Five reasons why Religious Studies MUST be in the English Bacc (by top RS teacher Daniel Hugill)

Francis Gilbert's picture
An inspirational R.S. teacher passed these excellent reasons why R.S. GCSE needs to be included in the English Baccalaureate to me:

Five (and a half) reasons that Religious Studies should be included as a Humanity in the English Baccalaureate

1. Because Religious Studies is a rigorous and demanding academic discipline in its own right. It engenders critical thinking and rigour in the search for truths in uncertain fields. It encourages philosophical thought, decision making skills, collaboration and independent working skills and the search for compromise and conflict resolutions that work. It creates opportunities for young people to develop their skills of dialogue, interpretation and analysis in a coherent context. All these are vital skills in a modern workforce where communication, collaboration and cooperation are core skills.

2. Because Religious Studies has a multidisciplinary nature, involving textual study, philosophical thinking, ethics, social understanding and the skills of analysis and reasoning developing core skills of literacy.

3. Because Religious Studies makes a key and unique contribution to understanding British heritage, plurality, values and futures. It provides an excellent opportunity for young people to engage with contemporary contentious issues, developing social, cultural, political, philosophical and historical awareness.

4. Because in Religious Studies pupils learn to respect themselves and understand their own identity, to respect others, and to understand their own and others' rights and responsibilities. At a time when communities are becoming more diverse there is an even greater need for a more religiously literate and tolerant society. Religious Studies plays a key role in creating social cohesion and generating genuine understanding between communities reducing friction, intolerance and social unrest.

5. Because GCSE and A level growth in the last 10 years, fuelled by student interest, makes Religious Studies the most popular Humanities subject, and one of the most popular choices outside the core, in 16+ exams presently.

5.5 Because no case has been made for excluding it – the current list looks arbitrary!
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Kath Richardson's picture
Thu, 09/12/2010 - 10:35

Most of this argument could equally apply to Philosophy and Ethics which would have the benefit of being far more inclusive.

Paul Hopkins's picture
Thu, 09/12/2010 - 14:51

RS is the more inclusive as it includes Philosophy and Ethics and much more

Jane Wilson's picture
Fri, 10/12/2010 - 13:38

RE is a subject for all to study whether they have religious beliefs or not. It allows a critique of religion itself whilst offering opportunities to critically and personally evaluate a range of religious and non religious beliefs.

Debbie Lewis's picture
Fri, 10/12/2010 - 17:21

The close examination of the texts and concepts Theology and Religious Studies involve, is focal to Judaeo-Christian-Muslim/Islamic self/mutual understanding and cutting edge in world events. Religious fundamentalism? The role of religion in contempoary society? The relationship between science and religious text? The Bible as core to the Abrahamic faiths? Philosophy and Ehics come nowhere close to covering this ground, either regarding content or methodology.

Francis Gilbert's picture
Fri, 10/12/2010 - 18:42

I am not religious at all, but I have become convinced that R.S. is a great GCSE seeing how it works in my current school; it really gets pupils thinking about their lives in new and exciting ways, deepens their appreciation of other cultures, sharpens their moral thinking. It seems to be an essential "Humanities" subject to me!

Julian Bennett's picture
Fri, 10/12/2010 - 21:50

1 and 4 are in conflict with each other. If there really was rigorous critical thinking in RE then students would quickly realise that religious beliefs were not justified (they make extra ordinary claims on the flimsiest of evidence - mainly personal testimony). This would generate little respect for religious identities and beliefs.

Since RE aims to satisfy 4 and encourage respect for different religious identities it necessarily waters down 1 (critical thinking).

Francis Gilbert's picture
Sat, 11/12/2010 - 09:39

I disagree with Julian. I think that RE is great at exploring the ways in which faith and evidence-based research/judgements differ. As Kant perhaps most notably shows, the human mind needs to leave mind for the possibility of "God". I think RE is perhaps the only subject which a staple of the curriculum which explores just how many of our perceptions of the world are based on faith. I was fascinated to see in one RE lesson I observed a discussion of the film 'The Matrix' which explored issues connected with faith, perception and evidence-based judgements.

