29 Jun Specifications 2016 Update…
Charlotte Vardy writes…
The helpful folks at NATRE have collected documents and produced summaries of the draft GCSE and A Level specifications for first teaching in September 2016.
The news is rather mixed. Having skimmed through it seems that…
- At GCSE only Edexcel and AQA seem to offer the option of studying one religion for 50% (Islam or Christianity from Edexcel, just Christianity from AQA) and another for 25% with 25% Philosophy and Ethics or Texts.
- Edexcel and AQA also seem to have taken the more creative approach to interpreting the criteria. Edexcel will offer two separate Specifications A (seems to be aimed at faith-schools) and B (general RS but with a unique element of choice in the Philosophy and Ethics topics and no unhelpful distinction between study of Religion and the themes from P&E), AQA offer an element of choice at GCSE in terms of themes to be studied and offer a more innovative, synoptic approach to A Level; in fact AQA seems like the best bet in terms of A Level choice for those who share our passion for Philosophy of Religion and Ethics done well and put in context.
- Eduqas offers the closest to a pure “Ethics” option at GCSE – 50%, combined with a 25% + 25% study of any two religions. The other boards combine Philosophy and Ethics, leading to big Ethics topics such as Medical Ethics going in some GCSE specs. Edexcel and AQA seem like the big contenders at GCSE now – such a shame that OCR (hitherto the market leaders for rigour and choice and, in my experience, customer service) seem to have thrown in the towel by putting out such a pathetic offering.
- There seems to be some confusion about Sikhism; the boards’own documents (where available) suggest that it has been dropped as an option by all the boards at GCSE – but NATRE suggest otherwise in their summary.
- Only Edexcel offers the opportunity to study texts at A Level. This is only NT, John’s gospel with unseen passage. This will be a significant loss for Jewish schools and schools in areas with high Jewish populations, as well as for the breadth and diversity of our subject-area and the usefulness of the A Level in preparing for TRS at university. AQA offers a 25% option (also in Mark’s Gospel) at GCSE.
- At A Level for Ethics all the boards barring AQA seem to be leaning towards Utilitarianism, Situation Ethics and Natural Law; AQA provide information that their two scholars for in-depth study for Ethics will be Bentham and Kant, suggesting that the 3 main theories could be Virtue Ethics, Situation Ethics, Natural Law? This could be an approach taken by other boards though – only time will tell.
On the positive side, the idea that the content was going to be a lot more challenging seems to have been misplaced. Different, yes, but no more challenging in itself. Of course the levels of response expected may raise the bar, but that could have been achieved without altering the content of the specs at all. The story seems to be much as we suggested last November…
- The boards have all taken advantage of the new criteria to slim down their offering, increasing their profits by reducing choice and taking away any option to prepare for significant elements in TRS degrees, e.g. Old Testament Study, Doctrine, Church History, Science and Religion, Religion and Art etc.
- These courses will be MUCH less attractive than existing courses – the boards HAVE NOT for the most part shown the creativity that was predicted by optimists and advocates of the DfE proposals in November / December. They have not done any more than the minimum required and have, in some cases, taken the narrowest possible interpretation of the criteria – it seems likely so as to make their courses easier and have commercial advantage.
- It will be disingenuous to advertise Religious Studies courses at GCSE or A Level using the name “Philosophy” in pretty much any permutation going forward.
- Of course there are some good features to the new specs e.g. the study of scholars, exploration of unseen passages of text, but these could have been introduced to existing specs without the wholesale change we have seen and have not, so it seems, been applied consistently between boards… suggesting that the old story of variability in standards will continue, unless OfQUAL get fierce and reject some or all of these drafts.
As it stands, we are in no position to recommend AQA Philosophy as an alternative, because we believe that it is due for revision for first teaching September 2017 and so it is a known unknown. Of the GCSE and A Level options that are known (amazingly) EdExcel looks like the most interesting and flexible so far. Clearly, the details of the specifications may affect this opinion going forward and it is always possible that Ofqual will demand revisions of some or all of the boards so nothing is final and it is worth holding off making a decision for as long as is practical.
For the few of you in a position to look at the new OCR iGCSE (when it is FINALLY released) or PreU Theology and Philosophy, I suggest beating a path down Hills Road to the Cambridge International Examinations HQ. Sadly, few are in that position any more though.
The boards are all promising launch events in the Autumn so it might be worth attending one or more of those. If anybody attends one of these events and is willing to share their thoughts, we would be pleased to post them here so that others can have a read and share their comments.