This site is not maintained. Click here for the new website of Richard Dawkins.

← Compulsory GCSE Religious Education

Compulsory GCSE Religious Education - Comments

aball's Avatar Comment 1 by aball

Do you know what is taught in this RE class? Is it simply general comparative religion or is it standard CofE christian dogma?

If it's comparative religion, I wouldn't be too bothered by it, although I agree it is irritating that children have to waste time learning this stuff. I certainly feel that making it compulsory at GCSE level is over the top and I would like to know the schools reason for this. Have you asked them why they feel the need to make it a compulsory subject?

Tue, 04 Oct 2011 09:33:54 UTC | #877719

Graxan's Avatar Comment 2 by Graxan

Have you actually spoken to the school? I realise this may sound daft but I doubt you'll get anywhere without trying the first and most obvious avenue of approach. If they are unwilling to cooperate with your request informally then you'd either have to give up or go formal with the issue. Who is on the school governors body?

Personally I'd like to see R.E. scrapped entirely and have it as taught one module in history classes. I hope this will happen one day anyway.

Tue, 04 Oct 2011 09:53:56 UTC | #877724

Alan4discussion's Avatar Comment 3 by Alan4discussion

I know we have a parental right to withdraw her from RE but that doesn't put any onus on the school to allow her to replace it with another GCSE or extra maths/English school work which would be of more benefit to her. In fact, from sites I have read, it actually puts the onus on us to provide her with religious work to do to replace the lessons she is missing - a bit hard for atheists to do, really (I guess we could give her a copy of Darwin to read!)

There is a legal right in England for parents or older children themselves to opt out of RE classes. I do not think an LEA (state) school can override this, or make it part of an admissions policy.

I can't see any reason why she can't go to the school library to study other subjects while others go to these classes.

Tue, 04 Oct 2011 10:02:18 UTC | #877726

Stevehill's Avatar Comment 4 by Stevehill

My daughter is in year 9 (options year) at a state, secular school.

Er, Britain does not have any state secular schools. We have non-denominational schools, but all schools are required by law to provide RE and compulsory worship (and you have a right to opt out, and pupils over 16 have a right to opt out).

The GCSE in RE is I suspect "compulsory" because it is pathetically easy to pass, so if everyone takes it, the school's league table rankings will be better.

I would say you/she has an absolute right not to sit the RE exam on conscience grounds, and the school's position should be firmly challenged.

Tue, 04 Oct 2011 10:45:04 UTC | #877732

Anonymous's Avatar Comment 5 by Anonymous

Comment Removed by Moderator - sockpuppet of banned user

Tue, 04 Oct 2011 11:21:05 UTC | #877737

ukvillafan's Avatar Comment 6 by ukvillafan

I cannot see how a state school can make anything compulsory that isn't mandated by the state. In addition to your general right to withdraw your child from RE, I would expect that the funding authority (presumably the local authority) might have something to say about compulsory approaches like this.

Firstly, approach the school and ask for reasons why the course is compulsory in a non-denominational, non-selective school. Then ask to have an alternative GCSE for your child. Give them a time limit - say two weeks to respond.

Ultimately, there may be some form of court challenge available, so if not satisfied by the school's response, or if you do not get one, write to the local authority, which may not be aware of the situation, bring the authority up to date and ask them to investigate and confirm that you will take matters further if no progress is made. Again, give them a time limit.

Tue, 04 Oct 2011 11:50:10 UTC | #877743

Stevehill's Avatar Comment 7 by Stevehill

... possibly also a complaint to Ofsted, after exhausting the school's internal procedures?

They don't like having their Ofsted rating threatened.

Tue, 04 Oct 2011 11:53:41 UTC | #877745

thebaldgit's Avatar Comment 8 by thebaldgit

I agree with those people who have suggested that you should see the school's board of governors and find out why this is compulsory but do not do anything to make you child's schooling anything other than pleasurable. If you find that they are not cooperating in the way that you had hoped then just go through with it which is what i did even though i hated it and had stopped believing by then.

