Gap year for schools: How teachers need time to refocus on pupil’s moral and social development

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11 March 2014

The requirement of schools to develop the social and emotional skills of their pupils has become side-lined due to the overwhelming pressure placed on them to deliver better exam results, an RSA investigation has found.

Schools with Soul, published today concluded that despite school’s legal commitment towards providing spiritual, moral, social and cultural education (SMSC), too many schools took a ‘scattergun approach’ that risked provision being ‘everywhere and nowhere’.

The report concluded that despite an increase in school autonomy, deeper thinking about how to equip young people with the skills, attitudes, values and capabilities necessary to succeed in the modern world has been rendered far more difficult by the constantly changing terrain of policy initiatives.

The broader goals that SMSC represent have ‘moved to the periphery’ of schooling, overwhelmed by attainment-related accountability pressures and reduced to a by-line in National Curricula and in DfE and Ofsted’s thinking, the report said.

The report called for schools to be given time to refocus on their core purpose and vision, with 2015-16 designated as a ‘year of reflection’ with no new schools-related policies announced by the DfE, no new academies and no Ofsted inspections for schools that are designated as good or outstanding.

A close look at the countries that are seen as economic and educational competitors to the UK highlights how they have reshaped and reformed their systems so that SMSC-linked purposes feature prominently in their aims and objectives. The development of new national and state-level curricula around the world reveals a concern for pupils to develop personal and social qualities akin to SMSC in order to prepare them for living and working in the modern world.

Published in partnership with the Culham St Gabriel’s Trust, the Gordon Cook Foundation, and the Pears Foundation, the report warned that the UK’s SMSC provision is at odds with other countries around the world. Whilst UK opportunities decline markedly for post 14 pupils – other countries will typically focus on pupil’s social and emotional development up until the end of their school lives.

Commenting on the report, RSA Director of Education Joe Hallgarten, said:

“In many respects, SMSC is the very lifeblood of schools and schooling – providing young people with a set of characteristics and capabilities that enable them to cope with modern day life. Yet the overriding finding of our investigation is that, just at a time when SMSC may have most to contribute towards both formal attainment and to wider outcomes in and beyond school, it is losing prominence and given neither space nor high value.”

“This absence speaks volumes. It sends a strong message to senior leaders, teachers, parents and children that the attainment of grades is all a school is for. It also fails to recognise that our schools are first and foremost human places – places that should be both stimulating and kind to their constituents, imbued with spirit, and soul.”

The report concluded that Head teachers no longer saw SMSC as an everyday concern or something they needed to monitor alongside educational attainment, with SMSC being moved to the margins of all but the most confident schools.

The investigation found that fear of controversy and parental recrimination is leading to an unhelpful ‘sanitisation’ of schools SMSC provision and superficial relationships between teachers and students. Teachers also reported that many felt untrained and ill-equipped to handle discussions around controversial topics.

However, the investigation did find a growing groundswell of enthusiasm from practitioners and others to rethink, revive and reclaim SMSC in schools. The report recommended that:

  • Everyone involved in education in the UK should designate 2015-16 (the academic year after the next general election)  as a "year of reflection” when:
    • no schools-related policies are announced by the Department for Education (DfE) or any other agency
    • no schools are forced to become academies
    • no Ofsted inspections take place apart from re-inspections of those schools  which have been judged inadequate, and inspections of new Free Schools and academies, and
    • no organisations publish any new policy proposals for schools
  • Ofsted should develop a more consistent and rigorous approach to the inspection of SMSC provision and outcomes
  • The Department for Education should set up a small expert working party to develop clearer guidelines for SMSC in schools
  • The NCTL should ensure that SMSC is more overtly built into any revisions made to the teachers’ standards.
  • School governing bodies should take full ownership of a school’s SMSC policy and where necessary, reshape a school’s overall purpose and ethos
  • School leaders should consider:
    • building SMSC development into reporting systems for parents and students
    • building SMSC into teachers’ performance management systems
    • using pupil premium funding to support the development of SMSC outcomes, linked to strategies for closing attainment gaps
  • Foundations and other funders should support the development of a simple SMSC ‘auditing tool’ which can help schools evaluate their current SMSC provision

Notes to editors
  1. For more information contact RSA Head of Media Luke Robinson on 020 7451 6893 or 07799 737 970 or luke.robinson@rsa.org.uk     
  2. The report, appendices, and school case studies are available at here
  3. SMSC can be defined as: ‘…the training of good human beings, purposeful and wise, themselves with a vision of what it is to be human and the kind of society that makes that possible’ (Hansard, 2006)

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