RSA Schools with Soul – A Way Forward: Part Three – Multiple Intelligences

Is SMSC the right phrase or acronym to use for this integral part of learning?


Our response to this is – maybe not.

As we’ve already mentioned, SMSC is a relatively new concept – first introduced as an “all-encompassing phrase” in 1988. Prior to that, within the 1944 Education Act, there was reference to the physical and mental wellbeing of “children and society”.

The apparent reason for dropping these important aspects of wellbeing was that there were specific references in the National Curriculum for these areas whereas the spiritual, moral, social and cultural aspects were less explicit. (Another major failing of the National Curriculum, we think.)

Here’s a quote from the new RSA report.

“One possible response would be to rewrite the language of SMSC completely. Some members of our expert group proposed that the terms ‘personal and social development’ or ‘character education’ might offer greater clarity and lead to better provision and outcomes.”

Confusion reigns. One of the contributory factors to SMSC not being given the credibility and emphasis it deserves is that the language is ambiguous and there are other terms that mean something similar.

We have SMSC – spiritual, moral, social and cultural. We also have PSHE education – personal, social, health and economic. There’s also the PSD acronym – personal and social development. In addition to these, there’s “wellbeing”. Then there are ‘key competencies’ and the dreadful “soft skills” labels too.

SMSC words

They’re all connected but they’re not complete. Using PSHE or PSD omits the important aspect of the spiritual and moral. SMSC doesn’t encapsulate the physical or mental wellbeing. The word “wellbeing” is often seen as too woolly because it’s open to a range of interpretations. Some of the words within SMSC are also open to interpretation. Should we really be using the word “moral” or should we consider “ethical” as less subjective? One person’s “morals” might be vastly different to another’s. As for “character education”, it sounds vaguely like the Hitler Youth programme – resilience, compliance, stiff upper lip, management, etc.

Perhaps we should to find a phrase or words that encompass all of these important aspects – personal, social, wellbeing, spiritual, health etc.


Here’s another quote from the report.

“One of the key drivers keeping SMSC aspects on the education agenda in the UK and across the world is the challenge of how best to educate young people so that they acquire the knowledge, skills, attitudes, values and capabilities – often summed up in the term ‘competences’ – to live as active, productive, responsible and participative citizens in modern democratic societies.”

We want our children and young people to be “active, productive, responsible and participative” but does SMSC cover all of these, and what does it leave out?


What we want for our children and young people is this. We want them to be intellectually challenged and competent – capable of thinking for themselves and for them to be literate and numerate. We also want them to be IT literate too. We want our children to develop an instinct for learning – to be responsive, and to know how to manage their instinctive behaviour, keeping it in check as and when the need arises. We want our children to know themselves, understand their abilities and interests – to be in their element whilst simultaneously recognising the needs of others and the value of empathy and companionship. We’d like our children to be physically strong – using all of their senses and having opportunities to look after and develop their physical skills. We’d also like our children to be spiritually aware – able to use their intuition, able to appreciate the world in which they live, understanding values and how to live virtuously.

Does the phrase “spiritual, moral, social and cultural” capture all of these elements? Does it fully contribute to making children and young people emotionally intelligent?

We don’t think so. What we’re suggesting is that we should consider substituting the phrase “SMSC” with intelligences or multiple intelligences. Obviously, in order for this to happen, one of the first things we need to do is redefine the word intelligence – from a misinterpreted single entity of intellect, to a wider perspective of attributes pertaining to one’s capabilities.


Let’s look at another quote from the report to see how this can work.

“A clear, open and encompassing approach to pupils’ SMSC development can be a catalyst to enabling schools to make their purpose and ethos visible to and impactful for all. In short, SMSC provision and practice needs attention and support to move from the margins to the centre of schools’ lives.”

Now substitute SMSC with “intelligences”.

“A clear, open and encompassing approach to pupils’ intelligences development can be a catalyst to enabling schools to make their purpose and ethos visible to and impactful for all. In short, Multiple intelligences provision and practice needs attention and support to move from the margins to the centre of schools’ lives.”

