SMSC and British Values

Written by: Helen Frostick | Published:
Image: iStock

Social, moral, spiritual and cultural education and development is an crucial duty for schools, especially in light of requirements to teach ‘British Values’. Headteacher Helen Frostick looks at key definitions to help you evaluate your school’s provision and offers some ideas for SMSC activities

Under Ofsted criteria, the grade descriptor for outstanding effectiveness of leadership and management of SMSC (social, moral, spiritual and cultural development) is: “Pupils’ spiritual, moral, social and cultural development and, within this, the promotion of fundamental British values, are at the heart of the school’s work.”

How this differs from the grade descriptor for good rests on the ability of the school to show evidence that this work is an integral part of school life and the on-going education of all of pupils, rather than a bolt-on or add-on.

As SMSC development is such an important aspect of how schools are measured in terms of their effectiveness, good practice is to include it as part of the general self-review and self-evaluation process alongside the self-evaluation and self-review of teaching and learning, behaviour and welfare, leadership and management and safeguarding. This can facilitate a strong statement of why SMSC is outstanding in the school.

A simple table could be completed by staff by way of a development or improvement plan, thus serving as a prompt for areas where your provision is in need of further development. The four areas could be listed in a column (Spiritual Development, Moral Development, Social Development and Cultural Development) and beside them the headings “Provision”, “Impact” and “Areas for Development”. This simple table, with a strong statement about the school’s vision for SMSC development would provide Ofsted inspectors with all of the necessary information.

In order to reach judgement statements about the effectiveness of SMSC, definitions are a good starting point. The following are from Ofsted’s current School Inspection Handbook.

The spiritual development of pupils is shown by their:

  • Ability to be reflective about their own beliefs, religious or otherwise, that inform their perspective on life and their interest in and respect for different people’s faiths, feelings and values.
  • Sense of enjoyment and fascination in learning about themselves, others and the world around them.
  • Use of imagination and creativity in their learning.
  • Willingness to reflect on their own experiences.

The moral development of pupils is shown by their:

  • Ability to recognise the difference between right and wrong and to readily apply this understanding in their own lives, recognise legal boundaries and, in so doing, respect the civil and criminal law of England.
  • Understanding of the consequences of their behaviour and actions.
  • Interest in investigating and offering reasoned views about moral and ethical issues and ability to understand and appreciate the viewpoints of others on these issues.

The social development of pupils is shown by their:

  • Use of a range of social skills in different contexts, for example working and socialising with other pupils, including those from different religious, ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds.
  • Willingness to participate in a variety of communities and social settings, including by volunteering, cooperating well with others and being able to resolve conflicts effectively.
  • Acceptance of and engagement with the fundamental British values of democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs; they develop and demonstrate skills and attitudes that will allow them to participate fully in and contribute positively to life in modern Britain.

The cultural development of pupils is shown by their:

  • Understanding and appreciation of the wide range of cultural influences that have shaped their own heritage and those of others.
  • Understanding and appreciation of the range of different cultures within school and further afield as an essential element of their preparation for life in modern Britain.
  • Knowledge of Britain’s democratic Parliamentary system and its central role in shaping our history and values, and in continuing to develop Britain.
  • Willingness to participate in and respond positively to artistic, musical, sporting and cultural opportunities.
  • Interest in exploring, improving understanding of and showing respect for different faiths and cultural diversity and the extent to which they understand, accept, respect and celebrate diversity, as shown by their tolerance and attitudes towards different religious, ethnic and socio-economic groups in the local, national and global communities.

There are many published materials to support the teaching of British Values. At my school, St Mary Magdalen’s, we have discovered that Discovery Education’s “Espresso” online resources are useful. They are helpfully aligned to statements set out by the government to promote British Values in schools – namely decision-making, rule of law, separation of powers, freedom of faith and acceptance, and discrimination.

Many schools will already be helping pupils to develop an understanding of how citizens can influence decision-making through the democratic process. Examples of possible activities include:

  • Having an elected School Council (in Richmond Upon Thames we also elect pupils on to the central Pupil Parliament through a democratic process).
  • Hearing the pupils’ voice through, for example, “Bright Ideas” boxes.
  • Organising prefect and monitoring roles for the pupils.
  • Enlisting pupil playground leaders to supervise games.
  • Voting on charities to support.
  • Pupil exit questionnaires and in particular exit questionnaires for year 6.
  • Writing balanced arguments in literacy.
  • Holding “balloon debates”, promoting opportunities for the pupils to take part in public speaking experiences, and pupils taking part in debates in general.

In terms of the rule of law schools could focus on emphasising:

  • High expectations for attendance, punctuality and behaviour.
  • Rules and attitudes to keep us safe including classroom and school rules.
  • eSafety and safety relevant to the school setting, for example railway and road safety.
  • The roles of all those who help us (Early Years Foundation Stage).
  • The role of the monarchy and the monarchy of previous years.
  • Opportunities to celebrate the lives of inspirational people who have influenced the course of history (our current theme is “Giants” and as part of this each class has chosen their own giant of history, science or literature to have as their namesake and to research, as an opportunity to aspire to such role models. Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin and Florence Nightingale are examples of chosen Giants).

Potential activities under the heading of faiths and beliefs include:

  • Celebrating differences as well as similarities through cultural events such as International Day.
  • Visiting different places of worship and studying different beliefs and cultures.
  • Exploring morals through stories, lessons and assemblies.
  • Encouraging visits from religious leaders.
  • Blocking out times in the timetable to study a religion in depth

The Department for Education’s published advice, Promoting Fundamental British Values as Part of SMSC in Schools, is very useful. According to the document, educational establishments should ensure that pupils develop:

  • An understanding of how citizens can influence decision-making through the democratic process:
  • An appreciation that living under the rule of law protects individual citizens and is essential for their wellbeing and safety.
  • An understanding that there is a separation of power between the executive and the judiciary, and that while some public bodies such as the police and the army can be held to account through Parliament, others such as courts maintain independence.
  • An understanding that freedom to choose and hold other faiths and beliefs is protected in law.
  • An acceptance that other people having different faiths or beliefs to oneself (or having none) should be accepted and tolerated, and should not be the cause of prejudicial or discriminatory behaviour.
  • An understanding of the importance of identifying and combatting discrimination.

Pupils learn most from direct and first-hand experiences. Being situated in London, at St Mary Magdalen’s we are well placed to make educational visits to the Houses of Parliament where the children can gain a deeper understanding of a democracy at work. The Richmond upon Thames magistrates’ court has also offered us opportunities for educational visits – a visit to your local courts may be worthwhile.

With the “Brexit” debate reaching a climax currently there are further topical opportunities to bring this area of learning to life for the pupils.

There is a wealth of material available to help schools educate their pupils for life in a modern society and direct and first-hand experiences are what really bring this area of the curriculum to life.

Further information


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