It seems pupils have finally seen the light. Sarah Cassidy reports on how the popularity of 'half-GCSEs' has helped revive interest in religious education.
INCREASING numbers of teenagers chose to take new "half-GCSE" courses this year to broaden their studies.
Entries for GCSE short courses leapt by 16 per cent to 240,617, up from 206,887 last year, with religious education proving particularly popular.
The exams have been attracting many candidates in national curriculum subjects because they allow candidates to qualify in a compulsory subject in half the study time of a GCSE.
The greatest increases in entries were seen in information technology which had 15.9 per cent more candidates this year and RE which boosted its entry by more than a third.
However, the courses have failed to take off in history and geography and examiners warned that these subjects are likely to suffer a further decline.
Ron McLone, convener of the Joint Council for General Qualifications, which represents the three exam boards, said: "The Government has opened up key stage four to a whole range of qualifications. Now there are more options available it is not surprising that there will be contraction in some subjects such as history and geography."
Schools have shown the greatest enthusiasm for the religious education short course which had 105,994 entrants this year. Pupils must study religious education until they are 16 and the short course allows them to gain a qualification without extra classroom time.
Lat Blaylock of the Professional Council for Religious Education said: "These are fantastic entry figures. RE GCSE gets young people thinking about life's big questions and learning about some religious answers. These new courses are bringing RE to life for bigger numbers of students. Where schools have struggled in the past to meet the law's requirement for RE, GCSE short courses look like God's gift."
The short-course GCSE is the minimum requirement for design and technology and modern foreign languages but, surprisingly, entry numbers fell in these areas this year. Entries for short course design and technology fell by 3.5 per cent to 41,624, German by 4.6 per cent, Spanish by 9.1 per cent, though French entries increased by 3 per cent.
GCSE short courses were introduced in September 1996 at the same standard as GCSE but taking half the study time. Short-course exams often use the same questions and examination papers as conventional GCSEs. The same A* to G grading scale and standards are used for both short-course and standard GCSEs. Short courses are recorded as half a GCSE in performance tables.
There were relatively few entries in 1997 but the qualifications took off in 1998 as pupils who started two-year courses in 1996 were examined.