Tue, 04 Oct 2011 12:36:50 UTC | #877756

aquilacane's Avatar Comment 9 by aquilacane

I like your Darwin idea. Opt out and give her something to do, maybe a comparative study on her own, maybe study something useful. Go all out though. Give them hell.

Tue, 04 Oct 2011 13:30:16 UTC | #877772

green and dying's Avatar Comment 10 by green and dying

Just have her do it. All you will do with this is teach her that the rules don't apply to her and she doesn't have to do lessons she doesn't like. Her being atheist has nothing whatsoever to do with it. I bet most of the kids are. If all they teach is Christianity then fine, atheists should know the Bible anyway. If they teach other religions - good, she'll learn some history, culture, and geography.

Compulsory religious studies is usually only a short course GCSE worth half a normal GCSE anyway. If she doesn't care about it she can do her homework in the lessons and try to get a U so the subject won't be written on her certificate.

Teaching religious studies is actually compulsory, the classes just don't have to be for any qualification. I think quite a lot of schools just name a lesson per fortnight "(core) religious studies" and teach citizenship or ethics or health education in that time. That's what my school did so that people who hadn't chosen GCSE religious studies would still be being taught religious studies. But others choose to do short course RS in that time because why not, it's an extra qualification.

Tue, 04 Oct 2011 13:40:49 UTC | #877775

Alan4discussion's Avatar Comment 11 by Alan4discussion

Comment 8 by thebaldgit

I agree with those people who have suggested that you should see the school's board of governors and find out why this is compulsory

It is likely to be much more productive to take this up with the (Council Education dept.) Local Education Authority (LEA). (Speaking as an ex-chair of governors) - School governors are quite often ignorant of legal requirements, and may well have been involved in the decision to try to make RE compulsory.
It is to pander to theist groups, that the government(s) have been setting up "Free" & "faith" schools to stop LEAs intervening in cases like this.

Tue, 04 Oct 2011 13:48:57 UTC | #877779

alphcat's Avatar Comment 12 by alphcat

It is compulsory in a hell of a lot of schools for several reasons. One is that it is an easy gcse to take as a lot is based on opinion so bumps up the league tables! Secondly in a multicutural society it gives a bit of an insight into how different religions view things, including atheists. It s most definitely NOT religious indoctrination in one particular view, differing views are equally accepted and discussed, including the atheist and agnostic ones. Thirdly because it is a subject where a lot of issues that are actually very relevant, like world poverty, war and climate change are discussed and debated. In a lot of schools the name has been changed from RE to PET (philosophy, ethics and theology) to reflect that. Currently every local school and school that I'm aware of makes it compulsory to gcse.

I felt like you when my oldest child had to take it in a non denominational, multi faith school. I'm delighted she did cos though she was and remained an atheist she said at least she didn't believe all the rubbish she read in the paper any more about other faiths or cultures.

Schools can make subjects compulsory. I know of schools that stipulate that children have to take a DT subject for example. If RE was an exercise in religious indoctrination (as it may well become in some of the free schools that Gove is setting up) I'd demand she be removed. As it isn't, she will just have to accept that you have to do things in life that you just don't like and that the school will not have the funds or resources to set up special lessons just for one child. At the end of the day it is an easy gcse, and in the competitive world your daughter will be entering, where every gcse gives an edge, she'd be daft not to do it.

Tue, 04 Oct 2011 16:12:11 UTC | #877814

Valerie_'s Avatar Comment 13 by Valerie_

I would chart out a course of action and move stepwise. Also, I wouldn't assume that a battle will happen, as this could affect your attitude as you enter your first interaction with the school.

First, I'd just go talk to the RE teacher in person --- this would be the easiest way to get the most accurate information. Keep your questions neutral and open-ended; maybe start with, "I'm just interested; can you tell me about the content of the course?" Ask to see the textbook.

Alphcat and others mentioned that the RE course might just be a survey of ideas, including atheism and agnosticm. If that's the case, ask to borrow the book and then you and your daughter should probably spend a week or a weekend thinking about what she'll get out of the course and if the alternatives to it outweigh its benefits.

If it's more geared toward, say, CofE indoctrination, you can politely pull out. If other students at the school aren't members of the CofE, she probably won't be the first to opt out. If so, the school probably has some alternative in place or may make suggestions. You'll never know until you ask.

