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SMSC definitions

The Ofsted inspection framework 2012 makes it clear that SMSC is a key area when considering a school’s overall effectiveness.  Evidence of impact is gathered from all areas of the inspection: the achievements of pupils, the quality of teaching, behaviour and safety and the quality of leadership and management.

Ofsted provides the following definitions of each aspect:





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Pupils’ spiritual development is shown by their:

  • Beliefs, religious or otherwise, which inform their perspective on life and their interest in and respect for different people’s feeling and values
  • Sense of enjoyment and fascination in learning about themselves, others and the world around them, including the intangible
  • Use of imagination and creativity in their learning
  • Willingness to reflect on their experiences.

What it looks like for pupils:

A set of values, principles and beliefs, which may or may not be religious, which inform their perspective on life and their patterns of behaviour

Awareness of and understanding of their own and others’ beliefs

Respect for themselves and for others

A sense of empathy with others, concern and compassion

An increasing ability to reflect and learn from this reflection

An ability to show courage and persistence in defence of their aims, values, principles and beliefs

Readiness to challenge all that would constrain the human spirit: for example, poverty of aspiration, lack of self-confidence and belief, moral neutrality or indifference, force, fanaticism, aggression, greed, injustice, narrowness of vision, self-interest, sexism, racism and other forms of discrimination

Appreciation of the intangible - for example, beauty, truth, love, goodness, order – as well as for mystery, paradox and ambiguity

Respect for insight as well as for knowledge and reason

An expressive and/or creative impulse

An ability to think in terms of the “whole” – for example, concepts such as harmony, interdependence, scale, perspective

An understanding of feelings and emotions, and their likely impact

What it looks like for schools:

Giving pupils the opportunity to explore values and beliefs, including religious beliefs, and the way in which they affect peoples’ lives

Where pupils already have religious beliefs, supporting and developing these beliefs in ways which are personal and relevant to them

Encouraging pupils to explore and develop what animates themselves and others

Encouraging pupils to reflect and learn from reflection

Giving pupils the opportunity to understand human feelings and emotions, the way they affect people and how an understanding of them can be helpful

Developing a climate or ethos within which all pupils can grow and flourish, respect others and be respected

Accommodating difference and respecting the integrity of individuals

Promoting teaching styles which:

- Value pupils’ questions and give them space for their own thoughts, ideas and concerns

- Enable pupils to make connections between aspects of their learning

- Encourage pupils to relate their learning to a wider frame of reference – for example, asking “why?”, “how?” and “where?” as well as “what?” TOP


Pupils’ moral development in shown by their:

  • Ability to recognise the difference between right and wrong and their readiness to apply this understanding in their own lives
  • Understanding of the consequences of their actions
  • Interest in investigating, and offered reasoned views about, moral and ethical issues


What it looks like for pupils:

An ability to distinguish right from wrong, based on a knowledge of the moral codes of their own and others cultures

Confidence to act consistently in accordance with their own principles

An ability to think through the consequences of their own and others actions

Willingness to express their views on ethical issues and personal values

An ability to make responsible and reasoned judgements on moral dilemmas

Commitment to personal values in areas which are considered right by some and wrong by others

A considerate style of life

Respect for others’ needs, interests and feelings, as well as their own

Desire to explore their own and others’ views

An understanding of the need to review and reassess their values, codes and principles in the light of experience.

What it looks like for schools:

Providing a clear moral code as a basis for behaviour which is promoted consistently through all aspects of the school

Promoting measures to prevent discrimination on the basis of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, age and other criteria

Giving pupils opportunities across the curriculum to explore and develop moral concepts and values – for example, personal rights and responsibilities, truth, justice, equality of opportunity, right and wrong

Developing an open and safe learning environment in which pupils can express their views and practise moral decision-making

Making an issue of breaches of agreed moral codes where they arise – for example, in the press, on television and the internet as well as in school

Modelling, through the quality of relationships and interactions, the principles which they wish to promote – for example, fairness, integrity, respect for people pupils’ welfare, respect for minority interests, resolution of conflict, keeping promises and contracts

Recognising and respecting the codes and morals of the different cultures represented in the school and wider community

Encouraging pupils to take responsibility for their actions; for example, respect for property, care of the environment, and developing codes of behaviour

Providing models of moral virtue through literature, humanities, sciences, arts, assemblies and acts of worship

Reinforcing the school’s values through images, posters, classroom displays, screensavers, exhibitions TOP


Pupils’ social development is shown by their:

  • Use of a range of social skills in different contexts, including working and socialising with pupils from different religious, ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds
  • Willingness to participate in a variety of social settings, cooperating will with others and being able to resolve conflicts effectively
  • Interest in and understanding of, the way communities and societies function at a variety of levels.


