‘Living and breathing’: Breadth and Depth in SMSC Education

SMSC education enables schools to genuinely equip students for the wider world.

At Kingswood, our mission is to develop students who have both first-rate qualifications and as well as the exceptional character; global and cultural awareness; and positive memories of school to enable them to go on to lead happy and successful lives. This cannot be achieved as a one off lesson, or through an occasional assembly, but needs to be embedded in teaching, in our environment and in the culture of our Academy.

An essential part of an SMSC education, is having shared values that ‘generate principles that guide our action and thought’ (Talbot, 2000). Kingswood Academy is built on 6 key drivers: i) highest expectations, ii) never give up, iii) everyone is valued, iv) value feedback, v) no excuses, and vi) outstanding learning. We have a saying that we ‘live and breathe’ our key drivers. These are the six values that guide the actions and interactions of our staff and students, day in, day out. For us this is critical.

Shared values mean nothing unless they are highlighted, discussed and reflected upon throughout the day.

We build in opportunities to utilise these values through our reward system and our meeting minutes to keep them at the centre of our culture, meaning that staff and students are unified. Once we had established our shared values and a shared goal, our school has been able to garner momentum to create students who will not only go on to achieve first rate qualifications, but to live happy and successful lives.

The SMSC Quality Mark’s audit tool was an opportunity for us to reflect upon the extent to which our values are embedded within our culture. The process was both incisive, and wide reaching. It provided the opportunity to celebrate the aspects of our SMSC curriculum that provide development opportunities for students, as well as highlight areas where there were further opportunities to develop our provision.

In order to truly ‘live and breathe’ these values, students needed to have the opportunity to exercise these skills both inside and out of the classroom. As an Academy, we had already started the process of providing this. Part of our mission is to develop exceptional character in students. We run a Character Education programme, led by our Character Coach Kevin Mincher. Every year group follows a specific programme of study that focuses on the specific character skills needed to succeed. The weekly sessions develop young people’s character skills such as resilience, communication and networking. As well as focusing on their wellbeing, they study modules on sleep and exercise too. Students are also expected to set their own goals and track these throughout the year. Students also gain an appreciation of why these skills are important to their success beyond their time at school.

At Kingswood, we believe that qualifications will get you an interview, but your character will get you the job.

This isn’t just a saying, but is driven by a specific and embedded programme, that is delivered by staff who value the development of character and enthuse students to do the same. Furthermore, opportunities for students to develop these character skills are identified and promoted across all subject areas. Like the key drivers – for the character programme to be successful – it must be rooted across the curriculum.

We therefore also aim to develop students’ global and cultural awareness through our enrichment and wellbeing programme, as well as our Experience Passport. For true confidence and success, we believe that core subject content must be supplemented with wider-reaching knowledge and experiences that are not necessarily guaranteed at home. Our enrichment programme offers a range of activities before, during and after school that are free and open to all students. Clubs offered range from Maths Strategy to Warhammer, from Photography to Classics: we want all students to have the opportunity to find a hobby outside of the classroom.

Wellbeing weeks are focused on promoting students’ understanding of how the mind and body work and include workshops such as ‘The Science of Happiness’, ‘Dog Therapy’ and ‘Healthy Smoothies.’ These weeks provide students with explanations and solutions for stress and anxiety to prepare them for life beyond the academy, rather than simply being quick fix solutions. Our Experience Passport challenges students to take on cultural challenges in order to collate points. Experiences range from attending a religious place of worship, to running 5km, seeing a live theatre performance or visiting London. This passport is intentionally challenging; we want to push students out of their comfort zone, but equally the academy provides the opportunity for students to achieve points by running free events within the school too. Students are also rewarded for their participation in our celebration events and by wearing their ‘points’ badges on their blazers.

Through the SMSC audit process it became apparent that offering these opportunities is only beneficial to the SMSC development of students if they are focused and embedded within the culture of the school.

Students do not develop their cultural awareness with a one-off visit to an art gallery, but by building frequent and purposeful opportunities for doing this and by making cultural development part of the ‘norm’. The process of the audit, and subsequent discussion with the SMSC Quality Mark verifier rigorously unpicked how purposeful our SMSC provision was, and raised valuable opportunities for us to develop further. The assessor was solution-focused and aided us in exploring possibilities for the expansion of SMSC at Kingswood.

After the consultation, the following areas arose: 1) Students were able to develop their cultural awareness, but these opportunities were UK rather than global. 2) Our Academic Mentor programme covered SMSC content, but how could we guarantee the depth and quality of this provision? 3) Leadership opportunities are available at the Academy, but do all students have access to all opportunities? Having highlighted these areas, we were then able to put purposeful and genuine solutions in place.

We appointed an International Partnerships Co-ordinator who has established a partnership with the DAV School in India and created an enrichment programme to support students’ engagement with this. We have utilised the Academic Mentor Structure to ensure that every student has leadership opportunities: all students have delivered a Votes for School debate session to their group, all students participate in presentations to SLT and all students have participated in the 7 Billion Ideas programme. With a simple restructuring of our approach, we have increased the leadership participation of students significantly.

Finally, to embed quality delivery of SMSC, we have provided staff with CPD and drop-in support, with a focus on both supporting their understanding of SMSC and to maximise the opportunities that arise within their lessons. Putting these actions in place before the verification visit was significant, and elevated the engagement of both staff and students in our SMSC offer. The visit itself provided further opportunity to showcase and develop our provision. Our verifier, John Rees met with students, parents and governors, as well as visited lessons. The assessment was thorough and again ensured that SMSC was deep-rooted in our culture. But this development is continuously evolving, and enabled us to further highlight aspects that could provide further opportunities for our students. Already we are focused on developing our outdoor learning provision with an Allotment Club and an Academy Farm, as well as further developing our engagement with the local community.

The Young Citizens SMSC self-review tool, consultation and verification enabled us to continue to push what is possible in order to develop the exceptional character, and global and cultural awareness of our students. For us SMSC is not about add-ons, posters or drop-down days. It is about the breadth and depth of opportunities students have to demonstrate and develop their values. The SMSC Quality Mark process allowed us to ask ourselves: Do we truly live and breathe our key drivers, day in day out? And do we provide all students the opportunity to live and breathe these values too?

The following article was written by an Assistant Vice Principal at Kingswood October 2020 and was shared with verifier John Rees.