If you go the opt-out route, I'd take it easy at first. For example, after you've made an informed decision about opting out, just go to the teacher or school and ask about the alternatives they have in place for students who don't do RE. Ask it just like that; don't ask "if" they have alternatives. Be matter-of-fact and ask what they've done when other students have opted out.

If no one has ever opted out, you'll be free to set your own agenda. If it has to be about religion, you still have loads of options. For example, she could learn about old belief systems and why they ultimately fell out of favor. The Egyptians used to think that the sun was a god, but now we know it's just a big fusion reactor, like all the other stars. Yet people used to think the stars were holes in the sky allowing passage of the light of heaven. Now you've set the stage for learning about

  1. Stars
  2. How religious beliefs are used to explain things that can't be explained by science.

Point 2, of course, could then lead into a discussion about the fact that creationists and young earthers don't know the scientific facts and/or choose to ignore them. That's fodder for months of work (evolution itself, creationism, and the psychology of creationism).

And of course, it's also a good idea to bring in logical fallacies and how they're used in religion.

Hmm. Maybe I should teach RE for Skeptics. That would be fun. :-)

Tue, 04 Oct 2011 17:18:55 UTC | #877829

liq's Avatar Comment 14 by liq

One of the main topics of my RE GCSE was Ghosts. Worthwhile GCSE that was.

Tue, 04 Oct 2011 20:42:16 UTC | #877907

Prankster's Avatar Comment 15 by Prankster

Just let her do the classes, take the exam and either pass or fail it....believe me perspective employers will not be bothered in her grade in an essentially useless subject nor would it impress a perspective employer or look good on a cv.

Useless classes leading to a useless exam pass. Is it a real problem otherwise being taught the subject? I had it weekly for around 11 years and still fucked up in my old O-Level paper. It's not hindered my job prospects or career path (HA!) in any way, it was simply a waste of useless fuckin' time...

Tue, 04 Oct 2011 22:06:43 UTC | #877937

QuestioningKat's Avatar Comment 16 by QuestioningKat

This is not the first time I have heard a complaint like this here. For us Americans, it would be helpful to know what this course involves. Are the concepts being taught as fact? Comparative religion? Do you learn about Hinduism, New Age, paganism, etc.?

Tue, 04 Oct 2011 23:04:30 UTC | #877952

green and dying's Avatar Comment 17 by green and dying

Comment 16 by QuestioningKat :

This is not the first time I have heard a complaint like this here. For us Americans, it would be helpful to know what this course involves. Are the concepts being taught as fact? Comparative religion? Do you learn about Hinduism, New Age, paganism, etc.?

In my experience it is not taught as fact. The syllabus is fairly similar for every school (there are several exam boards in the country but they are regulated) and they include basically "this is what people of X religion believe/do based on X tradition/scripture". Schools can choose between the major religions - i.e. Christianity, Islam, Sikhism, Hinduism, Judaism. There might be others but I've not heard of them being taught. There is the option (usually chosen by the school, not the pupil) to do an entire qualification in one of the religions, an entire qualification in two (or more?) different religions (my school did something like "introduction to Hinduism" plus "Christian perspectives on world issues" for a full GCSE for those who chose it) or a half GCSE in one religion. When a school chooses to teach only Christianity, I believe it's usually when they've made it compulsory to take and they are choosing Christianity simply because their pupils are most likely to be familiar with it already and it will therefore be easier for them to do well in, OR because the school is a faith school - a Catholic school near me teaches only Christianity, with a focus on Catholicism, for a full GCSE (though it is also a private school).

There's nothing stopping an individual faith school teaching only their religion and teaching that the religion is true alongside teaching the "this is what people of X religion believe" that is required by the syllabus but I'd be very surprised if that went on very often in schools with no religious affiliation.

I can only go from my own experience but when I did it there was nothing stopping us from arguing against the "Christian perspectives on world issues", pointing out contradicting scriptures, etc. in our exams. It was not about saying you must agree with these Christian views, or that you must respect them, it was about learning why Christians believe what they believe. The Hinduism one was just about Hindu beliefs, ceremonies, history, scripture and culture.

