GCSE RS Musings…

Perhaps because our Shell (Year 9) Options Evening was last Friday, I have been thinking a lot about the new GCSE specs since Christmas.

After reading through the draft specifications and keeping track of the progress they are making with Ofqual, I decided that eduqas would be the most likely candidate to be our awarding body from September 2016.

The fact eduqas will let us co-teach short course and full course GCSE with Buddhism as our second religion option was the major factor in this decision, but I also liked the SAMs eduqas produced and the attitude that their team has displayed throughout the “reform” process.   Eduqas genuinely seem to understand the subject and the challenge of teaching it and to want to help in whatever ways that they can, not least by being the first to re-submit their drafts and thus standing the best chance of early accreditation.

AQA is my second choice at the moment, largely because it is a known quantity.  We currently do AQA Specification B and have been very happy with it – but the new draft specifications from AQA, for all the choice that they allow, would limit me to teaching Islam or Judaism as my second religion because of our need to offer Short Course alongside the Full Course.  Further, I fear that the choice in themes that makes AQA attractive could prove their undoing with Ofqual; the demanded level of exemplification for the religious views on eduqas’ four themes took their specification from 19 pages to 80+ and it might still get longer so AQA might end having to get something like a telephone directory passed line by line.

I attended the eduqas “preparing to teach” day in London today and am preparing to make a final choice once Ofqual publish feedback in mid February.   However, I have been struck by a few things…

1) As I suggested in November during the consultation process, AO2 has morphed into describing and explaining different views. The emphasis on forming a reasoned judgement has almost completely gone as have skills in developing written argument which was a big marketing point for GCSE RS in the past.
2) The content (common to all boards) is much, much bigger than present specifications and more detail will be required in terms of quoting from and interpreting scripture.
3) The new specs are likely to stretch and challenge the middle achievers, but possibly inhibit the high achievers and prove completely inaccessible to the low achievers. Boards are trying to reduce this impact by structuring questions and mark schemes to guarantee the weakest student a few marks, but it will still be difficult to keep bottom (and top) motivated during the content trawl.
4) Christianity content for GCSE (and ALevel) seems much more conceptually and textually demanding than for other religions. Discussion today of whether choosing Christianity could disadvantage students as a result.
5) Resources look scarce, inflexible and extremely expensive, especially if you plan on taking Indic Religions. First release texts focus on Christianity, Judaism & Islam. Huge amount of planning to do & much room to make omissions or misjudge level of detail required.  

Try looking for books to teach GCSE Buddhism on Amazon and you will see what I mean about resources – most are out of print or not yet published – even those recommended by the trainers today are “currently unavailable” and there are no plans to fill this gap in the market.  The boards claim the gap is too small to be commercially viable – but the lack of resources will ensure that, so it is a self-fulfilling prophecy.  

My pick of what is currently available (and affordable in relation to just 25% of the GCSE) is Clive Erriker’s paperback from the “Teach Yourself” series – but it will demand a lot of Year 10s!  I hope to use this as a text for students to have at home to support homework, revision etc. and to use a combination of other resources in class. Who knows, maybe weaning them onto a text without pictures in Year 10 will be a good bridge to A level?  Fingers crossed.

Anyway, I would be interested to hear your thoughts if anybody felt like responding to this post…


4 thoughts on “GCSE RS Musings…

  1. Hi Charlotte
    I will admit I haven’t spent hours comparing the specs but today I did compare the SAMs. Assuming their final ‘tweaks’ aren’t huge I find it bizarre that the exam questions are so different from board to board in terms of command words and then explanation as to what the answer requires.
    I also find it crazy that the difference in quality of answers according to mark schemes comes to vague differences such as being ‘adequate’ ‘good’ or ‘excellent’.
    I think this sort of disparity is what will get people speculating which is the ‘easiest’ board which was, I assume, part of why they’re being reformed.


    • Totally agree Dawn. Said this would happen – if boards allowed to compete but option to specify unique content or routes through spec taken away – last November as well. Again, I was accused of scaremongering… Much same people who suggested boards would specify over and above core criteria to make up for deficiencies in DfE criteria and those who suggested that new AO2 would demand more ALevel style evaluation & argument in practice. Oh well. No joy in being right.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Agreed, there appears to be an inconsistency with assessment with less evaluation and critical analysis and there is a huge discrimination against weaker students evident. I am already seeing a trend in the West Midlands for schools dropping RS altogether or moving towards optional RS and this is in some of the top academic institutions! I am no prophet, however, I wrote about GCSE numbers falling and this having a huge impact on A level and University take up for degree level RE related courses when the initial drafts were released last year. On another note we are considerating A level Philosophy for 2017 as our RS numbers are down by half this year. Let’s hope that the reforms for A level Philosophy are better than the ones for RS as we are a school ones who loves the study of original texts and a ‘broad and balanced’ education, however it is the old philosophy course from AQA that I am currently attracted to more!


    • I had a look at the AQA Philosophy core content, released by the government back in January. As expected, the structure of the 2015 AQA spec doesn’t seem to be in danger, but the detailed content and rigour of assessment might well change. The focus seems to be on getting students familiar with a received corpus of philosophical texts, some of which are very challenging. My guess is that AQA already has a plan on how to specify extracts from the texts and home in on specific arguments which are already covered in the 2015 spec, but I will be interested to see how it works out in practice. BTW, we are starting up A Level Student Events aimed at Philosophy students next year (1st one in December in London) – would you be interested in starting a regional hub or hosting for those if you shift from RS to Philosophy? https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/485434/Philosophy_A_level.pdf


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