by NADEEM BADSHAH
THE decline in the number of students taking Religious Studies at GCSE level in the UK needs to be addressed amid rising hate crime, community leaders have warned.
More than 700 schools stopped entering students into the subject in one year, according to research by Liverpool Hope University.
It said the number of teenagers taking GCSE Religious Studies (RS) fell from 254,000 to 229,000 between 2017-2018 and fewer than half of secondary schools now offer the subject.
This year’s figures suggest an uptake of interest, but most of those taking religious studies are at faith schools.
Only 30 per cent of pupils in non-faith schools took RS which was previously a compulsory GCSE subject.
Campaigners warn schoolkids need to be educated in depth on faiths, including Islam, Hinduism and Sikhism, beyond the age of 14 to tackle rising incidents of hate crime.
Jasvir Singh OBE, founder of City Sikhs, told Eastern Eye: “There is a real lack of knowledge and awareness when it comes to the diversity of faith communities within British society.
“The only way to counter that is through education, and schools have a pivotal role to play in that.
“Seeing the drop in pupils taking RE as a GCSE is disheartening, and it’s clear that much more needs to be done at a civic society and educational level to ensure that religious literacy can improve across the UK.
“This is especially important when ignorance is known to be a strong driver for hate crimes. The more that can be done to counter such ignorance, the better.”
The Liverpool Hope University report also found that the number of pupils in England and Wales taking GCSE RS fell for the third year in a row.
And the number taking the short course GCSE fell more sharply, by 19.7 per cent to 27,384, although it remains the most commonly taken short course.
Jabeer Butt, CEO of the Race Equality Foundation, told Eastern Eye: “Good religious education can help us understand each other, and challenge misunderstandings and prejudices. This is one of the ways schools can play a role in bring
ing us together as a community.
“Schools must do better to show the value of learning about different religions, and its benefits to society. “
Religiously motivated hate crime rose by 40 per cent across England and Wales between 2016-17 and 2017-18, according to Home Office figures. And the victim in more than half of incidents reported were Muslim.
Fiyaz Mughal, founder of the Faith Matters charity, said: “The fall in students undertaking RE is sad, as it is a way of expanding the mind and ensuring that people understand a part of the identities of others. This is a depressing statistic at a time when the world needs more understanding and positive civic discourse.”
Ben Wood, chair of the National Association of Teachers of RE, said the subject at GCSE level “provides an invaluable opportunity to learn about, consider and debate many important and pertinent questions, preparing them for adult life in a diverse and complex world.”
He added: “While some schools do offer alternative provision, too many schools simply fail to meet their statutory duty to provide their students with RE.” A Department for Education spokeswoman said: “All students in maintained schools are taught religious education throughout school, regardless of whether they study it as a GCSE or not.”