What it looks like for pupils:

An ability to adjust to a range of social contexts by appropriate and sensitive behaviour

Relate well to other people’s social skills and personal qualities

Work, successfully, as a member of a group or team

Challenge, when necessary and in appropriate ways, the values of a group or wider community

Share views and opinions with others, and work towards consensus

Resolve conflicts and counter forces which militate against inclusion and unity

Reflect on their own contribution to society and to the world of work

Show respect for people, living things, property and the environment

Benefit from advice offered by those in authority or counselling roles

Exercise responsibility

Appreciate the rights and responsibilities of individuals within the wider social setting

Understand how societies function and are organised in structures such as the family, the school and local and wider communities

Participate in activities relevant to the community

Understand the notion of interdependence in an increasingly complex society

What it looks like for schools:

Identifying key values and principles on which school and community life is based

Fostering a sense of community, with common, inclusive values which ensure that everyone, irrespective of ethnic origin, nationality, gender, ability, sexual orientation and religion can flourish 

Encouraging pupils to work co-operatively

Encouraging pupils to recognise and respect social differences and similarities

Providing positive corporate experiences – for example, through assemblies, team activities, residential experiences, school productions

Helping pupils develop personal qualities which are valued in a civilised society, for example, thoughtfulness, honesty, respect for difference, moral principles, independence, inter-dependence, self-respect

Helping pupils to challenge, when necessary and in appropriate ways, the values of a group or wider community

Helping pupils resolve tensions between their own aspirations and those of the group or wider society

Providing a conceptual and linguistic framework within which to understand and debate social issues

Providing opportunities for engaging in the democratic process and participating in community life

Providing positive and effective link with the world of work and the wider community TOP


Pupils’ cultural development is shown by their:

  • Understanding and appreciation of the wide range of cultural influences that have shaped their own heritage
  • Willingness to participate in, and respond to, for example, artistic, musical, sporting, mathematical, technological, scientific and cultural opportunities
  • Interest in exploring, understanding of, and respect for cultural diversity and the extent to which they understand, accept, respect and celebrate diversity, as shown by their attitudes towards different religious, ethnic and socio-economic groups in the local, national and global communities.


What it looks like for pupils:

An ability to recognise and understand their own cultural assumptions and values

An understanding of the influences which have shaped their own cultural heritage

An understanding of the dynamic, evolutionary nature of cultures

An ability to appreciate cultural diversity and accord dignity and respect to other people’s values and beliefs, thereby challenging racism and valuing race equality

Openness to new ideas and a willingness to modify cultural values in the light of experience

An ability to use language and understand images/icons – for example, in music, art, literature – which have significant meaning in a culture

Willingness to participate in, and respond to, artistic and cultural enterprises

A sense of personal enrichment through encounter with a cultural media and traditions from a range of cultures

Regard for the heights of human achievement in all cultures and societies

An appreciation of the diversity and interdependence of cultures

What it looks like for schools:

Providing opportunities for pupils to explore their own cultural assumptions and values

Presenting authentic accounts of the attitudes, values and traditions of diverse cultures

Addressing discrimination on the grounds of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, age and other criteria and promoting racial and other forms of equality

Extending pupils’ knowledge and use of cultural imagery and language

Recognising and nurturing particular gifts and talents

Providing opportunities for pupils to participate in literature, drama, music, arts, crafts and other cultural events and encouraging pupils to reflect on their significance

Developing partnerships with outside agencies and individuals to extend pupils’ cultural awareness, for examples, theatre, museum, concert and gallery visits, resident artists, and foreign exchanges

Reinforcing the school’s cultural values through displays, posters, exhibitions, etc

Auditing the quality and nature of opportunities for pupils to extend their cultural development across the curriculum TOP

Based on the work of Schools Linking Network.  For further guidance see: www.schoolslinkingnetwork.org.uk/guidance/smsc-development/