My final word on the RS A Level consultation?

December 13, 2014 · Posted in Uncategorized 

Lets be absolutely clear. I think the GCSE RS changes are admirable. I have nothing more to say about that.

I note that there are valiant efforts to engage with the teaching profession from both the DfE, organisations like Candle conferences and the social networks found on Save RE and the Consult blog, for example. This is all admirable.

The key is to devise an intelligently structured way of engaging philosophy, theology and religious studies. That should include some ethics, be it moral theology, philosophical ethics or religious ethics. I think the revised proposal from the teachers who met together recently at the event organised by Candle conferences is an excellent proposal. I urge you to look at it and then let the DfE know what you think, through the consultation mechanism.

My basic position has not been swayed. I think students should be able to undertake a sustained systematic study of religious ethics. I have suggested how the current proposal might be improved. The study of the good is simply too important to set aside and it would be unconscionable to rip it out of our studies and a self inflicted act of madness. It is a discipline with recognisable methods and rules for evaluation and an unending list of possible applications. Keep it decent and available, wherever form A Level takes. The current proposal, which hollows out ethics must be revised. I have no doubt that the members of the panel have their hearts in the right place but they need to do some more work.

There may be good reasons behind the choices students and teachers make about their options at A Level. Lots of wringing of hands that many of the 24000 students don’t do the right options gets us no where. The growth that has happened in RS over 15 years (from 6000) has been predominantly growth in PoR and Ethics. It would be good to increase the number of these engaging with religious content but this must be done in a way that doesn’t drive them to Sociology or Philosophy. I was surprised to discover that some senior influencers in the RS stakeholder group were unaware that schools can switch to AQA Philosophy (PoR and Ethics). There are also interesting options in A Level Sociology and Anthropology. Great subjects of course, but lets keep RS too.

I don’t want a smaller A Level cohort. I don’t want smaller RE departments, with less resources and fewer trainee teachers. If we get this wrong, we will suck resources out of our subject. Lets not cut off our nose to spite our face please.

Behind the proposal is an assumption that what currently happens is wrong and undesirable and that the professional and student population should be forced towards content thought more important. I am not convinced about this approach. Every recent Secretary of State for Education have commented we have the greatest group of teachers ever. So this group are making all the wrong choices in RE are they? I just don’t buy it. Maybe they can’t ‘sell’ religion to their students – Are we wise to order them to try harder? Maybe they doubt the benefit of studying religion at that level – if so perhaps we are appalled. But these are people who have studied RS and spend a lot of time thinking about religion and speaking about it to the public – we have a duty to listen to them carefully and not ignore them. I appeal to those who are charged with responding to the feedback to listen to these voices.

Then there is higher education. The consultation states that the university sector is not happy with the A Level. Well, not my university. We just had our biggest year 1 recruitment with more highly qualified students than ever, with our new Religion, Philosophy and Ethics degree. It is a big success for us at CCCU and we do take theology seriously as a university with an Anglican foundation. A lot of universities have successful religion, philosophy and ethics degrees – just google those words to see. I would be appalled if the new supply of undergraduates was cut off, particularly when it is very difficult to recruit enough RE trainees. Undesirable unintented consequences must be avoided.

Let us remember, A Levels are chosen by students. They don’t have to do it. Respect young people and their choices. They won’t always be right but they are our future.

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