Since it was excluded from the Ebacc school performance measure, religious education has been painted as a GCSE underdog.
Supporters of the subject campaigned for it to be included in the Ebac, but education secretary Michael Gove resisted, claiming that subject’s compulsory status would be enough to ensure its popularity in England.
The arrival of this year’s GCSE results brought some welcome cheer to the RE community, indicating a more than 9 per cent rise in entries for the full course in the UK. It looked like RE might be saved from being an also-ran.
But the pleasing full-course GCSE figures masked a dramatic decline in entries for the short-course version, with numbers plummeting by 26 per cent in a year.
RE champions believe that plans to exclude GCSE short course grades from school performance measures have had an effect. Put quite simply, the schools have no motivation to run it.
Plans for linear GCSE could also be to blame: modular courses allowed students to complete the short course and “upgrade” later to a full GCSE. They won’t have this flexibility in future.
John Keast, chair of the Religious Education Council, said the decline in the short course was a “serious concern” and his organisation is looking at the “complex reasons” that may lie behind the drop.
“It shows that fewer teenagers are being given the chance to experience good quality RE as part of their secondary school education,” he added.
Ed Pawson, chair of National Association of Teachers of RE and head of RE at the King’s School in Devon, added: "If the fall in the number of students being entered for the short course continues there will be even fewer specialist teachers than there are now, more schools not following their legal obligation, and a continued pattern of decline.”
Late last year, education secretary Michael Gove admitted to Anglican bishops that RE had “suffered” on his watch. “I don’t think I’ve done enough,” he confessed. A closer examination of this year's GCSE figures suggest that he shouldn't think the subject is out of the woods yet.