What is SMSC and How Can You Teach It?

Author: Ben Greenwood

Posted: 21 Nov 2019

Estimated time to read: 6 mins

Ofsted’s new framework puts more emphasis on child development, with criteria such as ‘British Values’ taking a more central role. This is reinforced by the separation of behaviour and welfare into two separate judgements ‘personal development’ and ‘behaviour and attitudes' and an emphasis on curriculum. These changes have been made in an effort to encourage overall enrichment and development of students.  

What is SMSC? 

SMSC stands for Spiritual, Moral, Social and Cultural development. It is an area of the curriculum that focuses on the non-academic development of students, such as understanding and appreciation of different cultures or dealing with moral conundrums.

The teaching of SMSC in schools has been closely associated with Ofsted criteria in student development as Ofsted’s handbook refers directly to the importance of SMSC and its impact on students. Inspectors will also look for evidence that it is embedded into schools’ learning experiences.  

One of the huge 2019 framework changes saw the break up of Ofsted’s behaviour and welfare criteria into: behaviour and attitudes and personal development. Ofsted also puts SMSC ‘at the heart of school development’, marking a purposeful move towards developing students as ‘complete people’, as opposed to assessment-ready robots. 

Let's take a closer look at what each area of SMSC means for teachers: 


Spiritual Development 

When students are given the tools they need to develop spiritually, they learn how to reflect upon their own beliefs and those of their peers. They also develop an interest and fascination with other views, this helps to share empathy and understanding around topics such as religion or other beliefs. 

Spiritual development fosters creativity and helps to build a healthy imagination. It also encourages students to be more reflective and self aware in their own learning. This can make academic learning more engaging and their response to feedback more conducive to academic progression. 


Moral Development 

Moral development refers to students’ abilities to recognise the difference between right and wrong, both from a humanitarian point of view and from a legal standpoint. This dovetails with Ofsted’s ‘British Values’ criteria, as ‘rule of law’ is a central pillar to the criteria.

Appreciating others’ moral and ethical viewpoints helps pupils develop into more empathetic and caring members of society

Understanding the consequences of individual behaviour and actions also improves students’ behaviour and accountability. This can positively affect their commitment to work, in class and at home. It also creates an attitude of collectivism within the class, encouraging students to look at work both individually and as a team with a common goal. 

Appreciating others’ moral and ethical viewpoints can also help pupils to develop into more empathetic and caring members of society. This level of understanding allows them to envision teachers’ and other students’ viewpoints.


Social Development 

Social Development is more closely woven into the fabric of Ofsted’s criteria. Its teaching of engagement with others and acceptance of differences between members of society ties in closely with ‘British Values’. It includes willingness to participate in community projects and wider social groups, including sports clubs and volunteering. 

Social skills are quite obviously an important part of personal development. Giving students the support they need to become more comfortable socially can help them in all aspects of life, through higher education to employment. It also tackles mental health issues and feelings of discontent in school, as speaking out is encouraged.


Cultural Development

Finally, cultural development covers the understanding and appreciation of the rich tapestry of culture that makes up our society. From students’ own cultural influences and heritage to that of other students and staff. Ofsted regard the understanding of Britain’s cultural past and present as a key area for growth. 

Ofsted sees the understanding the political processes as intrinsic to growth as both a student and a British citizen

As well as this, appreciation and understanding of art, music, sports and other cultural pursuits is viewed as conducive to pupils’ development as it can help to form ideas for further study, as well as inspiration for students’ own contribution to British culture.

Knowledge of Britain’s democratic system, including voting system, parliamentary process and politics is also noted within cultural development. Ofsted sees the understanding of the political processes as intrinsic to growth as both a student and british citizen.  

smsc in schools

How to teach and implement SMSC

How you teach SMSC largely depends on your school’s curriculum. SMSC is a wide umbrella of learning that takes place across a number of classroom subjects, including RE, PSHE, Sex Ed., Politics, Philosophy and History. This makes planning lessons purely devoted to SMSC slightly more complicated. 

However, the aim here is not to include all areas of SMSC in one lesson sequence. Instead, teachers should look to build a cumulative ‘mini curriculum’ that spreads across different subjects and teachers and gives students a rounded education in SMSC bit by bit.



This is the main dojo for teachers who want to teach full and varied SMSC lessons. PSHE allows for the main bulk of spiritual, moral, social and cultural development teaching to happen, with lessons topics like knife-crime, trauma, warfare, drug abuse, included in the curriculum to name a few. 

When covering these topics give students space to think and contribute their own ideas. Often the most constructive PSHE lessons consist of one big conversation about the topic in hand with students learning from each other and growing in confidence as the lesson progresses.

Facilitating this, either with a warm up exercise or an icebreaker and some form of topic introduction (a video or slideshow) can really help to progress the lesson. 


- Sex Ed.

Sex education often covers social and moral dilemmas, involving abuse, teenage pregnancy and abortion. Ensuring that the class tackles difficult topics and challenging questions with respect and maturity. 

In these lessons don’t shy away from difficult topics and encourage students to ask questions, the best way to engage students’ SMSC development is by allowing them to explore the topic, even if it’s an uncomfortable one. Making it clear that it’s ok to talk about these issues can be a huge step forward for even the most confident and outspoken. 


- RE

RE is ideal for spiritual and cultural development, for obvious reasons. The key is not to simply teach knowledge about culture and religion, but also to teach a deeper understanding. Showing students that understanding and learning empathetically about other people’s beliefs can be fulfilling.  

With RE, the foundations are already there for SMSC development. What you have to do as a teacher is to help students to explore this foundation more thoroughly. 

spiritual moral social cultural development

- History 

This might not seem like a natural area for SMSC, especially as the English history curriculum is notoriously dogmatic. The real value here comes from extra-curricular information teachers can contribute. The added historical context that teachers can give on historic events can make cultural and social development more poignant.

It might sound obvious to some, but as it’s not part of the curriculum, the evils of the british empire and parts the murder of natives during the founding of america are just two examples of material that could be taught with more cultural and moral context. 


- Politics and Philosophy 

One of the closest matches between SMSC and Ofsted’s ‘British Values’ criteria is that they both have a keen focus on the rule of law and the difference between good and bad. This is where both politics and philosophy come into the picture. 

Obviously, not all schools teach these two subjects and they tend to be more prominent as A-level courses. However, making time to include some aspects of these lessons, perhaps in form time or as part of other humanities subjects, can make a key segment of SMSC development. 



In order to maintain Ofsted ratings, schools will have to make some changes under the new framework. With more focus on ‘British Values’ and student development, SMSC will be become a bigger priority. Thankfully schools already have the foundations of good SMSC teaching in place, as the above subjects make teaching this area of the curriculum more accessible. 

All that is needed is a clearer approach within these lessons to channel the kind of spiritual, moral, social and cultural development that Ofsted inspectors will be looking for in students. Going above and beyond the suggested curriculum will give students a more enriching experience, and Ofsted a better outlook on your school.

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