Boom for God and ethics

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YOUNG PEOPLE are increasingly interested in religious education. New short courses that study God, life after death, sexual ethics and pacifism are so popular that RE has become the fastest-growing GCSE exam, teachers in the sector said yesterday.

Figures for GCSE exam entries to be published this week are expected to show that the number of pupils taking RE has almost doubled during the past two years. In 1997 there were about 122,000 exam entries for RE but the provisional figures will show that the number is approaching a quarter of a million.

Lat Blaylock, executive officer of the Professional Council for Religious Education, which surveyed exam boards to compile the figures, said: "I wouldn't call this a religious revival in schools but it proves that spirituality is a growing interest of young people. I think RE has left behind its 1980s image of telling pupils what to think.

"Short courses put their emphasis not so much on the beliefs and practices of religion but more on fundamental questions: What if God's real? What happens if I die? What's good and evil about wealth or sexuality or abortion or GM foods? Young people find them sharp and relevant," Mr Blaylock said.

Schools have to teach religious education by law, but the new short courses let students take a GCSE exam after just 70 minutes study a week.