The importance of SMSC learning during COVID-19

If you are a teacher diligently setting home learning whilst juggling the care of mixed aged key worker children (and/or your own), understandably you probably haven’t spent a lot of time focusing on your pupils’ Spiritual, Moral, Social and Cultural (SMSC) learning. Similarly, millions of parents around the country (and indeed the world) are doing their best to try ensure that their children keep up their core academic learning during this period of lockdown. In doing this we risk missing some of the many important, and (hopefully!) ‘once in a century’ opportunities that living through this pandemic offers for developing our children’s SMSC learning.


Spiritual, Cultural, Social and Moral education is woven into the very fabric of our schools and other places of learning. When inspecting, Ofsted will look specifically at the ways in which we help our learners’ discover their interests and talents, how effectively we build their resilience, how well they understand why and how to keep themselves physically and mentally healthy and how prepared they are for life in modern Britain – although what ‘modern Britain’ is going to look like, no one is yet too sure. Like Ofsted, as adults we know only too well that whilst keeping on top of academic learning is important, mastering the above skills is absolutely crucial to enable children and young people to face the challenges of ‘the new normal’.


With the majority of children and young people now learning from home we need to ensure that we find creative ways of encouraging them to use this time to explore their spiritual, moral, social and cultural learning. Let’s consider what that could look like.

Spiritual education involves the growth of children’s sense of self, their unique potential, their strengths and areas for development, and their will to achieve. Living through times like this makes us all more aware of our own mortality - and helps us appreciate who and what we value in life. Encourage your pupils to take the time to plant a seed and watch it grow, to look back through photos of themselves as a younger child or have them create a collage of everything that gives them hope at the moment. Pupils have more time to learn to meditate, take up yoga or practise mindfulness – great for reducing anxiety and helping us all feel in control. A core part of ‘regular’ teaching would include helping all pupils understand and mark key religious events and since lockdown pupils will have observed Pesach, Easter and Ramadan whilst social distancing. Make sure that you continue to mark and share these important spiritual events with pupils from every and no religion. Challenge your students to make unleavened bread, explore how Easter is celebrated around the world or create a recipe for Iftar. With older pupils you can explore how our religious festivals have changed since social distancing and what the impact of these changes are, and pupils of all ages and faiths can express their spirituality by writing a prayer, a gratitude or a meditation to help during these times.


Moral education is concerned with questions of intention, motive and attitude. The decision taken by the majority of people to socially isolate themselves and follow government advice to ‘stay at home’ is undoubtedly a moral rather than a legal decision. Even the youngest children are being taught that simple actions like washing your hands regularly can have huge benefits not only for themselves, but for their families and the wider community. Older children can be supported to consider the trade-off between our human rights and our national wellbeing and look in more detail at the implications of the coronavirus act 2020.


Social education involves the growth of children’s ability to thrive in and contribute to the wider world. It is concerned with the development of interpersonal skills and the ability to interact with a variety of different people. This may, at first, seem challenging during these times of social distancing but never has it been more important to feel connected. Encourage your pupils to think about their local communities – what has happened locally as a response to the coronavirus – do neighbours talk more or less, do communities come out to clap for our carers, are people helping vulnerable or self-isolating people, have your neighbours put up rainbows or teddy bears in their windows? And how can children engage with their communities and make a difference when they are stuck at home?


Finally, cultural education is concerned with the value and richness of cultural diversity here and in the wider world, and how this influences individuals and society. Challenge your students to go sight-seeing from the comfort of their own homes – will they decide to visit the spectacular Sistine Chapel in the Vatican or the uber-cool Guggenheim Museum in New York? How about tuning in to a performance by the Royal Opera House in London or the Sydney Opera House? Are they learning about their own culture and heritage – perhaps by picking up traditional recipes or listening to stories whilst spending more time with their family? And like many of us, with the extra time on their hands can they learn to play a favourite song on a new instrument (or a new song on a favourite instrument) or spend some time creating art? In many ways, despite not being able to venture far from our front doors, the world has never been more accessible.


So – whilst the future seems a little unclear for all of us, one thing that we do know is that for children and young people to thrive in the future they will need to be aware of their own, and others’, spirituality, to have opportunities to explore and practise human virtues, to be connected to their communities and to understand and celebrate diversity. SMSC provides us all with that vital learning – let’s make sure it isn’t forgotten.

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