Spiritual, Moral, Social and Cultural

The Guardian’s Education page today features an article called “Call for year off so schools can search their souls”

A report has been published on the “spiritual, moral, social and cultural aspects of education” (SMSC).

The Guardian reporter, Joanna Moorhead says that this is “in a nutshell, the “soul” of a school”.

According to a headteacher quoted in the article, Ofsted is at fault; (wouldn’t you know it?) “I’m highly critical of Ofsted. It has raised standards, but it has lost the plot in the way it has put all the emphasis on exam results.”

Gary lewis is a secondary head who is calling for the academic year 2015 – 2016 to be a year of “reflection to allow pupils and staff to focus on deeper values and goals.”

Joe Hallgarten, one of the authors of the report is quoted as saying “For far too long now, headteachers have been distracted from these aspects [SMSC] of their pupil’s education by constant considerations around results, inspections and protocols”

The principal of a sponsored academy Guy Shears is quoted as saying SMSC is in danger of moving to the margins. The reporter surmises; “it is the spiritual dimension that is most at risk of neglect.”

I wonder exactly how the report would define the “spiritual dimension”? In the UK religious education is already compulsory, as is some form of worship each day in our schools. Surely the authors of this report are not advocating more religious content?

There are suggestions of “meditation” and “visiting Auschwitz” being positive additions to the school curriculum, and also of vague notions such as “wider development” and “sociability” and the importance of children being “rounded individuals”.

The report commented on in this article contains so much waffle about  soul – searching that  I wonder if there is not an anthroposophist at the root of it somewhere.

A look at the criteria used by Ofsted show their priorities for assessment.

Top of the list after the main four criteria is

“take account of the spiritual, moral, social and cultural development of pupils when judging the overall effectiveness of the school.”

So this is a legal requirement already. The report says more consistency should be applied to inspecting SMSC, including clear guidelines.

The citizenship foundation gives a description of each part of SMSC

“Spiritual – Explore beliefs and experience; respect values; discover oneself and the surrounding world; use imagination and creativity; reflect.”

So have the Citizenship foundation come up with a “clear guideline” of what spirituality is?

Steiner schools have a very specific definition of what it is. The only problem is that it doesn’t fit in with what the rest of society would hope for in education; their version contains gnomes (mining for gold), undines, salamanders, Atlantis, reincarnation…

No,  that is not what anyone wants for state-funded education.

The necessity of a year to contemplate “deeper values” is definitely not required at our local secondary school in Stroud where in addition to excellent teaching, the extra – curricular activities were so numerous that priorities had to be carefully considered; I don’t know how much more rounded a child could be, than one who has received such a good education at our local comprehensive.

We are perhaps fortunate to have such schools in our area; in those areas where schools are not performing so well, is more time spent pondering “life’s meaning” really what is required?



  1. Helen

    Parents and families are the main influence on a child in the areas of “SMSC” – or are we shifting away from this expectation and saying that schools should be having a greater influence here?
    If so we need to know EXACTLY what is deemed appropriate, so no dodgy sectarian or woo-filled tripe is fed to children in the guise of “spirituality”.
    It is a tricky area; the way RE is delivered in schools is suspect in my opinion, with too much emphasis on right and wrong with reference to certain religious beliefs and not enough on rational thought.

  2. Jim

    I don’t have a problem in principle with the moral, social and cultural ( though I might in practice with the way it is done ) but what the hell is spiritual supposed to mean?
    No problem either with learning about the variety of religions. But spiritual? People used to have a religious view and were clear about what they believed. I might disagree ( ok – I always disagree) but it was possible to pin them down and argue. But these spiritual types are far worse. There seems to be nothing they won’t believe and no basis in rationality on which to base an argument. Actually they seem to fall into two groups. There’s the “nice but dim” who believe in anything because they understand nothing. I suspect they make up the majority of the Steiner community. Then there are the hard core who have intelligence but use it to misrepresent science and distort evidence in support of their beliefs. We’ve had a couple of them on this site ( where have they gone? )

  3. Helen

    I recently heard someone spoken of in reverential tones as the world expert on unicorns…there’s no arguing with that!

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