Thursday, 12 February 2015

New GCSE RE & The #REconsult [Part 1]

Image courtesy of BBC

And so it arrives. After the busy #REconsult process during November and December last year, the eagerly awaited final documents arrived today (12th Feb). It is important to remember that these are still NOT specifications, but Awarding Organisations will use them to help write their specifications.

My role in the original process was setting up and running the #REconsult blog (see <here>) which had nearly 10,000 visitors reading 62 posts in a few busy two months. It was the source of discussion, and disagreement among the RE world. I did this completely independently, and there was no bias in any of the blog posting; I posted everything I found, was sent and had permission to post. I was very grateful for people who help recommend posts to reblog. It was a demonstration of the new democracy of the internet, where conversations could be had via the back channel of social networks as well as ensuring calls for face-to-face meetings. The internet certainly revolutionized the way of the consultation. I don't even know how it happened in the past. It will be interesting to see in 10 years time how we look back at this process. Thank you to all those who sent me kind words about running, it was a minimal effort for a large gain I feel.

Reformed GCSE and A level subject content: government response (see <here>)

The first documents released covered the subject consultations including RE. Some interesting first observations:
  • The BHA campaign was a clear headline, and despite the encouraging stats of "over 2000 responses", "more engagement that all other subjects put together" it seems that 85% of online respondents were calling for Humanism as an annex. The government have not decided to include this as primary focus is on religious belief and students will be given chance to study non-religious world views as part of the GCSE.
  • Two religions will be studied by all. There seems to still be a concern from some areas that students can only study the faith to which they belong.
  • Calls we made to reduce the content and make it more comparable to other GCSEs. It is now designed to be taught in 60 hours, as with other coursese.
  • Compulsory topics in Part 1 of the Study of Religion were called to swapped (Sources of Wisdom and Authority with Practices).
  • There was a request for explicit mention of abortion, euthanasia, medical ethics and the environment, This has been covered by the term "human life".
  • "Impact" has largely been replaced with "influence".

My feelings are:
  • I feel the BHA campaign could have been a distraction from other major issues in the consultation, so I am pleased to see the DfE contextualized their resposnes. I don't think Humanism is comparable and would have diluted the academic rigor of religious studies. Even to consider the annex they wrote themselves it became a mixture of general humanities, the arts, science and philosophy. It is an important area of study and even when completing the current GCSE Edexcel Unit 3 (Catholic Christianity) paper we look at non-religious world views, atheism and agnosticism. It is also a feature of our Y8 syllabus. I would imagine, and hope, that this is still possible with new GCSE specifications. 
  • I fully welcome two religions and look forward to studying a second faith tradition. There is a need for further training; not funded by DfE. I am hoping The London RE Hub can play a part in that. I am disappointed that more people did not echo their praise for this change.
  • I am pleased to see the content was reduced to be more workable and manageable. This will allow for quality teaching rather than a rush through content. However many RE teachers will have to go to their SLT and demand more curriculum time; I think this is a challenge but a welcome one. We want our subject to be taken seriously.
  • Including medical ethics topics was a necessity. Students find it both engaging and useful.
Looking at the statistics, I would guess that only around 50-100 teachers/school seem to have made constructive suggestions with meaningful reflections. I fear that people got caught up with one particular issue and did not give the whole process consideration. However the core changes that I both submitted and were very vocal about seem to have been included!

Read the document including all the GCSE subject content <here>

Read Part 2 on A Levels <here>

NATRE have also produced a summary <here>

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