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Faith schools teaching narrow, unaccredited ‘Religious Studies GCSE’ in defiance of DfE rules

In defiance of a Government requirement for GCSE Religious Studies (RS) to include the in-depth study of at least two religions, a number of faith schools are opting to teach a narrower ‘International GCSE’ course focusing study only on the religion of the school, it has been revealed. The International GCSE in Religious Studies, produced by Edexcel, is not recognised by the Department for Education (DfE) and has not been accredited by Ofqual. Despite this, some faith schools have seen it as preferable to teaching the standard, broader GCSE which is recognised and accredited. Humanists UK, which campaigned in favour of the broadening of the RS GCSE when it was first proposed in 2014-15, has bemoaned the continued efforts of certain faith schools to stop their pupils learning about other religions and beliefs.

Prior to 2016, schools could choose to teach just one religion as part of the RS GCSE, but in an effort to encourage understanding of a broader range of religions and beliefs, the DfE decided to require the study of at least two religions in the GCSE as of last year. Whilst the move was welcomed by religious education teachers and experts, there was opposition from two religious groups. Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis said that ‘forced changes to the GCSE, through which so many learn about their own faith, is not the right way’ to encourage mutual understanding. And the Catholic Education Service, which also opposed the move, faced controversy after being seen to ‘shun’ teaching on Islam in ordering all its schools to teach Judaism as the second religion.

Now, however, some faith schools are shunning the new GCSE altogether in order to continue teaching just one religion. Yavneh College, a mixed Jewish secondary, has opted for the new ‘IGCSE’, with the students due to sit the exam for the first time in summer 2019. Immanuel College in Bushy is doing the same, and other Jewish schools such as Hasmonean High in London and King David High School in Manchester are also reported to be considering the switch.

Humanists UK Education Campaigns Manager Jay Harman commented, ‘It seems that there really is no limit to the lengths that certain faith schools will go to to avoid teaching their pupils about other religions and beliefs. The requirement to teach about two religions at GCSE is hardly a burdensome one, so the fact that faith schools are not even willing to do this reveals just how narrow and insular an education they are seeking to provide. We are clear that children deserve an awful lot better than this, and will be writing to Ofsted to clarify whether or not teaching this narrower GCSE is compatible with schools’ British values obligations’.

Notes

For further comment or information please contact Humanits UK Education Campaigns Manager Jay Harman on jay@humanism.org.uk.

Read more about Humanists UK’s work on RE: https://humanism.org.uk/campaigns/schools-and-education/school-curriculum/religious-education/

At Humanists UK, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. Our work brings non-religious people together to develop their own views, helping people be happier and more fulfilled in the one life we have. Through our ceremonies, education services, and community and campaigning work, we strive to create a fair and equal society for all.

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