Access Key Definitions
Skip navigation
Access key details
Home page
Latest updates
Site map
Search
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
Terms and conditions
National Curriculum

Religious education key stage 4 - Programme of study

Statutory subject with non-statutory content

Programme of study for key stage 4

See related downloads and key actions

Download the full programme of study [pdf 1mb]

The programme of learning is made up of:

Importance of Religious education key stage 4

Religious education provokes challenging questions about the ultimate meaning and purpose of life, beliefs about God, the self and the nature of reality, issues of right and wrong, and what it means to be human. It develops students’ knowledge and understanding of Christianity, other principal religions, other religious traditions, and other world views that offer answers to these challenging questions. It offers opportunities for personal reflection and spiritual development. It enhances students’ awareness and understanding of religions and beliefs, teachings, practices and forms of expression, as well as of the influence of religion on individuals, families, communities and cultures.

RE encourages students to learn from different religions, beliefs, values and traditions, while exploring their own beliefs and questions of meaning. It challenges students to reflect on, consider, analyse, interpret and evaluate issues of truth, belief, faith and ethics and to communicate their responses.

RE encourages students to develop their sense of identity and belonging. It enables them to flourish individually within their communities and as citizens in a diverse society and global community. RE has an important role in preparing students for adult life, employment and lifelong learning. It enables students to develop respect for and sensitivity to others, in particular those whose faiths and beliefs are different from their own. It promotes discernment and enables students to combat prejudice.

Explanatory text

Religious education: Religious education is a statutory subject in the curriculum, and all schools are legally obliged to teach it. Instead of statutory programmes of study at national level, the non-statutory national framework for RE, published by the Department for Education and Skills and the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority in 2004, offers national guidelines for the subject. The framework is intended to be used by local agreed syllabus conferences for the development of agreed syllabuses for RE, and by faith communities for the development of RE programmes.

The content of this non-statutory programme of study is substantially the same as the key stage 4 and years 12–13 element of the non-statutory national framework. The presentation and headings follow the format of the programmes of study for other subjects, to facilitate cross-curricular planning. Schools should use this programme and supporting guidance in the context of their local agreed syllabus or governors’ policy.

Community schools and voluntary controlled schools are required to teach RE according to their local agreed syllabus. Voluntary aided schools with a religious character are required to teach RE as determined by their governors in accordance with their trust deed.

Key concepts of Religious education key stage 4

There are a number of key concepts that underpin the study of RE. Students need to understand these concepts in order to deepen and broaden their knowledge, skills and understanding.

1.1 Beliefs, teachings and sources

  1. Analysing teachings, sources, authorities and ways of life in order to understand religions and beliefs in historical and cultural context.

  2. Understanding and analysing beliefs, values and attitudes in relation to the human quest for meaning.

1.2 Practices and ways of life

  1. Explaining and evaluating the impact of religions and beliefs on how people live their lives.

  2. Analysing the ways in which the impact of religions and beliefs can vary according to context.

1.3 Expressing meaning

  1. Interpreting and evaluating many different sources and forms of religious, spiritual, moral and cultural expression.

1.4 Identity, diversity and belonging

  1. Explaining and analysing viewpoints on issues connecting personal and communal identity.

1.5 Meaning, purpose and truth

  1. Analysing and synthesising insights on ultimate questions that confront humanity.

1.6 Values and commitments

  1. Synthesising evidence and arguments about moral values and how they can relate to beliefs and experience.

  2. Evaluating their own and others’ values in order to make informed, rational and imaginative choices.

Explanatory text

Religions and beliefs: These include systems of thought that are religious and non-religious, theistic and non-theistic, Western and Eastern, Abrahamic and dharmic.

Understanding and analysing: Teachings, sources, authorities, practices and ways of life can help individuals and communities to give expression to their questions and answers in various ways. This could include understanding and analysing beliefs as expressions of the human quest for meaning, as experiences of the quest, and as answers to it.

Human quest for meaning: As students aged 14 to 16 grow towards cognitive, social and emotional maturity, their growing awareness of the human quest for meaning facilitates their spiritual and moral development, enriches their sense of identity in relation to beliefs and their sources, and contributes to their growing confidence, sense of freedom and responsibility.