Alison's picture
Sat, 11/12/2010 - 10:06

My daughter is an atheist yet loves her RE GCSE and through that want to go on to do Philosophy A level. She is fascinated by ethical questions and loves to debate ideas and religious beliefs. Many more young people would benefit from the study of RE as it promotes critical thinking, communication skills and debating skills that are essential in our globalised world.The fact that it is not included in the E Bacc just shows how arbitrary the decision of which subjects to include has been.

Andrew Old's picture
Sat, 11/12/2010 - 15:27

There's something quite amusing about somebody claiming something is "a rigourous [sic] and demanding academic discipline" and then immediately saying it "engenders critical thinking". "Critical thinking" is curriculum writers' code for dumbing down. If a subject has limited intellectual demands then it will always be justified as encouraging critical thinking. If it has no intellectual demands at all it will justified as helping students to respect themselves, which I note appears in reason 4.

The reason RE is not a proper academic discipline is not because it can't cover demanding content, but because it might not. Theology, philosophy, Biblical criticism, church history, even sociology of religion are all proper disciplines but RE is none of the above. It is simply a pick-and-mix subject that, with a good teacher might be educational, but too often is simply having a chat about "God and stuff" and finding an exam board whose exams can be passed without actually having to have much in the way of actual knowledge of religion or philosophy.

Oh, while I'm at it, I should mention that at Key Stage 3 it's mainly just colouring in pictures of festivals.

Laura McInerney's picture
Sat, 11/12/2010 - 17:00

We must remember that there are many different types of RE GCSE. Some include a very specific focus on one religion, whereas others involve a philosophy element. The one I taught looked at social issues and then applied two religious perspectives AND looked at non-religious perspectives. This really did require a great deal of critical thinking and, much like history, students had to weigh up evidence.

Teaching in schools where many students are fundamental in their religious beliefs means that their understanding of non-religious views is often extreme. Many times when I would ask: "And what do non-religious people think of abortion?" students would answer with, "they all think it's great!"

Given it's importance in critical thinking, increasing understanding and the fact that theology & philosophy are recognised as Humanities subjects by Oxford University (whereas Geography is not), I can see no reason why it ISN'T included.

Laura McInerney's picture
Sat, 11/12/2010 - 17:06

Although the 5 points mentioned in the article are strong they essentially come down to "because it's good for students". Although true, I think you could make this case about most subjects *if* taught well. Hence, I have a slightly different argument for why it should be included.

In 3 months time when Year 9 students are choosing their options, most schools are going to force them into doing History or Geography. Yet few schools will have enough able teachers to deliver this option to an entire year group. Neither of the schools I have worked in do, and my colleagues have said the same. This means teachers from other subjects will be forced to teach a subject that they (and the students) don't like, and which they have not had time to understand nor learn the pedagogy and plan for. Hundreds of children will end up with less good lessons than if RE was included in this Bacc.

Why would we want our students to have a less good education?? The reason is clear. At present only 4% of FSM students achieve the 'EBacc' -- this would go up considerably if you include RS. The Conservatives want to be able to say in 2015 that they raised the level from "4% to 45%" (or whatever it will be) but that rise won't be so spectacular if RE is included.

Sigh. Politics over education. Again.

Francis Gilbert's picture
Sat, 11/12/2010 - 20:10

I think Andrew is being a little unfair in making sweeping generalisations about R.E. and critical thinking. The R.S GCSE is intellectually stimulating; I've seen the issues it studies and its scope. It's true that it does take from a number of different disciplines: theology, philosophy, Biblical studies, cultural studies, even media studies. But this is it's great appeal and advantage: it enables pupils to make connections between the moral, philosophical, the scientific, and the cultural spheres.

I think Laura is right in saying that politics are being played with the E. Bacc!

Laura McInerney's picture
Sat, 11/12/2010 - 21:01

I've also just found out that girls take RE at a much higher rate than boys (the trade-off seems to be more boys take Geography). Excellent. This policy is now sexist too.

Laura McInerney's picture
Sun, 12/12/2010 - 10:18

On the point about whether or not RE is 'academic' I looked across the specifications yesterday and found the Assessment Objectives (i.e. the things students are tested on at the end) for each of these subjects - as decided by Edexcel. They are below for reference.

