What to expect from your verification visit
While the National SMSC Quality Mark is very much about self-review and self-assessment, it’s important that the learning is quality assured and that’s why a verification visit is part of the Quality Mark process.
Schools used to being inspected sometimes worry about this aspect. The questions I get asked the most as a verifier is, ‘what happens on the visit?’ followed quickly by, ‘what evidence do I need to present?’ So this blog post should help answer some of those questions and set your mind at ease if you have a Quality Mark verification visit coming up.
Who are the verifiers?
We’re all experienced educators who have spent years working in schools and most of us are experienced senior leaders. We all have an interest in SMSC, PSHE and Citizenship and we know and understand how schools tick. We visit a lot of them! While we’re with you, you can ask us questions about next steps and pick our brains on any aspect of the Quality Mark. We’re there to support you, not to catch you out and the visit is a celebratory event of all the hard work that you’ve put into your SMSC provision.
So why verify?
While the process is about schools reflecting on their SMSC journey it’s also a chance to review, evaluate and plan next steps. This ensures that SMSC is at the heart of the school and the visit is a key part of this process. Fellow verifier, John Rees, reminds us that:
‘It sometimes isn’t until schools reflect on the extraordinary range of opportunities and activities they provide, that they realise just how much they do, and how frequently it is done. In the busy lives of teachers, three or four years can slip by and scarcely be noticed. Some of the golden moments that we readily recall, can suddenly be a few years ago and although they may remain fresh in the mind of the teacher, many of the staff, and three quarters of the children may have change. The verification process gives opportunities to recapture some aspects of recent history and can help teachers refocus on similar things they would wish to give their current cohorts.’
Schools tell us that the process is helpful in nailing down the aspects of SMSC that are really working, while also helping put the spotlight on areas for development.
What happens on the day?
We send you a suggested template for the visit – which is scheduled to last half the school day. We love a tour led by pupils as it helps us get to the heart of what your school is all about. Verifier Mal Krishnasamy agrees with the importance of the pupil-led tour:
‘The best part of the visit for me is meeting the children and them telling me what they love most about the school. You really get a sense of community, inclusion and care.’
I’ve been on tours led by two pupils and tours where there were twenty of us trailing around the school corridors. I’ve even been on a tour led by three pupils that suddenly turned into four when we realised we had picked up an extra body who fancied a bit of time away from his classroom! Tour leaders show us what is important to them – whether that’s an outdoor space, the new library or the painting their little brother in nursery and we can chat as we go around. Secondary schools students have the opportunity to talk to us about daily life at school and while we don’t need to see every corner of the school, a thorough overview of key areas is helpful.
I love hearing about the different schemes, initiatives and ideas that make each school so unique in addressing the needs of its school community.
We also like to chat to other stakeholder groups in the school including a range of pupils, some parents and maybe a governor or two. We’ve chatted to faith leaders, site managers and play leaders so the list is up to you as long as it’s a group that represents the SMSC learning that goes on in your school.
On a practical level, it helps to have a quiet room or area to do this to not only put everyone at ease, but to ensure confidentiality and a bit if privacy away from the hustle and bustle of the school day. We are quite probing about SMSC so we can get a strong sense of your school but again, it’s a discussion rather than an interview. Parents and carers in particular often relish the chance to talk about their experiences and the difference a supportive school environment has made for their children.
Other activities on our visit could include taking part in a lesson or assembly, club, playtime, lunchtime or even a school fair. This is your chance to show us what you do.
What evidence do we need to see?
The emphasis is very much on the self-review aspect so you don’t need to present us with mountains of folders and boxes of evidence. If you have a folder as part of your role as SMSC lead then do bring it along, but don’t worry about creating one if not. Teachers have quite enough paperwork to do without us creating more! The evidence should be in the people, the school space and the relationships around school. I often say that I can tell a lot about a school just from the first few moments of arrival at the front desk. All life happens there!
It does help if you have the completed Quality Mark’s self-review tool printed out (or on a laptop/device if you want to save paper) so we can look through it together and discuss your SMSC journey. Before our visit we will have scrutinised your self-assessment and may have questions to clarify or discussion points to talk about.
‘The verification visit is not an inspection; it is not there to catch people out or find out what they are not doing – so the visit does not require vast amounts of evidence. We take schools on professional trust.‘
What happens next?
We then need some time to talk through the requirements with the SMSC lead and check we understand the the comments on the school’s completed self-review tool. So at the end of the visit we’ll talk to the SMSC lead and head teacher or principal and confirm the school’s level of award with them. Shortly thereafter you’ll receive a short report following confirmation with the Quality Assurance lead at Young Citizens and will then receive the certificate and logo.
We love sharing really great practice so sometimes we’ll ask you to share your achievements with your local school community to help run CPD. We might share a snippet from the report on social media and encourage you to celebrate your hard work with the whole school community too.
We look forward to hearing about your SMSC progress, and please don’t hesitate to get in touch if you have any questions.
Siân Rowland – National SMSC Quality Mark Verifier
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.