By the way, I didn't find it especially easy to pass compared to my other subjects. I did better in the sciences and English. Others' experiences will probably vary and things may have changed, this was about 5 years ago.

Tue, 04 Oct 2011 23:58:18 UTC | #877967

green and dying's Avatar Comment 18 by green and dying

Okay this is very similar to the specification that my school did, where you do one or two modules in one or two religions. However, there is another specification from the same exam board which is called religious studies but seems to be some kind of fluffy ethics/religion thing which doesn't have modules on the specific religions and seems to be lumping religion and ethics and citizenship together. That doesn't look so good. I've no experience of how that's taught, though.

OP should find out which specification the school are planning to teach, for sure.

Wed, 05 Oct 2011 00:22:09 UTC | #877972

besleybean's Avatar Comment 19 by besleybean

I confess I am surprised and actually appalled by this, if it's the case. RE ha always been compulsory in England...but to EXAM level? When did this happen? I would challenge this at school level and then take it to the local authority, if necessary. French was compulsory for A streamers at my school, but one girl got out of it. Parent power.

Wed, 05 Oct 2011 07:49:29 UTC | #878035

Alan4discussion's Avatar Comment 20 by Alan4discussion

Comment 19 by besleybean

I would challenge this at school level and then take it to the local authority, if necessary. French was compulsory for A streamers at my school, but one girl got out of it. Parent power.

Learning a foreign language is compulsory for lower teens, but the number of French courses is disproportionate to their uses.

Time spent on an additional foreign language or sciences (even on-line or pre-recorded) would be far more use than RE. - Opt out!

Wed, 05 Oct 2011 09:02:44 UTC | #878050

Graxan's Avatar Comment 21 by Graxan

Comment 12 by alphcat

It s most definitely NOT religious indoctrination in one particular view, differing views are equally accepted and discussed, including the atheist and agnostic ones.

I can't neccessarily agree with this as I believe it is innacurate. Is it not the case that teachers of R.E. are inclined towards an interest in theology and while many teachers will teach the curriculum in a secular academic way, I would place money on there being proslytising lessons going on for those teachers who's true interest is indoctrination. While I didn't have to put up with RE past year 8 in my old school, I still remember there being some bible-thumping teachers knocking around.

Wed, 05 Oct 2011 10:24:36 UTC | #878077

shemonster's Avatar Comment 22 by shemonster

Take it from my 15 year old daughter RE (Philosophy and Religion - compulsory at her Wiltshire secondary school to GCSE level and a complete bore) is for her simply:

a. A joke b. Good fun - running rings around their clearly christian teacher. Sorry clearly I meant debating with. c. A free A* GCSE d. Nap time, as and when necessary

There is not (she informs me) a single student in her class that takes it remotely seriously. But on a serious note it is not proselytising it is a comparative course.

Don't fret about it, learning the ridiculous claims each and all religions make just hammers home to the younsters that they can't all be right and most certainly can all be wrong.

Wed, 05 Oct 2011 13:18:36 UTC | #878123

besleybean's Avatar Comment 23 by besleybean

No problem with compulsory RE, but to EXAM level...how so?

Wed, 05 Oct 2011 16:13:10 UTC | #878184

green and dying's Avatar Comment 24 by green and dying

Comment 23 by besleybean :

No problem with compulsory RE, but to EXAM level...how so?

Why not?

Also, for the people saying "lol free A*" which syllabus are you thinking of? Because that wasn't the attitude at my school, and I don't remember many people getting an A star, even the people who were very able and got As and A stars in the sciences, English, maths...

Wed, 05 Oct 2011 17:07:27 UTC | #878204

Valleyman's Avatar Comment 25 by Valleyman

Certainly seems odd (if not illegal) for a school to make RE compulsory. However I have some experience of this, although I admit things in Wales may be different to England.

My daughter opted to take RE and as some have suggested it really is more a case it being comparative religion & philosophy. She's been raised as good atheist and indeed her RE teacher admitted to being atheist.

The result...A grades at both GCSE & A Level, a healthy view of religion (i.e. atheist) and deep interest in philosophy that means she's now at University do a degree in it.

