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Spiritual, moral, social and cultural development (SMSC)

SMSC is essential for children and young people's individual development, as well as the development of society as a whole. 

Ofsted highlights the importance of SMSC as central to the development and growth of pupils as people and at the heart of what teachers would say education is all about.
(Promoting and evaluating pupils’ spiritual, moral, social and cultural development’ OFSTED March 2004.)

Ofsted inspectors visiting a school always report on the quality of teaching and leadership. They are also looking for something extra – to consider children and young peoples’ SMSC development.
It is a key area of inspection and under-developed SMSC provision will affect Ofsted's evaluation of a school's overall effectiveness.

The significance of SMSC

SMSC has been part of education since the 1944 education act and was around in earlier forms before that. It can sum up what a good school is all about - preparing children and young people to live full active lives as part of their community and into adulthood.
Many school mission statements have a strong emphasis on SMSC. Aspirations to be a safe, happy school where children and young people can fulfil their potential and appreciate others, for instance, express some of the core elements of SMSC.

The importance of SMSC

Ofsted stresses the importance of SMSC. It's part of the inspection framework. Clear guidelines were set out in the subsidiary guidance to inspectors published in April 2013 for inspectors to investigate the impact of of the curriculum on pupils' SMSC development.
This is a good source of information if you are looking for a basic understanding of how SMSC is defined and evaluated.

How SMSC is assessed

Inspectors will look at the curriculum in its broadest sense, including the impact of activities outside the classroom on pupils’ spiritual, moral, social and cultural development.
They will look at the behaviour, safety and achievement of pupils. They will also be interested in links with the community and the way schools engage parents.

What does SMSC cover?

Some assume spiritual development is about religious exploration or faith, but this is not the case - this subject is covered in religious studies or equivalent subjects, the spiritual in SMSC is concerned with developing the non-material aspects of life, focusing on personal insight, values, meaning and purpose. Beliefs that help provide perspective on life may be rooted in a religion, but equally may not. Creativity and imagination is important, as is a sense of fascination, awe and wonder.

The moral element is largely about choices, behaviour and how you live your life. It's also about personal and societal values, understanding the reasons for them and airing and understanding disagreements. Sessions in tutor time or assemblies, or  in class, might explore the consequences of decisions, other people's needs, and ways of learning from experience.

Social development shows pupils working together effectively, relating well to adults and participating in the local community. This element of SMSC includes a significant area of personal growth, ranging from engagement with society's institutions to the skills for successful personal relationships.

Cultural development is about understanding and feeling comfortable in a variety of cultures. schools might create opportunities for pupils to experience art, theatre and travel. Valuing cultural diversity and challenging racism is important.

SMSC and British Red Cross education resources 

From resources which build children and young people’s confidence to act in an emergency to those which encourage critical thinking and debate about world events, British Red Cross education resources are designed to help children and young people develop an understanding of the world, and their role within it, in a way which is compatible with and can enhance the aims of SMSC development.  

  • Browse British Red Cross humanitarian education resources here.
  • Sign up to receive newsthink for ideas, activities and starters based around thought provoking news-related items.

Credits

This quick guide for teachers from British Red Cross education was written by PJ White and published in August 2013. Content reviewed and updated October 2014.

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