Hundreds More Opt For Religious Studies at A-level In 2021

The number of Religious Studies A-level exam entries has increased 6.1 percent year on year. The subject outperformed other A-level subjects as a whole, which increased by 5.1 percent, with a greater increase than most other humanities subjects.

16,645 RS A-level entries were recorded in England and Wales this year, compared with 15,690 in 2020. Geography and History saw increases of 16.5 percent and 1.5 percent respectively. The overall number of A-Level entries in England and Wales increased this year by 5.1 percent from 750,173 in 2020 to 788,421 in 2021.

The Religious Studies results reverse the decline of 11.5% in 2020, where many other subjects saw significant falls in the number of entries, including Geography (down 16.2%) and History (down 15.1%). Last year’s reduction reflected a smaller cohort of 18-year-olds and changes to the assessment of A level and AS examinations that had an effect in 2018, when the majority of schools changed their policies to recommending three A-levels, versus four in previous years.

The key outcomes of the 2021 A-level results in England and Wales for Religious Education are as follows:

  • 16,645 RS A-level entries were recorded, an increase of 6.1 percent on 2020. 
  • There were 49.5 percent more entries than in 2003 (11,132 entries were recorded in 2003).
  • The 6.1 percent increase in entries for RS is greater than some other subjects such as History (up 1.5 percent) and Political Studies (up 5.1 percent).
  • The increase of 49.5 percent in the number of entries for RS A-level since 2003 is greater than equivalent changes over the same period for subjects such as Geography (down 0.9 percent), Law (up 9.4 percent), and History (up 8.7 percent). 
  • Among arts, humanity, or social science subjects, only Sociology (up 74.8 percent), Economics (up 92.8 percent) and Political Studies (up 100.2 percent) have seen stronger growth since 2003.

This year’s increase, and the long-term trend in entries suggest that candidates continue to recognise the value of RS A-level for Higher Education entry, graduate employment, and as an essential life skill.

Professor Trevor Cooling, Chair, Religious Education Council of England and Wales (REC), said:

“Religious Studies has maintained its popularity over the past two decades at A Level, where students have a greater say in their subject choice compared with GCSE when RS may not be offered as an examination course. Young people clearly value the importance of extending their knowledge and understanding of religious and non-religious worldviews at A-level and continue to vote with their feet.

“The Government should recognise the essential role that RS plays in ensuring young people receive a balanced education, helping create a more cohesive society, and supporting a vibrant economy by preparing employees and future business leaders for the globalised workplace. We urge it to fund a National Plan for RE to ensure it is properly resourced and taught by professionally trained teachers, and to enact a statement of entitlement to high-quality education in Religion and Worldviews for all pupils.”

Katie Freeman, Chair, National Association of Teachers of RE (NATRE), said:

“Many congratulations to all those students receiving their A-level Religious Studies results today. Although once again the method of grade assessments has been affected by the unusual circumstances, the true value of today’s results will be reflected in the knowledge, understanding, and skills that pupils take with them in future life.

“Everyone has a unique, personal view of the world, whether it is religious or non-religious and the enormous variety and complexity of worldviews that exist today need skilful navigation. RS helps young people understand those worldviews and make sense of their own, giving them the valuable ability to succeed and thrive in social and professional situations.

“Future Government and school policy must reflect the vital nature of the subject. We must afford RE greater protection and ensure that it remains a staple element of the school curriculum.”

Case studies: Why students choose Religious Studies

Students from Kings Norton Sixth Form in Birmingham who had completed Religious Studies at A-level were asked about their experiences of studying the subject.

Isabel Keetley from the Birmingham sixth form said: “The RS course was my favourite A Level subject. I particularly enjoyed the ethics side and applying different ideas to modern day situations. I found that it helped me shape my own opinions about key issues, both religious and modern ideas. The course inspired me to choose Philosophy and Ethics to study at university.”

They also recommend the subject to help form key competencies such as organisation and communication skills.

Written By: Sarah Carter

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