So what do we mean by multiple intelligences? Our model proposes that we have six intelligences – intellect, instinct, spiritual, physical, social and personal. All of these intelligences contribute to what many call “emotional intelligence” and what we would say is being emotionally intelligent.

intelligences-linear 3di

Here’s another quote from the RSA “Schools with Soul” report.

“In many respects, therefore, the promotion of SMSC is part of the very lifeblood or DNA of schools and schooling: an enduring core purpose, whose values and value adapt to changing circumstances but whose purpose is more relevant than ever before to modern societies.”

Do the same thing as before and substitute SMSC with intelligences.

“In many respects, therefore, the promotion of multiple intelligences is part of the very lifeblood or DNA of schools and schooling: an enduring core purpose, whose values and value adapt to changing circumstances but whose purpose is more relevant than ever before to modern societies.”

Now, let’s look at some of those key recommendations from the report with this word substitution in place.

From the nine design principles for a transformed approach to SMSC (now intelligences)………

  • Make time for reflection to clarify meaning and create a coherent and robust vision and language for the intelligences
  • Make ‘real’ space for all of the intelligences
  • Locate intelligences provision in multiple but specific areas of schooling, avoiding the ‘everywhere and nowhere’ dilemma and create ‘real opportunities’ for explicit student outcomes
  • Nurture effective, creative leadership for intelligences at all levels
  • Sustain provision for all of the intelligences throughout the teenage years (and beyond into adulthood and throughout life)
  • Retain a relentless focus on student learning and narrowing gaps in the intelligences outcomes

From the key recommendations……….

  • The DfE should set up a small expert working party to develop clearer guidelines for pupils’ intelligences development in all state-funded schools in England, including academies and Free Schools.
  • Ofsted should develop a more consistent and rigorous approach to the inspection of schools’ intelligences provision and outcomes.
  • The National College for Teaching and Leadership (NCTL) should ensure that provision for multiple intelligences is more overtly built into any revisions made to the teachers’ standards.
  • The NCTL and other providers of leadership programmes should develop methods for use with aspiring school leaders that develop their understanding of multiple intelligences.
  • School leaders should use the design principles above to rethink their approach to all of the intelligences.

And so on and so forth.


With reference back to Part Two, all of this can be done through dedicated training and developing a cohesive and inclusive tracking system – for which the pupils are as much responsible as their teachers.

We need to rethink the language and therefore rethink our priorities for education. Other countries are doing so. It’s time we did the same. What we’ve done here is offer one suggestion – i.e. to consider the word “intelligences”. There’s often concern about this word but maybe that is because it hasn’t ever been fully defined.

The language is important, and getting it right now is equally necessary. However, what is most important is that children and young people receive the education to which they’re entitled, and that really does go beyond the development of the intellect.

Here’s a final quote from the RSA report.

“Despite an apparent increase in school autonomy over the last few decades, the goals that used to define the purpose of schooling appear have moved to the periphery. They have been overwhelmed by attainment-related accountability pressures and reduced to a by-line in National Curricula and in the Department for Education (DfE) and Ofsted’s thinking. It has been increasingly difficult for schools to think about anything other than short-term gains to short-term outcomes.”

Looking at the development of all of the intelligences, as we have outlined here, is far from short-term. The long-term gains to the individual and to society as a whole could be monumental. Getting the language right and agreed upon could ensure that all of the recommendations from the report could be enacted.

This is so important and so integral to our children’s entitlement to an education system that is befitting of the 21st century…….. and beyond.


See also


About 3D Eye

Gary Foskett and Clare Blackhall are educationalists, writers and consultants. We work with schools and other organisations who share our vision of how schools, businesses, etc should work in the 21st Century. We also run courses and contribute to conferences - speaking about our three dimensional model of intelligences and how schools, colleges and universities can develop the full potential of all their staff and students. We also offer consultancy for businesses and public sector organisations to support staff training and organisational change and development. For more detailed information read our blog at or see our website at
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