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Fall in A level RS entries sees calls for action for specialist teacher recruitment

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Recruitment challenges mean schools are now struggling to offer the subject at A level after decades of growth in entries

Religious Studies A level exam entries have decreased by 3.5 percent in England and 24 percent in Wales.

The fall comes as the overall number of A level entries in England and Wales increased this year by 2 percent from 812,124 in 2022 to 830,312 in 2023.

14,690 students took an RS A level in England in 2023 compared with 15,216 in 2022, while in Wales entries were recorded at 748, a fall from 982.

A level entries for RS also fell last year by 2.7 percent, despite a 6.1% increase in 2021. Between 2003 and 2022, A level RS has been one of the fastest growing subjects at A level, with an increase of 39 percent in the number of entries to the subject.

The fall follows the launch of a campaign to recruit a new generation of RE teachers to the subject, with the Religious Education Council of England and Wales warning that a shortage in specialist teachers means some schools, particularly in the Midlands and North East, are now struggling to offer the subject at A level.

A level Religious Studies is the humanity most likely to be taken by disadvantaged pupils. Research by the FFT Education Datalab has found that this group is twice as likely to choose to study A level Religious Studies than their peers.

Sarah Lane Cawte, Chair of the Religious Education Council of England and Wales (REC), said:

“These results show the really concerning impact that teacher retention and recruitment is having on the subject. For the last two decades, A level Religious Studies has been a success story with growing numbers of entries and impressive results that have opened up a world of opportunity, particularly for people from disadvantaged backgrounds, providing them with access to top universities and careers in law, journalism and teaching.

“That legacy is now threatened. A teacher training bursary and a fair allocation of resources to the subject would help reverse this trend and ensure RE continues to thrive as it has done for the last decades.”

Katie Freeman, Chair of the National Association of Teachers of Religious Education (NATRE), said:

“Despite this dip in entries, A level RS continues to be a very popular choice at A level, being both personally enriching and intellectually challenging. RS A level teachers are highly trained professionals, managing classroom debates on sensitive ethical and theological issues that continue to inform the modern world.

“To be in a situation where students are not able to take Religious Studies at an advanced level is a real travesty, denying many young people an opportunity to partake in a subject that has opened up a world of opportunities in higher education, their personal lives and the world of work.”

The key outcomes of the 2023 A level results in England and Wales for Religious Studies are as follows:

  • 15,438 RS A level entries were recorded in England and Wales, a decline of 4.5 percent from 2022    

There were 39 percent more A level entries for RS in England and Wales than in 2003 (11,132 entries were recorded in 2003).

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