Schools find God again as students turn to religious education exam

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The Independent Online

Religion - at least as an exam - is exploding in popularity among today's streetwise young people, show Government figures published yesterday. The numbers taking short-course GCSEs in religious education have increased 12 times in four years, say exam boards.

Religion - at least as an exam - is exploding in popularity among today's streetwise young people, show Government figures published yesterday. The numbers taking short-course GCSEs in religious education have increased 12 times in four years, say exam boards.

More than 141,000 teenagers set religious studies exams earlier this summer, compared with just 12,300 in 1997. The huge increase demonstrates the popularity of so-called "short-course" GCSEs, each representing half of a conventional GCSE subject.

Entries for the full GCSE in RE have stayed roughly level despite the rise in the half-size exam. The religion GCSE short course was introduced in September 1996 - with the first exam in 1997 - to allow children to take an exam in RE though other subjects left too little time to take a full GCSE course.

Topics covered include euthanasia, abortion, pre-marital sex and cohabitation. Traditional teachings about Christian doctrine such as life after death and the immortality of the soul are complemented by teaching about near-death experiences and the paranormal. Other topics include why the world's evils may lead people to question the existence of God, and atheist explanations of the world.

A spokesman for the Church of England welcomed the increase. The introduction of a short-course exam helped focus children's minds on the subject, he said. "It's a grounding in religion and moral issues which encourages the students to take decisions for themselves. The denominational points are for the churches to make.

"This does mean people are taking religion seriously."

Jacqui Smith, the junior Schools Minister, said the increase in popularity was due to the new syllabuses. But head teachers suggested the rise may be more to do with schools wanting to increase their pupils' GCSE point score.

Ms Smith told a conference of RE inspectors and advisors: "The Government believes the reasons behind this progress are... development of a new generation of agreed syllabuses and the hard work of many national and local organisations in supporting RE.

"Overall, standards in RE are rising, This has been confirmed by recent Ofsted inspection evidence."

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