Religious studies GCSE includes ‘rise of atheism’

Students studying a new GCSE Religious Studies course will learn about Druidism, Rastafarianism and the “rise of atheism”.

The new course, Religion and Belief in Today’s World, will be piloted in 2009 by the Oxford Cambridge and RSA (OCR) exam board. It has been denounced as popularist by critics.

The “groundbreaking” new syllabus largely excludes the Bible and other religious texts.

Instead, pupils will study “community cohesion and valuing diversity” in order to help them “make sense of religion in the modern world”.

Religious attitudes towards medical and sexual ethics, including areas such as same-sex relationships and cloning, will be covered.

The influence of the British Humanist Association, the group behind the recent atheist bus advertisements, and the novels of Philip Pullman will be included.

Pupils will also be able to study the influence of minority religions such as Rastafarianism and the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids.

Anastasia de Waal, of the think-tank Civitas, said: “We seem to be so desperate to make things relevant – to pander to popularity – that our kids aren’t being taught the underlying knowledge they need to succeed in the world. We are doing a huge disservice to our young people.”

Earlier this year a leading education expert criticised a new Religious Studies syllabus published by the Assessment and Qualifications Alliance (AQA) exam board which covers topics like ‘religion and relationships’, ‘religion, sport and leisure’ and ‘religion and planet earth’.

Commenting on the AQA syllabus, Alan Smithers, Professor of Education at Buckingham University, said: “This does not seem to be about religion and spirituality at all. There are just a lot of tenuous connections which teach the preferred attitudes and beliefs of the moment.

“I think it comes from the desire of politicians to stamp their influence on everything. It looks as if they are turning RE into a pat qualification for political correctness.”

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