Recognising excellence in SMSC with the Quality Mark’s virtual verifications

One of the joys of being a verifier for The National SMSC Quality Mark is meeting your staff and pupils, enjoying the ethos of your school, and seeing all the great work you do. So how can a virtual visit possible compare?

The answer is it’s not quite the same, but then again nothing has been quite the same since Covid arrived on the scene! And if we can get through home learning, family celebrations, workouts and choir practices online I have no doubt we can get through a virtual verification too – even if it takes a little more planning.

The pre-visit tasks stay the same: you complete your paperwork and we liaise on the visit. The verifier goes through your self-review tool and looks at any areas for discussion, or points that need clarification or questions. We then have a good look at your website to get an additional feel for your school. There are usually helpful photos as well as information on school websites, and I’ve noticed that there are often short videos that are really helpful too.

If your school is in an area I’m not familiar with, I often arrive a little early so I can walk around and get a feel for how the school sits in the local community. If it’s a virtual visit I can look on Google Maps and Street View to get a feel for where the school is, how pupils travel to school and what the local area looks like. I like finding out about the history of your school too as it gives another insight into what makes your school unique.

We’ll need some links for our virtual visit and we prefer the school to act as host (as they would if it were a face to face visit) so you can invite the people you want us to talk to. The positive thing about virtual visits is that parents and governors don’t have to travel to the school so if they have caring or work duties they can get back to them quickly. The chats with the adults work fine as we’ve all become online meeting experts over the last few months! As groups are small it’s easy to manage discussions even online.

The pupil chats are a little more tricky as pupils need to stay in their year group bubbles, but Raddlebarn Primary in Birmingham got round this in a clever way. They asked me for some questions and then made audio recordings of their children. I selected a few questions for each year group so they all had something different to chat about and the class teachers spent a few minutes with small groups asking the questions. It meant that I didn’t get to see their lovely faces but it’s amazing how much of a sense of the speaker you get from just audio! Alternatively, bring small groups in their different years together for a short, virtual chat. Don’t worry about having every year group represented or it could turn into a bit of a conveyor belt! Two or three different year groups would be enough.

I miss being taken on a tour around the school by the children but that can be done as a short, filmed tour too. I wondered if carrying a tablet or phone around on the tour would work but the verifier might end up feeling a bit seasick! Raddlebarn created a filmed tour and this worked really well. Sijad, the SMSC lead filmed the tour on his phone and cleverly speeded up the film in some places and even added background music so it was less a tour and more of a cinematic experience!

Don’t forget, we don’t need to see every nook and cranny of your school (although I do miss the children’s tours where they want to show us every corridor/ toilet/ weed and painting in the whole school!), we just need to get a feel for what makes you uniquely you. Show us any special areas such as your allotment or forest school, any relevant displays (one or two is fine) and use this as an opportunity to illustrate anything on your self-review tool that you’d like to show off. You don’t need to channel your Stephen Spielberg – just a simple video on your phone is fine and you could add a commentary as you film or film a couple of children.

If you’re sending materials vis Dropbox or WeTransfer you can add in anything you else you want to show although this isn’t a requirement. Perhaps you have some PSHE learning or photos you’d like us to see. This is also the easiest way to share video or audio content too.

So while the virtual visit isn’t quite the same, it really isn’t a second best and if you’re ready for your visit now, don’t feel you have to wait. We’re looking forward to visiting you. Virtually.

Siân Rowland, Verifier, The National SMSC Quality Mark

Siân is a former deputy head teacher and local authority adviser who now works as a freelance PSHE adviser, trainer, and writer. Siân trains new and experienced teachers in all aspects of PSHE as well as behaviour management and leadership skills and is currently writing a PSHE handbook for Jessica Kingsley Publishing. She writes award-winning education resources for clients including the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Ofqual, John Lewis, and Living Streets. She is a passionate believer that well-planned PSHE at the heart of the school curriculum supports and develops lifelong learning and that SMSC plays an integral part in ensuring the whole school community thrives.