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New GCSE religious studies course allows only Judaism to be taught

A new International GCSE religious studies course will enable Jewish schools to focus exclusively on Judaism and not have to include a second religion

    Boys from King David High Manchester's Yavneh stream
    Boys from King David High Manchester's Yavneh stream

    A new option has enabled Jewish schools to return to studying only Judaism for GCSE religious studies.

    From September 2016, a change in the curriculum meant that schools had to teach a second religion for at least a quarter of the GCSE course.

    While some schools dropped religious studies, others began teaching Islam.

    But now the Edexcel exam board has introduced an international GCSE syllabus which offers the single-religion route.

    Yavneh College in Borehamwood — which had dropped GCSE RE last year —has adopted the new IGCSE course with the first students due to sit the exam in summer 2019.

    Rabbi Andrew Davis, executive director of Jewish life at the college, said the qualification requires candidates “to learn about key practices, beliefs and festivals of a specific religion” as well as examining some ethical and philosophical concepts in relation to it.

    The school was “very excited” about the course, which would enable pupils not only to extend their knowledge of Jewish life but to learn about various ethical and philosophical ideas.

    In addition to the IGCSE, he said, Yavneh was “also continuing to deliver our own course about world religions.  We believe that it is important our pupils are learning about the beliefs and practices of others in order to prepare them to be knowledgeable adults in British society. 

    “We have invested a great deal of time in preparing this course, which  focuses on the key beliefs, practices and festivals of Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism and Buddhism.”  

    Immanuel College in Bushey is also switching to the course, while Hasmonean High School and King David High School in Manchester are considering doing so. King David’s Yavneh stream, which is more religiously intensive, had dropped RS GCSE because of the changes.

    There is one drawback: IGCSEs are not recognised by the government for official school league tables.

    The new GCSE format requiring more than one religion had initially been opposed by Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis because it restricted the time for teaching Judaism.

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