Closing the gap between society and increasing curriculum demands

Having been a teacher for well over a decade, I have spent many moments - too many moments - wondering how we, as educators, can close the gap between an ever-changing society and the increasing curriculum demands on our pupils. In October 2017, I found the answer.

I have always been a passionate advocate of the Spiritual, Moral, Social, Cultural (SMSC) development of my pupils. I have spent years trying to get teachers to understand that SMSC is the foundation of all learning rather than a ‘fluffy’ add on we do for enjoyment. I see SMSC as being rather like a journey up a mountain. The summit and pinnacle is well rounded pupils who will be successful and happy in a complex and demanding world.

SMSC learning is the journey upwards. We teach children to navigate the dangerous paths, jump the crevices, pick themselves up when they fall and plan the right route. SMSC gives children the skills to deal with anything that might happen as they continue their journey through life, or up their own Everest. 

It gave me a clear direction

When I saw the SMSC Quality Mark I was immediately ‘hooked’. This was what I’d been looking for, for my school for some time. We are a typical school in many respects. We’d spent a long time focusing on getting maths and English right and now needed to focus on the process of developing successful learners rather than successful subjects. The Quality Mark felt empowering to me as my school's SMSC lead. It gave me a clear direction. 

The self-review tool is brilliant. It was like a map that give me the understanding of where we’d been, and where we needed to go. The initial results from it were disappointing, but that didn’t dampen my spirits. It was just a starting point – a baseline to move on from.

Low points and high points came over the next few months. At times it was difficult to inspire staff. I work in a small school where staff wear multiple hats so adding to workload wasn’t going to be easy. I quickly realised it was about working smarter and differently rather than working harder. The self-review tool kept me focused and meant staff could easily see our progress and it was a fantastic way for our SMSC governor to become an active part of the process. She knew exactly the steps we had taken and what should come next. She could track our progress and could therefore ask the right questions to support us in our journey.

The SMSC Quality Mark has helped us improve our school in so many ways

It is hard now to think back and see how far my school has come. If you step inside my little school now, the first thing that will hit you is SMSC. It is evident in every pupil, every member of staff and in every nook and cranny that we have the ‘whole child’ at the centre of every decision we make and every experience we give them. The SMSC Quality Mark has helped us improve our school in so many ways and this is so obvious when you step inside our building. It may have taken us some time given our starting point, but boy was it worth the wait! 

So what would I say to you as school leaders, considering doing the SMSC Quality Mark? I would simply ask two questions in return. Do you want happy, confident, well-rounded pupils who understand the world around them? Do you want your children to play an active part in their community? If your answer is 'yes' to either of these, then I would wholeheartedly tell you to go ahead with it. It hasn’t been an easy journey, but having seen how far my school has come I will never regret the decision or the work involved. 

Building pride in our community

I felt incredibly proud during our school's verification visit – proud of my school community and how far we had come and especially proud of our wonderful pupils. The whole process has been wonderfully supportive which came as such a pleasant surprise. Young Citizens and their verifier could not have been more supportive. In July 2019 we were successful with being awarded 'silver' status. It was a wonderful way to end the school year, but I also can’t wait to see where our journey will take us next.

As we open our gates for a new term with a new cohort of mountaineers, we are confident in the knowledge that our route will lead our young learners to the summit. And, as a consequence, we will have a happier, safer and more inclusive society.

Beth Gascoigne-Owens is a teacher and SMSC Coordinator at Amble First School in Northumberland.

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