Impact: This could include ideals such as unity, equality and peace, or unexamined assumptions, such as those on causes of conflict, on religion or on wealth and poverty, that underpin decisions and lifestyles. These can be critically explored through discussions about news events, religious doctrines, religious stories or school events, the possible motives of the people involved and the implications of statements from religious or community leaders.

Analysing the ways: This includes using some principal methods by which religion, beliefs, spirituality and ethics are studied (eg participant observation), taking into account how the context and assumptions of the study can change the perception of the religious practice or way of life studied.

Many different sources and forms: These include writing, speaking, silence, art, music, dress, dance, food, ritual, artefacts, relationships, behaviour codes and social action.

Identity: People can have multiple identities that may be determined by a combination of faith, belief, culture, environment and choice.

Explaining and analysing: This could include analysing identities and beliefs in ways that strengthen students’ understanding of cultural identities, sharpen their powers of argument and deepen their commitment to respect.

Ultimate questions: These have no single answer agreed by all religions and beliefs, and face everyone in the form of ethical, spiritual or philosophical challenges. They can be about the significance and value of human life, the existence of God, the nature of being human, the causes of suffering, or the qualities of a good life. There are many such questions that are considered by most religious and philosophical traditions to be profound issues confronting humanity. Considering ultimate questions could include opportunities for students to articulate their own questions and personal responses, making critical connections between beliefs, practices and issues, and handling complexity and ambiguity.

Synthesising evidence and arguments about moral values: This could include exploring religious and moral arguments on, for example, abortion, and combining these arguments with an appreciation of the doctrinal or philosophical principles and contextual pressures that might lead people to decide.

Evaluating: As young people aged 14 to 16 develop their sense of identity, they learn to internalise more complex definitions of right and wrong and to use them with increasing independence, in relation to a range of issues in their family, neighbourhood and world, for example in discussions about wealth, stereotyping, the environment or conflict. They learn to respond to issues by reference to both belief and experience, and to appreciate how context can change moral choices. In this way they gain a sense of personal autonomy in preparation for adult life.

Key processes of Religious education key stage 4

These are the essential skills and processes in RE that students need to learn to make progress.

2.1 Learning about religion

Students should be able to:

  1. investigate and interpret significant issues in the light of their own identities, experiences and commitments

  2. present coherent, detailed arguments about beliefs, ethics, values and issues, with independence and critical awareness of their methods of study

  3. use and develop specialist vocabulary and critical arguments, with awareness of their power, limitations and ambiguity

  4. use and evaluate the rich, varied forms of creative expression in religious life.

2.2 Learning from religion

Students should be able to:

  1. reflect critically on their opinions in the light of their learning about religions, beliefs and questions

  2. develop their independent values and attitudes on moral and spiritual issues related to their autonomy, identities, rights and responsibilities

  3. evaluate issues, beliefs, commitments and the influence of religion, including philosophical, spiritual and ethical perspectives

  4. use skills of critical enquiry, creative problem-solving and communication through a variety of media to respond to issues of identity, meaning and values in a wide range of contexts.

Explanatory text

Significant issues: These could include philosophical issues, for example whether there is a purpose and design to human existence, and moral issues, for example whether individual freedoms should be curbed in order to protect the environment. Issues should be explored by reference to students’ experience and to religious and philosophical traditions.

Specialist vocabulary: This includes vocabulary on the study of religions and beliefs in general, for example ‘revelation’, ‘theistic’, ‘pluralism’, ‘duty’, ‘source’, ‘mystical’, ‘rational’, and vocabulary that is specific to religious and philosophical traditions. This vocabulary should be taught so that it can be spelt and pronounced appropriately.

Creative expression: This could include experiences of using sacred texts and other primary sources, observing or taking part in worship, meditation or rituals, and using the creative arts to express ideas. The experiences should be offered to students with guidelines that make the educational purpose of the activity clear. Some experiences should be voluntary.

Reflect critically: Students should be able to express and justify their own opinions, show how their beliefs, attitudes, feelings and experiences have changed, and demonstrate their awareness of how sources, authorities, contextual factors and pressures might influence them and their peers.

Autonomy, identities, rights and responsibilities: This could include exploration of principles, attitudes and experiences that inform views on, for example, prejudice, discrimination and what may constitute justified forms of protest against injustice. Understanding of right and wrong should be taught and developed in the light of beliefs, teachings and sources. Values and attitudes should be developed with conscious reference to complex and pluralistic contexts.

