The English Baccalaureate - Education Committee Contents

Written evidence submitted by Professor Judith Lieu, Chair of the Faculty Board, Faculty of Divinity, University of Cambridge


1.  The memorandum urges the inclusion of Religious Studies as a core Humanities subject in the English Baccalaureate. It is important for society that young people are encouraged to acquire an informed understanding of and the development of critical skills in relation to religious claims, styles of argument, and texts. As an examined subject, Religious Studies provides geographical, historical and cultural understanding, and develops critical and analytical skills, analogous to other recognized core Humanities subjects.

2.  This submission is being made by Professor Judith Lieu, Lady Margaret's Professor of Divinity at the University of Cambridge and Chair of the Faculty Board. It is written on behalf of the Faculty following discussion and consultation. The Faculty has specific experience in the teaching of Theology and Religious Studies at University level, and is in regular contact with schools where the subject is taught for public examination.

3.  It should be noted that around 190,000 students took a full GCSE course in Religious Studies in 2010. The GCSE is designed to develop an informed understanding of a range of religious positions and judgments, and to prompt a critical engagement with religious, philosophical and ethical questions. It forms a foundation for an increasing number of students to continue with the study of Religious Studies at A level; here many students take options that further challenge them to think critically about philosophical and ethical questions, while others encounter critical analysis of core religious texts and traditions.

4.  There is a statutory requirement for all students to undertake a course in Religious Education or Religious Studies at Key Stage 4, but this is often taught by non-specialists. The full GCSE course, and beyond that the A Level course, demand greater rigour and offer a higher level of attainment.

5.  It is imperative in today's society that young people are encouraged to develop the skills and understanding that will enable them to respond to religious ideas and to religious diversity, critically, intelligently, and with tolerance. Equally necessary must be the stimulus for self-reflective responses to the ethical decisions society as a whole, and individuals, face. More generally, it is the nature of Religious Studies as a discipline that it nurtures historical awareness, an understanding of how texts function in society, and a sensitivity to cultural difference, all skills that are at the heart of the importance of placing a Humanities subject as a core subject in the English Baccalaureate.

6.  There is a danger that if GCSE Religious Studies is not recognized as a core Humanities subject for the English Baccalaureate, schools will reduce their provision for it. This in turn will have a deleterious effect on the number of students taking the subject at A Level, and in turn, those taking related courses at University. While University courses in Theology and Religious Studies, as also in courses in Philosophy and in Ethics, do not demand an A Level in Religious Studies, many students do discover their enthusiasm for the subject at school. Graduates in these disciplines, who may go on to a range of occupations in society, bring with them further-developed skills of sensitivity to and critical thinking about the moral and religious values in society.

7.  A further consideration is the need for well-qualified people to teach Religious Studies at school level. In the past the subject was sometimes treated as a "Cinderella" subject that anyone could offer in their spare time. The increasing regard that has been given it in recent years has demanded graduates who could bring a range and depth of knowledge as well as an enthusiasm to inspire young people of the value of addressing questions of religious understanding openly. In turn this has prompted revisions of the RS curriculum, sometimes through co-operation between University Departments and Examination Bodies. It is therefore imperative that a channel of affirmative recognition run through from GCSE to A level and so to University.

8.  Her Majesty's Government, through the Department of Education, is urged to include Religious Studies as a core Humanities Subject in the English Baccalaureate, and to give public support to the teaching of the subject in all schools.

21 March 2011

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Prepared 28 July 2011