Describe, explain and analyse, using knowledge and understanding
Use evidence and reasoned argument to express and evaluate personal responses, informed insights, and differing viewpoints

Recall, select and communicate knowledge of
Demonstrate understanding of the
past through explanation and analysis of:
• key concepts: causation,
consequence, continuity, change and
• key features and characteristics of the
periods studied
Understand, analyse and evaluate:
• a range of source material as part of a
historical enquiry
• how aspects of the past have been
interpreted and represented in
different ways

Recall, select and communicate their
knowledge and understanding of places,
environments and concepts
Apply their knowledge and
understanding in familiar and unfamiliar
Select and use a variety of skills,
techniques and technologies to investigate,
analyse and evaluate questions and issue

Of course, they are all quite similar. But then, look at most subjects they follow this same hierarchy of skills. For example:

*Leisure & Tourism GCSE*
Recall, select and communicate their knowledge and understanding of a range
of contexts
Apply skills, knowledge and understanding in a variety of contexts and in planning and carrying out investigations and tasks
Analyse and evaluate information, sources, and evidence, make reasoned judgements and present conclusions

Or, from Citizenship GCSE:
Enquiry into Citizenship activities
Application of skills of advocacy & representation
Participation in action
Assessment of the impact of own action

Ultimately, all subjects provide deep skills and there can be constant debate about which of these skills is more important. We're never going to get to the bottom of it.

The issue for me is whether it is pragmatically a good idea to favour subjects over others given that they are all so similar!

Paul Hopkins's picture
Mon, 13/12/2010 - 11:34

Julian's comment above show why we do need RE. I would, like Francis, also not call myself religious but am not willing to be dismissive of the beliefs of others. Many people have come to a reasoned (for them) worldview. You see the same differences in other all areas of the curriculum would Julian dismiss these, if they are not his, so readily?

Andrew's experience also seems to be jaundiced - I agree that there is poor practice but there is also much excellent practice where most of the things he cites are studied with the appropriate rigour for the level (GCSE or A) and whilst I do not doubt that are some time and in some place some "colouring in" has taken place at KS3 - and as an ex-inpsector I have seen poor practice (including colouring in) across most subjects at some time - this is not practice that is widespread, as reports from HMI and OfTED will testify.

durgamata's picture
Wed, 15/12/2010 - 03:02

Our planet is amazing. Life itself is amazing. Many people percieve much that can not be understood through a scientific approach because science only explores the physical reality. 'There is more to life' is a common discovery. The National Curriculum recognises the importance of exploring and learning about the spiritual aspect of life. All subjects are expected to include this - but Religious Education / Religious Studies has the main responsibility for this. It is absolutely crucial to our understanding of who we are as individuals, what the purpose of life may be and how we can learn to see the world from other people's perspectives.
Without good RE our society would become more divided and more dangerous. It is absolutely essential that anyone who cares about our society, our students and our subject take action now to fight for RE to be included in the English Bacc.

Dominic Self's picture
Wed, 15/12/2010 - 09:30

Ideally, religion would be taught from a historical perspective - in my experience, RE as currently taught can exert a rather strange 'flattening' effect where all religions are presented as alternative contemporary brands with no historical context as to how they came about.

However, since this isn't an ideal world, I agree it makes no sense to exclude it from the humanities portion of the English Bacc. (It would be nice if the curriculum recognised the large number of people who *do* only believe in the 'physical reality' of life, though. There are more of us than you would guess from most RE lessons.)

Daniel Hugill's picture
Wed, 15/12/2010 - 16:53

Young People Give Thumbs Up to RE

The RE Council have just released some fascinating findings which show that young people feel that RE is important. I wonder if Mr Gove will listen to them?

Also the Radio 4 Thought for the Day from 15/12/10 addresses the importance of RE, it is well worth a listen:

Andrew Old's picture
Wed, 15/12/2010 - 17:55

Paul Hopkins,

I accept I am talking about poor practice, based around picking the most dumbed down topics to cover for an individual school's curriculum, but the point I'm getting at is that it is still possible to pass RE GCSE on those dumbed down topics and until that is rectified then I seen no reason it should be recognised as an academic GCSE.

Additionally, I find more and more that RE teachers don't believe in an academically challenging curriculum, even in principle. The talk of critical thinking, respecting yourself, cooperation and so on in this blog post is commonly heard on the lips of RE teachers, just before they explain how there are no right answers and all opinions are equally valid.