Evaluate: Students should be able to understand reasons for a belief or commitment they do not share, and empathise with the experiences of those with whom they do not agree. They should also be able to acknowledge the strengths and weaknesses of their own beliefs, and see their attitudes, values and behaviour as others see them.

Critical enquiry, creative problem-solving and communication: This could include, for example, reporting on involvement in a community cohesion project that investigated the role of religion in a conflict, and proposed or predicted solutions. The experience should enable students to make critical connections between their involvement and their understanding of beliefs and practices, and to take a perspective on their own growth and learning.

Range and content of Religious education key stage 4

This section outlines the breadth of the subject on which teachers should draw when teaching the key concepts and key processes.

The study of RE should include one or more of the following:

  1. opportunities to study Christianity, either directly as a religion or indirectly through philosophical or ethical issues, or both

  2. opportunities to study one or more other principal religions, either directly as religions or indirectly through philosophical or ethical issues, or both

  3. opportunities to study a range of philosophical and ethical issues that are of relevance to young people’s experience or aspirations and that make reference to some religious and philosophical traditions.

Explanatory text

One or more of the following: As appropriate to the legal requirements that apply to different schools and to a diverse society.

Opportunities to study Christianity: These should be appropriate to the legal requirements that apply to different schools and reflect the diverse society of the UK. This could include Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Anglican, Non-conformist and Pentecostal branches of Christianity, both in Britain and globally.

Opportunities to study one or more other principal religions: These include, as listed in the non-statutory national framework, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism and Sikhism. The Baha’i, Jain and Zoroastrian faiths may also be studied. Agreed syllabus conferences might also consider providing opportunities to study a religious community of local significance, where appropriate.

Philosophical and ethical issues: Philosophical issues could include the existence of God, the origins of the universe and of life, the causes and implications of suffering, the nature and limits of religious language and the sources of right and wrong. Ethical issues could include ethical decision-making, religion and science, spirituality and religious freedom, relationships, rights and responsibilities, sexuality, health, alcohol and drugs, prejudice and discrimination, consumerism and advertising, crime and punishment, equality and justice, war and peace, the environment and climate change, animal rights, inter-religious dialogue and collaboration.

Religious and philosophical traditions: These include Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Sikhism, the Baha’i faith, Jainism, Zoroastrianism and secular philosophies such as Humanism.

Curriculum opportunities of Religious education key stage 4

During the key stage students should be offered the following opportunities that are integral to their learning and enhance their engagement with the concepts, processes and content of the subject.

The curriculum should provide opportunities for students to:

  1. access the sources, images and sounds that are key to their study, using texts and ICT as appropriate

  2. discuss, explore and question concepts, images and practices

  3. visit places of worship, inter-faith centres or other centres, observing or taking part in worship or rituals, as appropriate

  4. discuss, reflect on and develop arguments about philosophical and ethical issues

  5. engage in community projects, dialogue or social action, reflecting on its importance for themselves and others

  6. encounter people from different religious, cultural and philosophical groups, who can express a range of convictions on religious and moral issues, where possible

  7. evaluate concepts, practices and issues, paying attention to beliefs and experience, and using reasoned, balanced arguments

  8. use a range of forms of expression to communicate their ideas and responses, including exploring and recording how their thoughts, feelings and experiences have changed

  9. explore the connections between RE and other subject areas.

Explanatory text

ICT: This could include using the internet to research places of worship and using email to communicate with people of different faiths in different countries.

Discuss, explore and question: This could include opportunities for students to develop and express their own questions, share each other’s responses and study the answers offered by religions and beliefs. It could include being involved in a local community cohesion project, and identifying and analysing the diverse ways in which beliefs impact on life at local community, social and global levels.

Ethical issues: These could include the difference between right and wrong; the application of principles to issues in crime and punishment, war and peace, family life, relationships, use of money and property, entertainment, employment or technology; and religious and cultural toleration.

Forms of expression: These could include creative and thoughtful use of art, dance, drama, writing and ICT.

Other subject areas: These could include arts, humanities, language, literature, technology and science.

Quick links

How religious education links to

Back to top