teach. I would agree with you that there needs to be a philosophy GCSE alongside the RE GCSE. That way students can choose if they want to develop their abilities to think critically or study the beliefs and teaching of the religious. I know what my students would choose. At A level I now teach the the AQA Philosophy course as the specification reflects the priorities of my students needs and desires. Many other teachers are doing the same thing. Within a few years the Religious Education A level courses will have very students.

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