Sequencing A Level Religious Studies

Ever since A Level Religious Studies was “reformed” in 2015 the question of how to sequence the content has been a recurring one.

  • Whereas the A Level used to be made up of four papers (usually two Philosophy of Religion and two Ethics) and lent itself to being split between two teachers, the new A Level was made up of three papers (usually Philosophy of Religion, Ethics and Christianity). Splitting the teaching between three teachers is often impractical, and it is a lot to teach solo, so how to divide three papers worth of material in two?
  • Also, the content of the new A Level is massive and the assessment bar higher than it used to be, so it is important to take advantage of any opportunity to save time and/or consolidate understanding. Careful sequencing of the content enables teachers to “tell a story” and spell out synoptic links, so how to do this most effectively?
  • Further, OfSTED scrutiny of our “learning journeys” and the need for teachers – and students – to be able to answer questions about why they are studying this topic now and how it connects with prior knowledge, makes the question of how to sequence the content of A Level Religious Studies one that really need to be answered now.

I have been working on sequencing since the draft specifications first came out in Autumn 2014. I ran a successful campaign, bringing together more than 100 departments to produce alternative proposals which influenced the design of the new A Level through the consultation process. I ran residential CPD events helping teachers to prepare for the new specifications in 2015 and other events in the following years. This is an example of one of my blog-posts about sequencing from 2017…

So, what is my current thinking about how to sequence the content of A Level Religious Studies?

I reviewed all the specifications when they first came out and concluded that OCR H573 was the best of the bunch. Although it isn’t perfect I haven’t changed my view on this, so these thoughts are based on the OCR content…

If you choose to divide the OCR course between two teachers, take advantage of the fact that the Developments in Christian Thought course was originally designed to be split, with topics feathered into the Philosophy of Religion and Ethics schemes.

  1. Ancient Philosophical Influences
  2. Soul, Mind & Body
  3. Knowledge of God’s Existence (as seen in the Order of Creation)
  4. Arguments from Observation (Cosmological then Teleological)
  5. Evil & Suffering
  6. Augustine on Human Nature
  7. Knowledge of God’s Existence (Revealed through faith & grace)
  8. Religious Experience
  9. Person of Jesus
  10. Knowledge of God’s Existence (innate human sense of the divine)
  11. Ontological Argument
  12. Nature of God (plus revision of Arguments, Evil & Rel. Exp)
  13. Religious Language (Negative & Analogical, then 20th Century Perspectives, then Symbol)
  14. Marx & Liberation Theology
  15. The Challenge of Secularism

  1. Utilitarianism
  2. Kantian Ethics
  3. Business Ethics
  4. Christian Moral Principles
  5. Natural Law
  6. Situation Ethics
  7. Euthanasia
  8. Death & Afterlife
  9. Conscience
  10. Christian Moral Action (plus revision & extension on Kantian Ethics, CMP & Situation Ethics)
  11. Sexual Ethics (plus revision of ethical theories & conscience)
  12. Gender & Society
  13. Gender & Theology
  14. Pluralism & Theology
  15. Pluralism & Society
  16. Meta-Ethics (plus revision of Ethical Theories & conscience)


If you look closely, the links between the two teachers’ courses are as thought-out as the sequencing of each teacher’s courses.

  • NB: I don’t teach as discrete bullet-points, but frequently blur the lines between the topics where it is useful. For example, teaching there is a lovely segue from criticisms of the Teleological Argument from Hume, Mill & Darwin into the Problem of Evil. I start with Mackie’s statement of the logical problem and Adams & Adams typology of responses to it, before doing Hick’s Irenaean Theodicy and setting things up for the other teacher to do Death & the Afterlife and Pluralism & Theology. I then do Augustine, combining his Theodicy into his wider teaching on Human Nature from DCT and again setting up the other teacher’s later work on exclusivism. I then round things off by evaluating responses to the Logical Problem of Evil and doing the Evidential Problem – I show the film “God on Trial” here which helps to segue into revelation as a source of knowledge about God and Religious experience…

There are, of course, many ways to skin a cat… and even more ways to sequence these topics, but this is my current thinking, informed by my experience since 2016.

In terms of assessment, the OCR essay questions rarely test a discrete topic and the number of possible questions is enormous, making it impossible for students to rely on pre-prepared answers, so it is important to get students used to thinking laterally when choosing essay questions from early in the course. A carefully worded essay-question does wonders in provoking retrieval practice and all the consolidation of knowledge and understanding that comes with that. I would suggest plotting out your assessments in advance, after sequencing but before developing your detailed scheme of work, with a view to ensuring that each essay does more than generate data!

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