Encountering religion

A-Level Religious Studies, Ringbinder of resource materials by Christopher Clark, Barbara Horley, Mark Niedzweidz and Catherine Smart, #163;75, 1 85356 4974 National Extension College, 18 Brooklands Avenue, Cambridge CB2 2HN.

In today's pro-vocational and cost-cutting climate, it is the "minority" subjects that are in danger of being squeezed out of existence in the post-16 curriculum. Religious studies belongs to this turkey-in-December group of at-risk subjects post-16. Of course there are exceptions. I know schools with between 40 and 80 A-level students in religious studies. But in many if the head or principal is brave enough to run the course the subject has single-figure numbers.

The absence of an A-level religious studies option in many schools is rarely questioned because of the tendency for quality assurance and inspection procedures to investigate only what is being taught. A week with the Office for Standards in Education looking at what is not going on,could be a very interesting exercise.

Specific to religious education is the problem of late developers. For many people religion is an interest after the age of 16. Reading about religion, like reading about crime, is concerned with that most fascinating of questions: what makes human beings tick? But at the age at which many are just asking the question, their chance to study religion seriously ceases.

This pack from the National Extension College is intended for full-time or part-time students, open learning or distance learning, preparing for Northern Examinations and Assessment Board A-level religious studies in two of the examination options: New Testament and Philosophy of Religion. It is planned for use in self-directed study, in work with a tutor or for NEC-enrolled students. An optional copy licence is available.

Guidelines to study and revision are included, sections include activity-comment-summary-revision stages and the text is interactive. The pages in the heavy ring-binder format are clearly set out. The language avoids jargon but the depth and detail for best A-level work are sometimes missing.

Although the work of major scholars is summarised (especially helpful in philosophy), the extracts from their books one would wish students to read do not appear often enough or at sufficient length.

This is a pity, because it gives the text a sort of Reader's Digest feel. The journal Dialogue, specifically aimed at the A-level religious studies audience, contains articles by leading scholars on topics in these syllabuses and should be listed in future editions of this handbook.

Armed with the NEC pack, a motivated student working alone will have basic and thorough material, and its interactive nature makes it better than the dreaded dictated notes that still survive in some face-to-face teaching. But reading through it made me feel grateful to have had face-to-face encounters with tutors whose enthusiasms inspired me, bringing to life the dry bones of the text.

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