Spiritual Moral and Cultural Education

Spiritual, Moral, Social and Cultural Education (SMSC)

This is an old post but I've kept it because I am often asked about SMSC.
I have more updated materials if you are interested...

Updated 2014 with links 
This is an edited version of and earlier paper found here
The new Ofsted Framework caused many to rethink SMSC.  I wanted to find a simpler way through the sometimes overwhelming complexity of SMSC provision and offer guidance to both tracking and evaluating quality.  If you want a shortcut - Look out for the red suggestion paragraphs where ideas to support SMSC tracking and evaluation are offered.

John interviewing student

If a school follows advice in this paper they will have a developing picture of SMSC provision and quality.  Staff will have a better understanding of their values and ethics, what they mean by SMSC, who is coordinating it and how it is impacting on student learning.  However, gathering evidence of what is being done, where and to what quality every day, every week, every term is neither justifiable nor doable.  I advocate a sampling approach to tracking and evaluation which, over time, will provide an increasingly accurate picture of SMSC across school. 

Ofsted’s 6 key areas
SMSC is a critical aspect of education but all too often it is relegated into second place behind attainment and standards.  Indeed, the new Ofsted Framework describe four key judgements:  the achievement of pupils; the quality of teaching; behaviour and safety and the quality of leadership and management.  Then two more judgements are added! How well the school is promoting the pupils’ spiritual, moral, social and cultural development (SMSC) and the extent to which the education provided by the school meets the needs of all pupils, often referred to as Special Educational Needs including Disability (SEND).  So, six judgements it is and schools must be prepared to provide evidence of impact in each.

WHAT? WHO? WHERE? HOW? and most of all WHY? SMSC?
I have found it useful to ask five questions when tracking and evaluating cross curricular themes and these certainly apply to SMSC.
1.      WHY are we teaching it...SMSC? The motivation, ethics and values of the school community.
2.      WHAT do we mean by it... SMSC? How are we defining it?
3.      WHO is responsible for it... SMSC?  How might they co-ordinate it?
4.      WHERE and WHEN is it provided? (In what activities and experiences?)
5.      HOW is it impacting on learning?  (How do we evaluate it?)

l want to show that, whilst many will focus on questions two to four, question 1 WHY provides a different, powerful and sustainable approach to oversight of SMSC provision.  I also want to show how Ofsted methodology can be used by in-school colleagues to greater effect than by inspectors because teachers are self-evaluating for improvement (qualuity assurance as opposed to Ofsted's quality control).  Let us take each question in turn:

1.      WHY are we teaching SMSC? The motivation, ethics and values of the school community.
Answering this question provides the silent underpinning of the other four and, if we can harness, or reignite, the motivation and values of staff – the rest will follow. I’d go further… by looking at provision from the recipients’ perspective, the student view, or at least on their behalf, we may be starting at the wrong end.  My experience suggests that the very best teachers and schools know what their values are and these are manifest in their behaviours – constantly and reliably.  Therefore, if we want to build a spiritually, morally, socially and culturally successful school – we only need to appoint and nurture spiritually, morally, socially and culturally strong teaching and support staff and they will do the rest. (For more on this see The Pedagogical Oath here Of course, co-ordination is required, as are answers to the following four questions but I’d certainly argue that looking for good provision, without considering the values and ethics of the organisation misses a first critical step. 
So, I’d advocate starting any consideration of SMSC in a school by asking staff, at interview and appointment or, if already appointed, collectively at a staff meeting, or CPD event:  WHY? do you teach?  What are your core values?  What kind of citizens do we want to be part of educating? When I have done this with staff on INSET it is clear from comments afterwards that it enlivens and strengthens their planning.  It certainly forms a stronger starting point for the second question: WHAT do we mean by SMSC? How are we defining it?  Support materials and references to use in this area are legion.  My favourite documents to support a debate and discussion about what the school’s core values include:
The United Nations Convention on the rights of the child  http://www.unicef.org.uk/Documents/Publication-pdfs/crcsummary.pdf?epslanguage=en
The United Nations Declaration of human rights http://www.un.org/en/documents/udhr/

Both of these are enshrined in law and are, arguably, the values and principles that should guide all education in the free world.  Further work in the area of staff development, related to ethics and moral purpose, are beyond the remit of this paper but I’d be happy to provide further information and support.  I have, for example drafted a “Pedagogical Oath” for educators, mentioned above link here to mirror the “Hippocratic oath” taken by medical doctors.

