Tony Powell examines the requirement that schools promote the spiritual, moral, cultural, mental and physical development of their pupils — and how that is evaluated in inspections.




Duties with respect to the curriculum

(2) The curriculum for a maintained school satisfies the requirements of this section if it is a balanced and broadly based curriculum which:

  • promotes the spiritual, moral, cultural, mental and physical development of pupils at the school and of society; and

  • prepares such pupils for the opportunities, responsibilities and experiences of adult life.”

The above extract is taken from the 1988 Education Reform Act. Note that social development was not mentioned specifically in the Act, although it is certainly required by the second bullet point. From the start, schools and inspectors found it difficult to define aspects of spiritual, moral, social and cultural development (SMSC) and there was much debate around issues such as “awe and wonder”. Nevertheless, they have been an essential part of inspection since Ofsted was created in 1992.

Interestingly, the curriculum was not one of the key areas identified for inspection from January 2012 by Michael Gove. Nor did he make any reference to SMSC.

The Ofsted evaluation schedule

Although Ofsted was not able to add to the key areas, since these had been specified by the Secretary of State, requirements relating to the curriculum and SMSC were inserted into the evaluation schedule — presumably because they are considered essential features of any school’s work.

For example, when evaluating the quality of leadership and management, inspectors must consider whether the school’s leadership:

  • provides a broad and balanced curriculum that: meets the needs of all pupils; enables all pupils to achieve their full educational potential and make progress in their learning; and promotes their good behaviour and safety and their spiritual, moral, social and cultural development.

The requirement to promote SMSC is strengthened further in the criteria for evaluating overall effectiveness, where inspectors must consider:

  • how well the school promotes all pupils’ spiritual, moral, social and cultural development by providing positive experiences through planned and coherent opportunities in the curriculum and through interactions with teachers, other adults and the local community…

So inspectors and schools need to think carefully about the outcomes for SMSC, ie what it means for pupils, as well as the quality of the school’s provision and the evidence base.

Defining the terms

It is worth remembering that prior to January 2012, SMSC was a separate section and judgment within the overall outcomes for pupils. The then evaluation schedule therefore specified criteria and grade descriptors. These are still very informative and useful, particularly for making decisions about whether outcomes are outstanding, good or requiring improvement.

Overall impact

Although in many ways SMSC is more important in inspection, since it is part of the evaluation of overall effectiveness, the criteria for evaluation are much more general. Inspectors are not expected to present a detailed analysis of how the school promotes each of the four components of pupils’ SMSC development.

Instead they are asked to consider the climate and ethos of the school and what effect this has on enabling pupils to grow and flourish, become confident individuals, and appreciate their own worth and that of others. For example, in order for a school to be judged outstanding for SMSC the grade descriptors state: “The school’s thoughtful and wide ranging promotion of the pupils’ spiritual, moral, social and cultural development enables them to thrive in a supportive, highly cohesive learning community”. The impact on pupils is that they thrive and this is because the school has created “a supportive, highly cohesive learning community”.

Spiritual development

  • Beliefs, religious or otherwise, which inform their perspective on life and their interest in and respect for different people’s feelings and values.

  • Sense of enjoyment and fascination in learning about themselves, others and the world around them, including the intangible.

  • Use of imagination and creativity in their learning.

  • Willingness to reflect on their experiences.

Moral development

  • Ability to recognise the difference between right and wrong and their readiness to apply this understanding in their own lives.

  • Understanding of the consequences of their actions.

  • Interest in investigating, and offering reasoned views about, moral and ethical issues.

Social development

  • Use of a range of social skills in different contexts, including working and socialising with pupils from different religious, ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds.

  • Willingness to participate in a variety of social settings, co-operating well with others and being able to resolve conflicts effectively.

  • Interest in, and understanding of, the way communities and societies function at a variety of levels.

Cultural development

  • Understanding and appreciation of the wide range of cultural influences that have shaped their own heritage.

  • Willingness to participate in, and respond to, artistic, musical, sporting, mathematical, technological, scientific and cultural opportunities.

  • Interest in exploring, understanding of and respect for cultural diversity and the extent to which they understand, accept, respect and celebrate diversity, as shown by their attitudes towards different religious, ethnic and socio-economic groups in the local, national and global communities.

What inspectors look for

The starting point for any inspection is the pre-inspection briefing, when the lead inspector studies the previous report, RAISEonline and the self-evaluation statement if the school provides one. From this study, the lead inspector formulates initial hypotheses. For example, sustained high standards provide strong evidence that the school’s educational provision is at least good, that pupils behave well and are thriving in a supportive, cohesive community.

Schools will have a section in their self-evaluation form on SMSC. This can be used as the basis for evaluation under the new schedule. While it is not a key area for inspection, any inspector would welcome a statement on this aspect from the school.

Once the inspection starts, inspectors will look at all aspects of the school’s work to evaluate provision for SMSC. As in the 1988 Act, most evidence will come from a consideration of the curriculum in the widest sense of all the experiences that pupils have in the school. Some experiences will be unplanned, but inspectors will be assessing how far the school has a coherent approach to ensure that some aspects are not neglected.

Obviously the curriculum must be broad and balanced and there must be sufficient time for all subjects. Some subjects, such as RE, history, geography, art and music, promote specific aspects of SMSC, but schools should consider how all subjects contribute.

Elements of other aspects will be formally taught through activities such as tutorials, SEAL, citizenship programmes and assemblies. These will give pupils time to consider ethical issues such as global warming and human rights in various parts of the world.

The classroom curriculum will be enriched by visits and visitors and extra-curricular activities. Arguably, representing the school in teams and within-school events such as musical productions make the greatest contribution to social development.

Inspectors will also consider the nature of teaching. For example, they will assess how far teaching encourages participation, creativity, reflection and independence, whether assessment and feedback values pupils’ work and develops self-esteem, and look for learning activities that develop teamwork, leadership skills and self-reliance.

As importantly, inspectors will take into account the school’s ethos as it relates to the contribution made by pupils. Are their views listened to and valued? Do pupils feel proud to be part of the school and are they thriving in a supportive community?

Last reviewed 18 June 2012