The RSA Schools with Soul Report posed two questions.
“How can we ensure that schools across the UK prioritise the spiritual, moral, social, and cultural development of their students, alongside their academic development?”
“How can schools and other partners be supported to influence and impact on pupils’ SMSC development?”
Our brief response to this is training and tracking. We need systemic and systematic change in order for SMSC to be seen as an integral part of learning that enhances the entire learning experience. Shifting the emphasis and aims of education doesn’t detract from “standards”. Quite the opposite.
These questions aren’t new to those of us who’ve spent our entire career supporting the wellbeing of children and young people. They’ve been a presence in all that we have tried to do, and never at the expense of academic achievement.
Let’s be very, very clear about this. Children who are well, children who are inspired and children who have the freedom to be creative, are more likely to better learners. Children who are encouraged to know about and use all of their intelligences have the propensity for a greater engagement in learning – and are more likely to be “successful” in life. They are also more likely to get higher grades because the whole of their needs are being met.
There isn’t an absolute answer to these questions but what is certain is that they need action. We can’t allow SMSC – or whatever it is called – to perpetually remain the bridesmaid of education when it really ought to be the bride!
We should highlight three areas that we need to change in order to answer that first question: How can we ensure that schools across the UK prioritise the spiritual, moral, social, and cultural development of their students, alongside their academic development?
Here’s a quote from the report.
“We also found a lack of consistency in how Ofsted inspectors evaluate SMSC promotion, with SMSC sometimes being assessed according to provision, and other times on whether students can articulate the meaning of their SMSC development. Very often, Ofsted inspectors refer only to one aspect of SMSC in their assessment, with the overall rating based on that assessment.”
The RSA report has made some welcome suggestions (see previous post). A year of peaceful reflection without league tables or Ofsted inspections sounds like manna from heaven. However, why stop there? Why not consider a total restructuring of Ofsted, so that the importance and value of SMSC isn’t side-lined in the manner it currently is?
There’s significant discrepancy between inspectors and inspection reports with regard to SMSC. As the appendices from this report point out (pages 13-19), too many inspections concentrate on process rather than impact – resorting to listing actions rather than clearly saying how these activities make a difference to children and young people.
There’s hardly any linkage between SMSC and the statutory duty to promote wellbeing either. Too often, in Ofsted reports, there’s a glib sentence about either of these – as though the inspector has been reading through a check list of “things to include” in an Ofsted report and hurriedly attached a token sentence about wellbeing or SMSC. Developing and supporting SMSC is an integral part of that duty to promote wellbeing and yet the connection is rarely made.
We’re not apportioning blame here. Many inspectors, by their own admission, haven’t had sufficient training for SMSC. They need support to identify impact, just as they would with other statutory areas of learning
2. School leadership
Here’s another quote from the report.
“Many head teachers and others we talked to were resigned to a feeling that while SMSC development was important in the aims of the school, it was not an everyday concern; or that SMSC provision would never have a more substantial place in schools unless it could somehow be measured and set alongside data on curriculum levels and exam results”
Many leaders in school might be honest enough to say “if it ain’t recorded in the league tables, we ain’t going to prioritise”. Look how many schools encouraged young people to take a humanities subject or a modern language in order to comply with the Ebacc league – against the wishes of the individual child. Yet however many times we hear this comment, nothing changes.
On the one hand there is a general consensus that education shouldn’t be limited to standards yet we all know that league tables are the straitjacket that drives decisions made in schools. We either abolish the league table criteria OR we restrict the tables purely to English and Maths OR we find a way of adding qualitative data on SMSC (not really viable, in our opinion).
(Our preferred option would be a tracking system which is used by teachers, pupils, parents and carers to identify how a young person is thriving and developing all of their intelligences. This tracking system should include direct references to SMSC and would thereby provide significant “evidence” of impact.)
So whilst we welcome the report’s recommendation that NCTL and other providers should offer more training and guidance to leaders and governors on SMSC, that’s probably not enough. There needs to be a whole rethink about the importance of SMSC and school leaders need to be helped to shift their thinking on this key area of learning. Many school leaders have never had any experience other than the National Curriculum and league tables. Many have had scant training on child development. Many feel so intimidated by the accountability measures that this inhibits their thinking about the wider aspects of education.
Again, we’re not apportioning blame here. We just feel that many leaders are so conditioned to respond to the accountability measures that they don’t always afford time on the ‘non-accountable’ aspects of learning, which ironically would contribute significantly to the “measurables” of examination passes on which they’re currently judged
3. Teacher Training
Here’s a final quote from the report.
“76% of primary teachers and 60% of secondary teachers agreed with the statement that ‘My school’s approach to Spiritual, Moral, Social and Cultural Education (SMSC) impacts on my teaching’…………….. only 26% of classroom teachers strongly agreed that they understood their school’s approach to SMSC compared to 41% of school leaders.”
Those are pretty damning statistics. Over 50% of school leaders didn’t fully understand their own policy and practice on SMSC, and 40% of secondary teachers didn’t see the relevance of SMSC to their own teaching.
Training for leaders isn’t enough. If we are going to have sustainable change, then we need to ensure that SMSC education is an integral part of initial teacher training, and continued professional development.
We can’t expect teachers to be able to consider approaches to spiritual, moral, social and cultural education if they’ve never had a day’s training on the subject. Whilst some aspects of SMSC are implicit rather than explicit, it’s not going to happen by osmosis if teachers don’t know what it is that they’re encouraging in their learners. Furthermore, there are many aspects of SMSC that are absolutely explicit. Direct training on content is vital. Support on how to track a child’s development is also needed.
We’d like to see all teachers, whatever subject they are teaching, to see themselves as teachers of SMSC. We’d also like all teachers, whatever their subject, to see themselves as teachers of English. Being literate and numerate has a huge impact on wellbeing, as does SMSC education, and it’s the overall wellbeing of our children and young people that should drive our aims for education.
Again, regarding training and tracking, we offer a simple response to the second question: How can schools and other partners be supported to influence and impact on pupils’ SMSC development?
As far as involving others partners to influence and impact on pupils’ SMSC – many practitioners and PSHE education advisers would have enjoyed nothing more than to be able to get into schools to support them to look at impact rather than process. Sadly, many of these advisers are no longer in post as an outcome of the cuts to public sector.
The reality is that in many areas, advisers for PSHE and/or SMSC couldn’t get into schools to review, guide and support colleagues because CPD time was only afforded to the subjects on which a school was held accountable. The only times such advisers tended to be invited into schools was either due to an enlightened leader who valued these areas of learning or as reactive response to incidents – such as bullying, or statistics – such as teenage conception rates.
Perhaps there should be a requirement of schools to have at least one day’s CPD relating to SMSC per year, but this might end up being tokenistic.
As the report states, we need to review SMSC and what it actually means. It needs to be credible and it needs to be an integral part of learning. Training and tracking would certainly help. However, there’s another major issue that concerns us, and it’s that of language.
Is SMSC the right phrase (or acronym)? Are there viable alternatives?
In Part Three of this series of posts we will be looking at this very question, and offering a suggestion.