I also believe there must be a direct link between whatever we are teaching and into the world of current affairs. This is why Citizenship is so important.  I am sad, but I understood why, when I hear a teacher justifying WHAT s/he is teaching by referring to the examination syllabus when the real reason WHY is a crucial knowledge or skill that might lead to understanding something somewhere in the world of current affairs.  Conversely, I am impressed with teachers who take time to make concrete links between the syllabus, the classroom and the big wide world.  I am genuinely excited at the discovery of "The Day" a powerful on-line newspaper written and edited for just this purpose! It really is  excellent see Here and my review here


2.      WHAT do we mean by SMSC? How are we defining it?
It is obviously important to understand what we mean by SMSC before we can innovate, track or evaluate it.  There are a number of definitions of and for SMSC.  I have listed some examples in APPENDIX ONE in the full article here

Reading through each of these is helpful because there is a lot of common ground and it becomes obvious that the new Ofsted Framework 2012 has reduced the longer definitions into a more precise set of statements.  Nevertheless, the longer statements do offer a range of phrases and descriptors which illuminate what we mean by SMSC and are, in many cases, more familiar to colleagues.
A useful CPD activity at the WHAT do we mean by SMSC? stage is to circulate these definitions, together with the numerous others and discuss the meaning of SMSC education in school.  This can be considered alongside the outcomes from the WHY? questions, the school vision, aims and this will be likely to help colleagues approach questions 3,4 and 5 armed with a clearer understanding of what is meant by SMSC.

3. WHO is responsible for SMSC?  How might they track it?
This is a pragmatic question because s/he, will have a key part to play in helping colleagues answer the five questions. But this question contains the paradox of innovation, which goes like this… If someone has the responsibility, everyone else tends to leave it to them but if everyone is given the responsibility (as sometimes happens with cross curricular themes) there is a danger no-one does anything.  Consequently, my advice is: give someone the responsibility to ensure it is everyone’s responsibility!  This is the classic role of the SMSC Co-ordinator and there are well established lists of task related to such a role.  One set is included in APPENDIX TWO in the full article here
An important consideration at the WHO is responsible for SMSC? stage is whether the individual,  or team, have the necessary information, backing and skills to help their colleagues answer questions 3 and 4.  Time for CPD, reflection and coaching are likely to be important. See workshop here.

SMSC Coordinator

4.      WHERE  and WHEN is it provided? In what activities and experiences?
Beware! Mapping cross-curricular themes can be a recipe for cumbersome and energy sapping, bureaucratic endeavours and tracking SMSC is just one example.   The role of a co-ordinator, temporary or permanent, is critical here, as is the strategy for mapping, or tracking SMSC.  Obvious WHERE questions are:  Is it explicit as a subject, or set of lessons, or is it embedded in many subjects, or areas of the curriculum?  The answers to these questions often leave the enquirer more confused because the answer will be something like, “SMSC is mainly found in RE, Social Education, Citizenship and also in parts, in other subjects.  It is also covered in assemblies and community cohesion work…”. This, inevitably, leads to the more troublesome question: can we identify when it is happening?  Some sort of mapping, or scoping is then proposed and before we know it the school is involved in a huge, ongoing audit.
At the WHERE and WHEN is it provided? stage it can be useful to separate the two aspects and do a limited mapping exercise in which all staff (using their new understanding developed in WHAT do we mean by SMSC?) identify those aspects they feel they are covering.  Here the SMSC GRID has a really useful part to play because it captures both spread and coverage. Increasingly colleagues are using this GRID, to map themes but rather than this being constant activity (taking up valuable time) My recommendation is complete the grid for a couple of days, now and then, analyse the result, identify actions and move on.

