Despite growing secularism in UK, religious studies is popular subject for school leavers

(Photo: British Council)Young people in the United Kingdom.

In the United Kingdom, regular church attendance continues to dive, but Religious Studies remains the fastest-growing exam subject among the arts, humanities, and social sciences in the country for people aiming to go college.

It is the high school subject that is growing the second fastest after Further Maths, the Church Times reported despite growing secularization of the society.

More than 23,000 students who on Aug. 16 completed their examinations for subjects needed to gain university entry chose RS, as it is also known.

The numbers are down four percent on last year, but still more than double the number taking the exam since 2003 (11,132 students), the newspaper reported.

The nearest comparable subject was Political Studies, where interest has grown 90 percent.

Among all subjects, only Further Maths had seen more rapid growth than RS, data provided by the Joint Council for Qualifications shows.

Of all RS students collecting results for the university exams known as A levels this week, 23.5 percent were awarded an A or an A* — higher that 13 other subjects, including English (17.9 per cent), and Business Studies (15.2 per cent), the data showed.

Further Maths students gained the highest percentage of As and A*s (58.2 percent — 42.2 for single maths), compared to the lowest achieving subjects: Media (11.5 per cent), and General Studies (12.1 percent).

Overall, the proportion of students awarded A* and A grades in all subjects increased for the first time since 2011.

The National Association of Teachers of Religious Education (NATRE) and the Religious Education Council of England and Wales (REC) emphasised the importance of the subject in Britain after the release of the data.


They said universities and employers are more and more accepting the value of religious literacy.

Pointing to data from the Higher Education Career Services Unit, which suggests that 25 percent of university graduates in 2015 went on to work in the legal, social, or welfare sectors, NATRE and REC noted that career prospects are "very bright" for those studying RS or theology at degree level.

They also said that in February this year there had been the creation of a diversity-and-inclusion training program from the analytics company Ernst & Young: Religious Literacy for Organisations, designed to help organisations better understand religious inclusion and its impact on business process and performance.

The chair of NATRE, Daniel Hugill, congratulated students sitting exams for university and teachers on the latest results.

He said, "It is of little surprise to those of us who teach RS that it remains so popular amongst young people.

"RS A-level is an excellent preparation for both further study and for entering the world of work. The subject matter and approach of an RS A-level helps to equip students with the skills, knowledge, and attitudes necessary to succeed in modern Britain."

The chief executive of the REC, Rudolf Eliott Lockhart, said that, while its popularity and the results are encouraging, more needs to be done to support religious education in the United Kingdom.

"This is a highly rated subject that offers pupils the opportunity to explore crucial questions in relation to beliefs, values, and morality. In doing so it provides an excellent preparation for living in a multifaith, multicultural world.

"I hope that the [UK] Government will want to work with us to turn enough of today's keen A Level pupils into tomorrow's teachers, to help meet the shortfall in appropriately qualified teachers of religious education that we currently face."

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