Is Religious Education (RE) Compulsory at School?

In GCSE, General by Think Student EditorLeave a Comment

At school, students take a range of different subjects, which combine to give them a wide and varied education. However, it can get a bit confusing when it comes to figuring out which subjects are options, either made by the student or the school and which ones are compulsory for all students. This is especially the case when it comes to subjects, such as RE that differ depending on the type of school you go to.

In short, yes, RE is a compulsory subject in the UK. However, it is possible for parents to withdraw students from all or some of these lessons. For England, Wales and Northern Ireland, RE will only be compulsory subject up until the end of secondary school. However, for students in Scotland, you will still need to be taught religious education in S5 and S6. Despite this, students won’t actually be required to get any qualification in RE unless their school has made it compulsory.

In this article, we’ve already briefly looked at whether RE is a compulsory subject. However, the rest of the article will delve in, even further to give you more details and an even better understanding.

Is RE a compulsory subject in the UK?

Just to ensure that we’re on the same page, RE stands for religious education and is a school subject where students are taught about different religions as well as about different worldviews, which may or may not be religiously linked. You can see more on this in this article by The Student Run.

In the UK, RE is a compulsory subject. This is a government requirement, meaning that schools are required to teach students about religion in some form.

While RE is a compulsory subject, due to its nature, it is possible for parents (and students if they’re aged 18) to opt out of these lessons. This can be for all of their RE lessons or just some of them.

What exactly is taught in these RE lessons will depend on the type of school and its location. This is because local councils set the syllabus for most public school. However, for faith schools and academies, the schools can set their own syllabus for teaching religious education.

You can learn more about this by checking out this page of the government website.

Do private schools have to do RE?

Unlike public schools, private schools aren’t required to follow the national curriculum and are free in what they teach. In the UK, the national curriculum refers to what students are meant to be taught at each stage of education within compulsory school age. This means that it covers students from the age of 4 or 5 to 16.

Included in this national curriculum is an overview of the prescribed subjects and what exactly should be learnt by the end of this stage.

While subjects, such as English, maths and the sciences are a part of the national curriculum. Other subjects, including RE, as well as PSHE, are not despite both types of subjects being compulsory for state schools. For more on PSHE, check out this Think Student article.

This can make it confusing to figure out whether or not private schools would still have to teach these subjects.

In the same way that private schools don’t have to follow the national curriculum, they also don’t have to teach RE or PSHE. This is as the requirements of what needs to be taught only applies to government-funded schools.

Despite this, private schools may still choose to make RE compulsory for students and can even follow the national curriculum if needed. You can learn more about what private schools teach by checking out this Think Student article.

Do you have to do GCSE RE?

As we’ve already established, it is required for schools to teach RE in both at both primary and secondary level. For students in Year 10 and Year 11, teaching is mainly being done to prepare students for their GCSEs or alternative qualifications.

As a GCSE, RE is focused on different religions in detail and how these relate to ethics and social issues and controversies. While it may depend on the exam board, from my own experience and what I’ve seen from other exam boards, GCSE RE will generally be focused only on 2 major religions that you look at in detail in relation to these specific ethics-related topics.

Which religions you look at in particular will depend on what your school has chosen. You can learn more about this by checking out this article by Springpod.

In the UK, it is not a government requirement for students to take GCSE RE. However, some schools may make it compulsory for students to do the GCSE.

Even if the school does choose to make it compulsory for students, it will still be possible for parents to withdraw students from this teaching, and by extension doing this GCSE. This is because it would still come under the same rules that apply whenever religious education is taught.

While not compulsory as a GCSE, students in Years 10 and 11 will still need to be taught religious education in some form. Once again, the exact curriculum of what students will need to be taught will be decided by the local council for most schools or by academies and faith schools themselves.

You can learn more about GCSE RE being compulsory by checking out this Think Student article.

Is RE compulsory in sixth form or college?

Whether students have to carry on doing RE when they are in sixth form, college or an equivalent depends on which part of the UK they live in.

For England, unlike the rest of the UK, it is compulsory to be on some form of education until the age of 18. Despite this, students don’t need to carry on doing RE until this age.

This is especially as some form of education can come in various forms, from the traditional A-Level route at sixth form or college, to apprenticeships.

For Scotland, if students stay in school or college, then they will need to continue doing RE. This includes students in S5 and S6, even though they will be passed school leaving age of 16.

You can learn more about this by checking out this page on the government website. Want to learn more about the Scottish education system and curriculum? Click on this Think Student article to find out about the Curriculum for Excellence in Scotland.

For Wales, students will only need to be taught religious education until the age of 16, which is school leaving age. This is part of the Curriculum for Wales and comes under the religion, values and ethics (RVE) area.

You can learn more about this by checking out this gov document. For even more on the Welsh national curriculum and education system, have a look at this Think Student article. 

For Northern Ireland, religious education is once again a part of the national curriculum. This only applies to students until the age of 16, by extension students will only need to be taught religious education in school until this age.

The Northern Irish curriculum for RE is however fairly different to other parts of the UK. This is because it primarily focuses on Christianity, particularly Catholicism and Protestantism, and doesn’t cover other religions quite as much.

For more information about this, have a look at this page on the government website.

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