SMSC GRID Screenshot

5.      HOW is SMSC impacting on learning?  How do we evaluate SMSC?
This has to be the most important question because only by answering this can we judge whether students are progressing in their SMSC learning.   There are some useful pointers about evidence gathering that might prove useful here.  The first, as in the previous question, is that sampling is often sufficient.

Staff can record  the occasions they cover SMSC together with a brief description, empowered by use of the SMSC GRID here.  This provides a snapshot of SMSC provision, enables the SMSC Co-coordinator, together with Senior Leaders, to evaluative issues of overlap, gaps and potential links and decide on focuses for evaluation.  Of course, the mapping exercise can be done on paper but the advantage of the SMSC on-line grid is that graphs and descriptions, reports and more sophisticated enquiries can be pulled from the original data. Unfortunately many schools stop at the WHERE and WHEN is it provided? stage , or (worse still?) they just continue collecting more and more evidence saying, “We can tell you where it is being taught – look we are doing it!”  This masks, or ignores, the most important question of all… To labour the point - mapping and tracking does not have to be permanent and ongoing.  A school is setting too high a bar if it tries to collect evidence from SMSC at all times and in all situations. 
At the HOW is it impacting on learning? stage it is helpful to return to the definitions of SMSC and look at the range of skills, knowledge and understanding the school is expecting of students. Then a mixture of pre and post testing of selected criteria, at different times is helpful. These might include qualitative measures like: student and teacher voice and quantitative measures such as: examples of work in the community, referrals to Senior Team for incident of racist abuse.  these can be collated by the SMSC coordinator, again in snapshot surveys.  Importantly, evidence of impact can now come from colleagues recording impact in their SMSC grid submissions, a development Opeus Software were quick to develop when it was raised.  Again, all this will require careful co-ordination, a lot of extra effort and central collation but it will build up into a significant portfolio over time.

Here, I believe, we can share the view from Ofsted’s “Subsidiary Guidance – supporting the inspection of maintained schools and academies 2012” which suggests that Ofsted itself is not looking for complete evidence of all aspects of SMSC,
“All schools should be promoting pupils’ spiritual, moral, social and cultural (SMSC) development and suitably preparing pupils for life. However, there is no need to present a detailed analysis in the report of the school’s promotion of each of the four components of pupils’ SMSC development.”

However, the older Ofsted guidance from 2004 provides some really useful examples of evidence inspectors gather.  Evidence can be gathered, using the same methods, by the SMSC Co-coordinator, together with colleagues, a member of senior team, or students. This can lead to reports, or presentations to staff about what is helping and hindering the school’s approach to SMSC. I have prĂ©cised examples from this earlier guidance in APPENDIX THREE hereand offer it as guidance to in-school colleagues carrying out sampling evaluations of SMSC provision.  Methods include:

  • Head teacher interview
  • Learning walk around school – starting at the gate
  • School tour – led by senior member of staff
  • Review of  school documentation
  • Evidence from Lesson Observations
  • Evidence from an upper school assembly.
  •  Evidence from student work scrutiny
  • Evidence from pupils’ written work in geography.
  • Evidence from incidents involving pupils from severe disabilities unit.
  • Evidence from interview with Year 7 pupils

Careful co-ordination of an evaluation activity, say each half term, will produce a powerful picture of the impact of SMSC provision and can lead to development activities for the colleagues.

I hope schools following this advice will develop the wherewithal to create a developing picture of SMSC provision and quality.  Staff should have a better understanding of: their values and ethics; what they mean by SMSC; who is coordinating it and how it is impacting on student learning.  Whilst this sampling approach to tracking and evaluation will not be complete, in one go, it will, over time, provide a more complete picture.  

John on INSET

Finally, you will gather I am passionate about this! I am willing to work alongside schools, senior leaders and SMSC Co-ordinators to create an approach to fit each school and am happy to share ideas for CPD.  Anyone interested should feel free to contact me via emailjohn@johnpearce.org.uk, via my website www.johnpearce.org.uk or send a query via the response form here

John Pearce Updated February 25th 2012


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