Don't knock it as a subject, admittedly the GCSE is pretty easy but the A level needs some work.

Having said all that if your daughter want to drop it in favour of something else fight it all the way. The options tend to be limited by compulsory English, maths etc. but I'm sorry RE really should be a matterof choice.

Wed, 05 Oct 2011 18:16:55 UTC | #878222

green and dying's Avatar Comment 26 by green and dying

Comment 25 by Valleyman :

My daughter opted to take RE and as some have suggested it really is more a case it being comparative religion & philosophy. She's been raised as good atheist and indeed her RE teacher admitted to being atheist.

The result...A grades at both GCSE & A Level, a healthy view of religion (i.e. atheist) and deep interest in philosophy that means she's now at University do a degree in it.

This was very nearly me except with Bs instead of As and I lost the interest in philosophy as soon as I started the degree so I'm now doing something else.

I never really saw the subject as non-academic. I got higher grades in other subjects at GCSE and A level (and yes they are subjects respected by university admissions tutors, not media studies or anything).

Religious studies is listed as a "generally suitable arts A level" by this Cambridge college site.

Wed, 05 Oct 2011 19:29:34 UTC | #878245

Ignorant Amos's Avatar Comment 27 by Ignorant Amos

Coincidently, I've been looking into doing a Religious Studies GCSE or maybe go straight to 'A' Level distance course just for something to do. Looking through old and specimen exam papers, I reckon I could walk the exam on what has been learned from RD.net alone.

There are 2 types of paper, A, which is more woo woo and B, which is more humanities orientated.

GCSE Religious Studies B

A handy and easy 'A' Level if opting for a Humanities degree.

That said, it should not be compulsory under any circumstances.

Thu, 06 Oct 2011 01:28:33 UTC | #878318

green and dying's Avatar Comment 28 by green and dying

Comment 27 by Ignorant Amos :

Coincidently, I've been looking into doing a Religious Studies GCSE or maybe go straight to 'A' Level distance course just for something to do. Looking through old and specimen exam papers, I reckon I could walk the exam on what has been learned from RD.net alone.

Don't bother with GCSE, it's designed for 14-16 year olds with 10 other subjects so it's not really worth it for an adult to take on its own, and there's no reason you couldn't do A level.

Thu, 06 Oct 2011 15:48:19 UTC | #878452

Ignorant Amos's Avatar Comment 29 by Ignorant Amos

Comment 28 by green and dying

Don't bother with GCSE, it's designed for 14-16 year olds with 10 other subjects so it's not really worth it for an adult to take on its own, and there's no reason you couldn't do A level.

Indeed, thanks for that. I noticed with the past papers I could just do the exam and pass the GCSE, I didn't think it was as easy as that when I sat my exams all those moons ago, mind you, that was in the days of GCE's. It would be a waste of time and money now, so I'll jump straight into the 'A' Level, where I see Richard Dawkins is part of the syllabus, along with Kant, Paley, Aquinas and Hume...illustrious company indeed. From the Specification:-

  1. The design argument
    Credit will be given for reference to any relevant version of the design argument, but candidates will be expected to be familiar with the following:
    • The argument as presented by Aquinas
    • The argument as presented by Paley
    Arguments against the design argument:
    • From philosophy with reference to David Hume
    • From science with reference to Richard Dawkins

    Responses to these arguments with particular reference to the presentation of the design argument by Richard Swinburne.
    issues arising
    • The strengths and weaknesses of the arguments studied
    • How far does the design argument make it reasonable to believe in God?
    • How far has Swinburne’s design argument successfully met the challenges of philosophy and science?

Thu, 06 Oct 2011 16:22:03 UTC | #878461

Gwirionedd's Avatar Comment 30 by Gwirionedd

While we should have at least some understanding of comtemporary religious beliefs, I still can't see why a topic so inconsistent and subject to school policy and teaching preference should be made compulsory. There are far better candidates, languages being chief amongst them. In a global economy, it is becoming increasingly difficult to support the notion that religion should come before communication. Its seems to me that priorities are getting very skewed.

Thu, 06 Oct 2011 19:17:27 UTC | #878508