Falling numbers of Religious Studies GCSE entries suggests schools struggling to meet legal obligations

The number of pupils in England and Wales taking GCSE Religious Studies full course has fallen for the second year in a row, down 10.4% against 2017 to 241,749.

In addition, the number of pupils in England and Wales taking the short course GCSE in Religious Studies has fallen even more sharply, down 35.8% from last year to 34,087.

The decline is greater in England than in Wales. In England the number of entries for GCSE Religious Studies full course has fallen by 10.7% to 229,189. In Wales the equivalent figures are down by 4.2% to 12,560, although these come after last year’s record high.

All schools, including Academies, have a legal requirement to offer Religious Education at all key stages, but today’s figures suggest that this is not sufficient to ensure that all pupils in England get to study the subject at Key Stage 4. In too many cases, there are no consequences for those schools that decide to flout their legal obligation, with Religious Education not featuring in measures such as the EBacc that are used to hold them to account.

At a time when greater religious literacy is even more necessary than ever before, the decline across England and Wales in pupils taking GCSE Religious Studies is troubling.

The fall in entries comes despite pupils emphasising how much they value and enjoy studying Religious Education (underlined by the overall rise in entries at A-Level and GCSE over the past decade) and despite the fact that the Government is rightly emphasising the importance for young people to have knowledge and understanding of religions and non-religious beliefs.

This year’s drop in entries should not detract from a decade of strong growth for Religious Studies GCSE. In 2008 there were 166,628 entries for Religious Studies in England and Wales. The number of entries increased every year until reaching a peak in 2016. While there has been a decline this year, the number of pupils receiving a full course GCSE in Religious Studies is still 45.1% greater than in 2008.

It has been encouraging to hear that Ofsted intend to pay closer attention to whether schools are meeting their requirements to teach Religious Education. Today’s figures show how important it will be for Ofsted to do this.

The key outcomes for Religious Education in England and Wales at KS4 in 2018 are as follows:

  • There were 241,749 entries for the full course in GCSE RS, a fall of 10.4% from 2017 (269,839)
  • There were 34,087 entries for the short course in GCSE RS, a decline of 35.8% from 2017 (53,071)
  • There were 275,836 entries for GCSE RS (combined short and full courses), a decline of 14.6% from 2017 (322,910). Entries for GCSE RS (combined short and full courses) peaked in 2011 at 461,795. Today’s figures show a decline in entries of 40.3% in seven years with 186,000 fewer pupils achieving a qualification in RS at the end of KS4.
  • 29.7% of entries for the full course in GCSE RS were awarded at least an A or 7
  • 22.7% of entries for the short course in GCSE RS were awarded an A or an A*

GCSE RS entries – England and Wales (2008-2018)












% change 2008 to 2018

% change 2017 to 2018

Full Course














Short Course




























Source: http://www.jcq.org.uk/examination-results/gcses

Comment from Rudolf Eliott Lockhart, Chief Executive, Religious Education Council of England and Wales (REC):

"These figures showing a decline in the number of entries for GCSE religious studies are very concerning. There are over 180,000 fewer pupils across England and Wales gaining a qualification in Religious Studies than there were in 2011. Whether pupils are themselves religious or not, learning about religious and non-religious worldviews is vital given our increasingly diverse society and the relevance of religion to so many key issues both in our society and globally. The Religious Education Council hopes to work with the Government to ensure that all pupils have access to the religious education that they are statutorily entitled to. I look forward to the publication of the Commission on Religious Education’s final report next month and to the recommendations it will make on how best to secure high quality RE for all pupils.”

Comment from Ben Wood, Chair, National Association of Teachers of RE (NATRE):

In a climate where pupil performance in public examinations dominates the way schools are judged, it is increasingly rare for any significant timetable time to be provided for 14-16 year olds unless it leads to a public examination. The fall in entries for GCSE RS reinforces the message we presented in our ‘State of the Nation’ report last year; that at least one in four secondary schools no longer provide any meaningful provision for RE, especially now that the short course GCSE does not count towards performances tables and the full course has to compete for space with all the other non-Ebacc subjects. I hope that the publication of the final report from the Commission on RE next month will prompt the government to change tack; from appearing to be in denial about the problems it is storing up for the future, and instead to take its responsibilities for the religious education of the next generation seriously.


For media enquiries, contact:

Colin Hallmark, 3:nine Communications:

Tel: 0207 736 1888

Mubina Khan-Daniels, RE Today Services

Tel: 0121 415 3970 / 0121 458 3313

Notes for editors:

National Association of Teachers of RE

NATRE is the subject teacher association for RE professionals in primary and secondary schools and higher education, providing a representative voice at national level and publications and courses to promote professional development. NATRE’s Executive consists of a majority of serving teachers from primary and secondary schools who are elected for a three-year term of service.

Religious Education Council of England and Wales

Established in 1973, the Religious Education Council of England and Wales (REC) brings together over 60 national organisations. These comprise academic and professional associations specialising in religions and religious education, as well as individual religion and belief organisations inclusive of the range of faith communities found nationally, including Humanists UK.

[1] In 2017 JCQ changed the way they published figures relating to England. Up until 2016 JCQ’s figures for England included the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man. Due to a change in the way that JCQ presents the data, figures for 2008 to 2016 include entries from candidates in the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man; figures for 2017 onwards do not. This change has a relatively small impact on the time series data: there were 1,142 entries for full course GCSE Religious Studies from exam centres in the Channel Islands and Isle of Man in 2016; this represents 0.4% of the entries published by JCQ for England that year. 2016 is the only year in which it is possible to analyse both the datasets including the Channel Islands and Isle of Man and those excluding these regions. Comparisons between 2016 and 2017 in this press release are based on figures for both years that exclude the Channel Islands and Isle of Man. Figures in this press release for the years 2008 to 2016 are all given as JCQ published them that year (i.e. inclusive of figures from the Channel Islands and Isle of Man).

This website uses cookies, if you'd like to know more about these cookies here's our cookie policy.OK