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Culham St Gabriel’s Statement on the GCSE and English Baccalaureate announcement

The Secretary of State for Education has announced his intention to replace GCSEs in the Ebacc subjects with a suite called the English Baccalaurate Certificate, with first teaching in 2015 and first examinations in 2017.

Culham St Gabriel’s, as an advocate of excellence in Religious Education, views these proposals with mixed feelings and thinks that much more detail will be needed very soon from government.

We note with some concern that Mr Gove’s statement on 17 September says nothing about non-Ebacc subjects. There is no detail on these subjects, such as Religious Studies, and nothing about whether and how they might be examined at age 16. There is a vague reference to a possible template for accrediting qualifications beyond the Ebacc subjects, but with no timetable and no guarantees.

We recognise the crucial importance, to RE students, of gaining a credible qualification at age 16. The qualification should be rigorous, and the syllabus should be critical and open. It should examine what students know, understand and can do in response to a range of religions and beliefs. While GCSE Religious Studies exists, it should continue to be widely used by schools as a measure and a celebration of pupils’ achievements. The current GCSE in Religious Studies is assessed by examination only, with no controlled assessment or coursework.

We support the move to a single awarding body for each subject, and we think the government should go further and make this happen for all subjects, including Religious Studies, so long as the system operates effectively and fairly.

We hope that the new examinations will be an authentic measure of what students know, understand and can do, rather than an exercise in recalling information solely. We hope that they will be open to all students and marked by clear criteria, rather than used for ranking the candidates.

We think that the RE community should urgently seek clarification from government that:

–        GCSE Religious Studies will continue until a replacement RS qualification is in place;

–        Any successor qualification in RS should continue to include a breadth of religions and beliefs, and should be constructed to show what students know, understand and can do.

Culham St Gabriel’s will continue working with the RE community to promote excellence, rigour and openness in RE at all levels. We firmly support the RE Council in its review of the subject. We note with pleasure that the RE Quality Mark, whose website goes live today, offers teachers a creative, rigorous and supportive tool for self-assessment effectiveness in their school and we are delighted to be supporting it.

Mark Chater

Director, Culham St Gabriel’s