SMSC – The sticky non-tangible essential stuff

I don’t blog often – mainly because I want to be inspired to blog – so I can write something meaningful and helpful to the teaching community.  The following is just my take on the topic of SMSC, and why it is essential to make explicit in our lesson.


In this blog post I wish to address:

  • What is SMSC?
  • How to make it explicit
  • Cross-subject examples showing how easy it is
  • Why do it? (SMSC and OFSTED)

What is SMSC?

I wonder how often we stop and reflect about the Social, Moral, Spiritual and Cultural (SMSC) aspects of our own lives.  As teachers, it’s sometimes a miracle that we stop and reflect at all – but not only is SMSC is the glue that holds OFSTED judgements together; it is the thing that in all of our lessons we should be getting pupils to reflect on in order for them to be full members of British Society.

I openly admit that I am a Religious Studies teacher, so I know I am open to the cries that I find this easier than most, but in this blog post I intend to reflect on how each subject can make a contribution to pupils own life-journey and how this time is essential in our lessons – both for us getting to know our pupils and for summary judgements made about our teaching and school.

The first thing I want to do is define my understanding of SMSC.  Social I am interpreting as how pupils relate to one another and the wider world, Moral is how pupils make judgements on what is right and wrong, Cultural is how the world around our pupils impacts on them – from popular culture to historic culture and everything in between and Spiritual – having pupils have their own space for reflection and nurturing their sense of ‘Awe and Wonder’.  (Awe and Wonder is the sense of amazement, or wow, or the light bulb moment where someone has an understanding of how this really impacts them).  I want to try and show how all of these can fit in any subject across the curriculum – it just takes stepping back and thinking.

How to make it explicit

In my lessons I try to have an SMSC question – I use two graphics (below) on my PowerPoint’s.  When pupils see these, they know that there are no ‘wrong’ answers in this. I don’t always ask for feedback, some questions are quite personal for pupils.  I let them do a think pair share, talk partners, snowball on postits, write on silent debate mind maps, have a class debate – anything suitable for the pupils I am teaching.   Any pupil of any ability can do well in this section of the lesson – they just need the confidence to share.  Clearly there are issues with making it an explicit section of a lesson, but sometimes this does make it easier.

Cross-subject examples showing how easy it is

Firstly – an example – it’s a Year 11 GCSE lesson on Economics – pupils are studying economies of scale (which is when companies are working well – and at just the right level for their workers, maximising output and charging correctly to maximise profits  – operational efficiency).  Pupils have an exam in five weeks and SMSC is the last thing on your – and their minds.  However, a simple question like “Why is a company operating at their economies of scale helpful for the country or local economy?” suddenly becomes and SMSC question – it is a Cultural question.  Pupils get to reflect on how it would help with full employment etc – and this can then lead onto the benefits for society on full employment – how people feel etc.  This is then spiritual territory.

Another example, science – how is that spiritual?  Imagine you are looking at survival of the fittest – should Humans really kill other animals – just because we can – does that make us the best.  Immediately a spiritual question – and also a moral one.

PE – Social through and through – playing games – learning to live together.  Even through a spanner in the works by getting someone to cheat – this would cause moral questioning.

MFL – when pupils are learning new vocabulary get them to think about Culture of the language – so if doing French, what are the French like?  How do they add to Europe?

History – Were people’s actions of the past always right or wrong? (Moral)  Forget what they did – what should they have done?  Can we even make that judgement as we weren’t there?  How will people judge us?

English – characters – in Blood Brothers, was it right for the shootings?  Who has the right to ‘persuade’ people to move?  When is a house a home?  All of these are spiritual and moral questions.

The conclusion I am reaching in my teaching is that SMSC is not difficult – it’s about giving pupils the time to reflect and think – and express their views in lesson.  I know that that may be difficult to do in time-pressed lessons, but my experience is that it enables pupils to understand the topic more and gets them engaged at a deeper level – meaning to more thought through answers in exams and better grades.

Why do it? (SMSC and OFSTED)

SMSC is more than a whole section of a lesson write up on the OFSTED evidence form (  It’s more than something which is promoted well to get an Outstanding school report (The school’s thoughtful and wide-ranging promotion of pupils’ spiritual, moral, social and cultural development and their physical well-being enables them to thrive in a supportive, highly cohesive learning community.).  It’s more than something best not neglected for an inadequate (there are serious weaknesses in the overall promotion of pupils’ spiritual, moral, social and cultural development or their physical well-being, so that pupils are intolerant of others and/or reject any of the core values fundamental to life in modern Britain.)

I believe that  the Role of SMSC in all of our lessons is something that helps boosts attainment and seeks to start to sew the torn fabric of society back together as it helps build up a framework for pupils to use in later life to help them make useful and good decisions.

If you have any further thoughts about any of this of want to discuss it further, please feel free to tweet me @sheltont101.



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5 responses to “SMSC – The sticky non-tangible essential stuff

  1. Thank you for this post. Is SMSC a new thing? I have been teaching for 3 years and have only just been introduced to SMSC, this has made it much clearer. Cheers.

    • Thanks for your comment and read. Smsc has been around as a focus for at least 10 years. It was a major focus then, then with all things in education it was side lined, but still remained in ofsted subsidiary guidance. Partly due to the Trojan horse issue its now become focussed on again.

  2. Pingback: Education Panorama (October ’14) by @TeacherToolkit | @TeacherToolkit

  3. Mel

    How do you evidence all of this for ofsted? Do you require teachers to include it in their planning?

    • Hi Mel, we have it on our lesson plan, identified on our schemes of work and each subject has written a summative document showing how each aspect is shown with examples.

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