The study of humanism is to form part of the syllabus for a GCSE in religious studies for the first time, one of the biggest exam boards will announce today.
The subject has been added to reflect the rising number of people sharing humanist beliefs in the UK, the Oxford & Cambridge and Royal Society of Art exam board (OCR) said.
The move is part of a reform of religious studies as a result of which pupils can study six major religions (Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism and Sikhism) as well as humanism. In a separate philosophy and ethics paper, youngsters will also be encouraged to tackle modern moral issues and examine the perspectives that different beliefs have towards topics such as abortion.
Andrew Copson, head of education at the British Humanist Association, said: "Since the 1960s, the proportions of those whose beliefs are humanist has steadily increased. A Mori poll in 2006 showed that 36 per cent of the UK population shared humanist views on morality and knowledge."
The Government and the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, the exams watchdog, have backed the inclusion of humanism.
OCR is also offering a faith-based approach in an alternative world-religions paper. That would allow pupils to focus entirely on Christianity, Islam or Judaism if they wished to.
Some representatives of the Catholic Church have opposed the teaching of abortion from different perspectives. However, concerned pupils can take the 100 per cent Christianity teaching option in the world religions GCSE paper if they wish.