Revised subject content for GCSE, AS and A Level RS from 2016 announced!

The DfE released the final subject content for GCSE, AS and A Level Religious Studies yesterday.  GCSE is more or less unchanged but AS/A Level has been transformed!  The responses of colleagues were crucial in causing the DfE to abandon the idea of putting a maximum of 50% weight on the Philosophy of Religion and Ethics, forcing most people to spend at least 50% of their A Level studying either a Religion or Texts.


  1. For the first time ALL candidates will have to study EITHER the Philosophy of Religion OR Ethics… even if their school opts for studying a religion AND texts
  2. For the first time NOBODY will be able to take a narrow course offering ONLY Philosophy of Religion and Ethics, but must include at least 33.3% textual study or study of a religion.

We welcome this development wholeheartedly.  Indeed, it is very close to what we proposed in the Alternative A Level Proposal.

The content of AS and A Level, although still not ideal, is much better than it was!

  • Nobody will be forced to study diets and dress-codes in Year 13!
  • Philosophy of Religion includes Religious Experience as well as arguments & challenges at AS Level
  • Ethics has been increased from 2 to three approaches and meta-ethics has been restored.
  • Text content is much clearer

All the elements require an in-depth comparison of the ideas of two scholars for the full A Level.

We have produced the following graphic to summarize the long documents…

Revised GCSE ASA Content

  • Avatar
    Catherine Lane
    Posted at 17:51h, 21 February

    Common and divergent views within Catholic Christianity in the way beliefs and teachings are understood and expressed should be included throughout.

    Hmm – Catholic teachers could be sacked for heresy for implying that a divergent Catholic view on e.g the physical resurrection of Jesus. Who can remember the imprimatur being withdrawn from the book ‘Roman Catholic Christianity’ In a statement issued via internet last week, Bishop Smith said, “At the request of the Sacred Congregation of the Clergy, I am withdrawing the imprimatur accorded to the book Roman Catholic Christianity on October 6th 1994. In the judgement of the Congregation, the expression of some elements in the book are not in full conformity with the Catholic faith.”

    Read more:

    Devout Catholic parents don’t send their children to Catholic School to learn that divergent views are part of Catholic teaching!

  • Avatar
    Craig Ross
    Posted at 09:29h, 23 February

    Many thanks for your help here Charlotte.

    Contrary to all expectations, the new A Level could be even better than the current one – I must confess I had given up all hope. Now its up to the exam boards…. I am not sure about the rest of the schools teaching the “Philosophy and Ethics” stream, but we think it is essential for OCR to keep in the Plato and Aristotle topics and also Kant in both POR and Ethics. I am concerned about the latter especially, given that only three arguments are required to be taught.

    Is there any way we could inform the exam boards about these concerns?

    As for the GCSE – I am less despairing that I was. We can make the “Beliefs and Teachings” sections work (Christianity and Islam) and also probably parts e, f, g and h in the philosophy and ethics options (if I understand this correctly). Unsurprisingly, it is the phenomenological material in the “Practices” section that will cause all of the headaches. Our only option at the moment is to teach this material in Year 8 or 9.

    Do you or anyone else have any ideas how to tackle this?

    Also, has anyone noticed that the content in Beliefs and Teachings and Practices are not isomorphic across the religions? How will it be possible to teach and examine two religions in parallel if the content for these sections is not roughly thematically similar?

    Finally, we are not a Catholic School, but the Catholic Christianity content seems much clearer and more interesting, IMHO, than that in the Christianity scheme….

    I would love to hear you thoughts about this Charlotte, or from anyone else.


    • Avatar
      Candle Conferences
      Posted at 13:40h, 23 February

      In terms of the exam-boards adding Plato and Aristotle as a foundation and Kant to Philosophy of Religion and Ethics options, I am not optimistic – although it is always worth writing in to your exam-board subject developer.

      The exam boards will no longer be able to compete on content or assessment style, because the core is so huge and so prescriptive and the breakdown of attainment objectives and requirement for exam only so inflexible. The only thing remaining for them to compete on (irony of ironies) is their “customer service” i.e. how easy it is to do well (without the benefit of re-marks or appeals) on their papers as opposed to other papers.

      Expect a minimalist interpretation of core content, choosing the “easiest” and “sexiest” options where there is any choice.

      Expect them to choose idiosyncratic scholars or variants where they can get away with it to lock people in to buying their textbooks and training (think Boethius on OCR 2008 and what it did for the sale of the new Wilkinson & Campbell textbook, which otherwise might have sunk without trace while people continued with their trusty Jordan, Lockyer & Tate…)

      Expect there to be little or no topics listed as context or background, certainly not added to material that will be examined – so no Plato or Aristotle I fear.

      I think your best option would be to choose AQA Philosophy Craig. I would have said Pre-U Theology and Philosophy (choosing the Philosophy of Religion and Ethics options after the nice foundations module, which does much what you would like it to do in terms of breadth and depth of context) however the DfE’s regulations make it impossible for schools to choose non-A Level options now. How’s that for giving schools freedom to choose the courses that suit their pupils 😉 AQA Philosophy is not the best organised at the moment, but IF they can get their house in order, there are hundreds of schools eager to move over from RS to take advantage of the greater philosophical rigour which their course COULD facilitate – and avoid texts and the unknown quantity that is RS post 2016.

      In terms of GCSE, I think you HAVE to wait for the specs before doing much more preparatory work. Remember that the core-content is just that and, because of the 500,000 plus entries a year, the boards have a BIG incentive to be creative in terms of how they specify it. I wonder if we might not see some interesting amalgamations of content going on, such as creating GCSE Paper 1 “Islam and Christianity” and Paper 2 “Religions in the Modern World” or some such, reducing the amount of choice (and the number of tiny, unprofitable options a board would have to offer) but creating quite a distinctive product for each board. I would hold fire until September or October 2015 Craig and make your judgments and decisions then – though I know it cuts it uncomfortably fine. You could certainly stock, train and prepare for doing Islam and Christianity, but leave the worrying about which topics to do when and how to next year.

      Agree about the Catholic content – because the CES has been so closely involved in the reform process and, consequently, it wasn’t drafted on the back of an envelope by the minister or by a harried non-specialist trying to please irreconcilable interest-groups. Deplorable that numbers and political nous has made such a difference to the treatment of one denomination, that the reform process was unnecessarily rushed and yielded sub-standard drafting in some areas, but sure, make the most of the better options if you are able!

      Hope this helps! Happy to converse with you Craig, or anybody else on these issues any time.