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A Level RS - why we went with OCR

Recently there have been lots of discussions online about the relative merits of different boards for RS A level. I thought it would be helpful to summarise a few of the factors that led us as a college to opt for OCR in the first place and a few things that we have noticed since. (This is partly an update of an old blog, I confess!)

Which Faith?

The first thing we had to decide once it was decreed that only one faith should be studied at A level was which faith we would deliver. We opted for Christianity (having briefly considered Islam) on several grounds. Firstly, Christianity seemed to fit better with the Philosophy and Ethics topics. Secondly, in terms of our specialisms as teachers it was the religion we were strongest on. Finally, and quite importantly given that we have around 20 feeder schools, it is the one faith that we could more or less guarantee our students had some prior knowledge of


When we first looked at the specs at the draft stage we dismissed AQA fairly quickly. We are a college with a genuinely comprehensive intake and two 3 hour exams for some of our students will be hard going. As we read the spec it seemed that the way in which the religion component was married into the philosophy and ethics seemed quite convoluted. The final version of their spec was a little better but I wasn't convinced that this had been resolved. So down to 3...

Although we have been an OCR centre for many years, we approached the decision with an open mind and were genuinely interested in looking at what Edexcel and Eduqas had on offer.

The Content and Assessments

Eduqas has a good philosophy of religion and ethics spec that is a little more modern than OCR covering some 20th century thinkers such as William Craig and Norman Malcolm. In Ethics there is a double portion of Natural Law but no Kant. The key issue on Eduqas was the Christianity paper. It is incredibly theological and its combination of New Testament studies, Church History and Christology would not be out of place on undergraduate papers. So compared to OCR's gender, liberation theology and Bonhoeffer, it felt rather dry. The assessment for Eduqas contains a variety of questions AO1 only and AO2 only questions - so two exam techniques potentially to teach.

Edexcel does offer a New Testament option as an alternative to the religion paper. The content for philosophy and ethics, like Eduqas and OCR is good. Equality and environment are interesting themes in ethics but the inclusion of the westboro baptist church on religion and morality causes a raised eyebrow. The New Testament and Christianity papers, like Eduqas, might interest me (more Christology and Church History) but I suspect not my students. The other key difference is in the assessment format. There are compulsory questions including response to short extracts from the set texts as well as longer questions so again a number of styles and techniques required. An anthology also adds to the complexity, so Edexcel was probably in 3rd place!

OCR had generally presented philosophy of religion and ethics similarly to the previous spec with a few topics – including religion and science – removed. Plato and Aristotle stay (love them or hate them!) and although environmental ethics and virtue ethics were a loss, one of my favourite ethics topics, business ethics, survived. Whilst there were pros and cons in terms of philosophy and ethics, it was the Christian Thought paper where OCR moved ahead for us: Augustine on human nature provides good synoptic links, as do sections on Knowledge of God (reason and revelation), and the bible and ethics. Having read a biography a couple of years ago, it was also great to see Bonhoeffer on the spec. Feminism, Liberation Theology and Secularisation are theological topics that will engage students in a way that description of the two natures of Christ may not. In terms of the assessment there is some choice – 3 essays from 4, not as much as Eduqas, but crucially the format of each exam and each question is exactly the same so one essay technique for each question.

3 main reasons

So we went with OCR for 3 main reasons

1. The content: As above, there was nothing we really disliked in Philosophy or Ethics and we felt the DCT was significantly better than other boards.

2. The Assessment: we felt that we preferred the fact that each question requires the same skills and technique rather than having different AOs on different questions or an anthology.

3. The Resources: partly as a result of market share, there are more resources available for OCR RS than for other boards and yes, I realise that since this decision was made, I am no longer impartial having actually added to the amount of resources available thanks to Hodder!

There is also now probably a fourth reason of sticking with what we know. No specification or examination is perfect but the grass is not greener on the other 3 sides of this particular fence.

So that was and is the case for OCR but we are all in different centres with different cohorts and some of the things above may not apply in your case. So whatever you decide, good luck with your decisions!

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