Lat's picture
Thu, 16/12/2010 - 07:40

All very good to see the debate, but it's frustrating that RE seems to be judged on its worst practice from mostly 30 years ago. Of course there is bad practice, but RE today is the opposite of indoctrination, the most open hearted, broad minded and inclusive subject on the curriculum. I see loads of this, and hardly any of the leftover.

H's picture
Sun, 19/12/2010 - 18:44

As a RE teacher I am shocked as well as frustrated by the judgements made by some very ignorant individuals about the nature of the subject.Lat I applaud your comments! RE is not about 'colouring in' and passing exams by studying 'dumbed down topics'. RE and all its counterparts are subjects which are academically challenging, rigorous and thought provoking. I can categorically state that students of mine would never say their GCSE course is easy to pass and a survey of my KS3 students would also show that they have never had to colour in for an in class activity- isn't that geography?! Alas here I am showing an ignorant view which I know to be wrong!
I am so disappointed at the disregard of a subject by the government which is so essential to the cohesion and understanding of our great multi-faith society. I also worry about the demise of the subject if it is once again left out the regeneration of the National Curriculum and the ignorance its absence would lead to in our future generations. As in my experience many 11-16s do not get a well rounded understanding of these and so many other points of view in their home life!

anne's picture
Thu, 13/01/2011 - 08:59

All the best universities have philosophy and Religious Studies departments, so they must have an interest in preserving the subject in schools. If not included in the EB, the brightest students won't opt for it, the take up at A Level will be affected, and university depts will feel the impact.

Hilary Elder's picture
Sat, 15/01/2011 - 17:31

I think I shall repeat some comments, but want to add my voice. I am really encouraged by the many positive comments on here about RE.

The criticisms of RE here seem to be basically three, and I shall address them:

RE is not properly academic - no, it is not, in the sense that it is not only academic, and that is part of its great strength. RE does require academic work, but it values that academic thinking not for itself, but in the context of the whole of life as it is lived, and therefore is particularly well placed to motivate students' thinking, because it demonstrates relevance. For example, I set my Y7s voluntary homework of making Karah Parshad when doing Sikhism. Several did, and when they brought it in and we ate it, we discussed the process, and the taste and so on, not as a cooking exercise alone, but relating this cooking activity (very non-academic!) to the reasons why it is made, and the role it has in Sikh worship, linking up different kinds of human activity.

RE could be replaced by other subjects like Philosophy and Ethics, which would be more inclusive.
It could, but that would make it less inclusive. Religions are messy and tricky things to encapsulate, because they encompass every aspect of life. They deal with philosophy and ethics in a situated, contextualized way that is particularly rich and that students can respond to and engage with irrespective of their academic ability.

RE encourages respect for religions, which religions don't deserve.
I hope RE does encourage respect for religions, and I think the idea that religions don't deserve respect is, forgive me, rather old-fashioned. It stems from the Enlightenment vision of reason as the standard for thought, but the Englightenment's understanding of reason was, I think, an impoverished one that we are now moving beyond. Even if you disagree with this, as well you may, I think it is wrong and dangerous to dismiss other points of view as beneath you and encourage continued ignorance of them - even if you are utterly convinced that religions are in the wrong, surely it's better to know your enemy?

Daniel Hugill's picture
Tue, 24/05/2011 - 19:53

NEW NATRE RE and the EBacc Survey - Please help!

Dear Colleague

The government’s final decision about whether or not RE is included in the EBacc will be made in June! Meetings between NATRE and others with Nick Gibb, Schools Secretary, in recent days have made it clear that he requires yet more evidence to convince him not only that RE should be in the EBacc, but that there is a crisis in RE in many secondary schools as a result of the EBacc.

So ... NATRE would like to ask all secondary RE teachers to complete an online survey to gather the data we need -

Could you please fill in the survey and circulate the link above to every secondary teacher of RE you know.

The E-Bacc has already damaged RE, but the debate is not finished. We need to work on with this, and every teacher who cares about RE can help. We had an absolutely magnificent response to our first survey back in January – 900 responses, and it made an incredible impact. We need you now to take part in this second survey – as a matter of great urgency – it’s our last chance to try and change the current situation.

Do get in touch if you have any questions – and keep an eye on our websites for updates –

Many thanks,

Daniel Hugill (sent on behalf of NATRE)

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