On the May 18th, OCR finally had their AS/A level Religious Studies accredited by Ofqual. If you’re coming from a philosophy background, it may have you in a mild state of eudaimonia. OCR’s early draft gave us little reason to be optimistic and unfortunately this means many departments will have already overlooked OCR. If you haven’t started to plan, you’re probably feeling pretty good about yourself for not jumping the gun; particularly if you enjoyed the more philosophical, ‘pre-2016’ Religious Studies.
In all honesty, I don’t know how they’ve gotten away with it. It’s stayed true to its roots, keeping depth and breadth in both ethics (including Kantian Ethics, Utilitarianism, Virtue Ethics, Natural Law etc.) and philosophy of religion (including Plato, Aristotle, Arguments for the existence of God, the problem of evil etc.). Not much has changed here so those familiar with the pre-2016 A-level will feel right at home. Unlike AQA, they have kept the more philosophical ethical theories rather than substituting them for religious ethics, and continued to include ancient Greek philosophy§ within the philosophy of religion section.
Even the religious paper is heavily philosophical; specimen questions focus on Augustinian theodicy and divine attributes of God rather than religious practices. It wouldn’t be unfair to argue OCR have chosen to focus on religions’ truth-functional claims rather than religions’ “subjective/personal” elements. It takes a lot from the pre-2016 ethics and philosophy of religion papers, and the content is comforting in its familiarity.
Simply put, OCR’s specification is much more philosophical than it is religious - it is certainly the most ‘unchanged’ of the new A-level specifications.
The course is assessed in three exams, each 2 hours long; Philosophy of Religion, Religion and Ethics, and Developments in Religious thought (focusing on one of the six major world religions).
OCR’s written exam only requires students to master one essay technique; at A-level answering nine 40 mark questions spread evenly across the three papers - six 30 mark questions across three seventy-five minute exams at AS. I think this will suite most students, as intuitively students want to mix their knowledge (A01) and analysis skills (A02) in the same piece of writing – finding it difficult to separate them as rigorously as AQA requires. Not only is this a more natural writing style, I think this prepares students well for higher education in philosophy and theology.
The supporting materials from OCR are outstanding, and this will be the decider for many departments. The learning outcomes and content couldn’t be clearer and the reading lists and contextual references are brilliant. Teachers have everything they need with OCR.
If you really want to strengthen your department you should be looking to offer AQA’s A-level ‘pure’ philosophy alongside OCR's A-level RS; especially if you’re switching to optional GCSE RE. Become "top heavy" with an emphasis on A-level; this is the way forward for RE/RS and philosophy departments.
That’s my prescription anyhow; offer students both OCR’s RS A-level, and AQA’s A-level philosophy. A new draft has just been released for A-level philosophy, to be taught from September 2017. Check out all the new specifications in the links down below. I’ve also included a link to Charlotte Vardy’s blog on the new RS A-levels which is quite helpful.