Bringing it all together: SMSC, PSHE and Citizenship

Rosemary Dewan

Rosemary Dewan is the CEO of the Human Values Foundation which promotes the importance of teaching human values in schools. Since 1995 it has been providing practical, cross-curricular programmes for personal development and behaviour management, integrating SMSC, PSHE education, Citizenship, PLTS and SEAL.

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What can help children and young people develop consistency in their thinking, decision-making and behaviour, especially when they consider and then try to put into practice the range of important topics that are raised during Personal, Social, Health and Economic (PSHE) education, Citizenship lessons and in connection with their Spiritual, Moral, Social and Cultural (SMSC) development?

A simple answer – simultaneously learning to understand and apply VALUES in everyday life, because these are principles that establish standards, act as reference points and empower.

What does this mean for individuals?

It means coaching children and young people, as an integral part of the school curriculum, so that, in conjunction with their parents and carers at home, they are constantly learning to identify values that are important to:

  • themselves – as individuals, who are capable of spiritual, moral, social, intellectual and physical growth and development
  • their relationships – as fundamental to the development and fulfilment of happy and healthy lives and to the good of the community
  • our society – which is shaped by the contributions of a diverse range of people, cultures and heritages, and
  • our environment – as the basis of life and a source of wonder and inspiration that needs to be protected

In bringing different values to the fore, children and young people begin the incremental process of using them in their own decision-making. This engenders in the learners, both a growing sense of achievement and a satisfying feeling of being true to themselves. The practice also helps to cement and integrate personal development work carried out via PSHE education, Citizenship and SMSC sessions.

How does it work in practice?

It means raising awareness of values, bringing them to pupils' attention and drawing on examples during school lessons, whatever the subject, so that children can begin to appreciate how various values and priorities have:

  • shaped the past
  • shaped the present
  • changed over time and can be used to shape the kind of future they want – individually and collectively

At a minimum this means ensuring all staff, preferably with the support of parents and carers, are consistently promoting, modelling and embodying the school’s ethos and articulated values. The real benefits arise when strategies are devised to train all staff so that they recognise opportunities that can serve to develop and promote SMSC in their classrooms and in other contexts. This sparks children’s passion for learning, because they make connections, understand themselves better and begin to see more relevance in what they are being taught.

Our values underpin our choices. The explicit, systematic, child-centred study of values enables pupils to become more conscious of applying them so as to uplift, motivate and inspire themselves, their peers and others with whom they engage. During the process, participants delight in improvements in their wellbeing, behaviour, performance and relationships – and some teachers are surprised to find the extent to which their work is made easier and more pleasurable!

Embracing a values system empowers pupils, strengthening their emotional, social and intellectual skills while also building self-esteem, confidence and resilience. With the resulting positive, enlightened mindsets, children and young people are better able to create visions and goals for themselves and achieve their potential – at school and later on in life. Increasingly they draw on the understanding they are developing and feel more secure, authentic and better informed, especially when it comes to making far-reaching choices in relation to personal, social, health and financial matters. As citizens in the making, they learn to consider their own habits and attitudes and they start to appreciate how beliefs and traditions support their own and other people’s values and behaviours.

Eight steps up a values-based decision making ladder

Below are eight practical and engaging decision-making steps that can be tailored to suit the experience of children and young people. When considering some of the serious topics in relation to spiritual, moral, social and cultural (SMSC) development or during personal, social, health and economic (PSHE) education, they can be followed in order to explore, consider and evaluate alternatives, all the while drawing on pupils’ own strengths, interests and personalities as they strive to arrive at sound, appropriate, optimum decisions that reflect aims, values and priorities, which are important to themselves and others.

  1. Research facts – consider the past, the present and the future
  2. Explore options and possible outcomes – look at positives and negatives
  3. Examine different contexts – home, school, local, national, global, etc
  4. Review – personal and other stakeholders’ hopes, fears, goals, views, etc
  5. Weigh up relevant factors – values, attitudes, beliefs, traditions, etc
  6. Formulate decision alternatives – identify the key factors of each one
  7. Discuss alternatives – re-evaluating earlier information if need be
  8. Decide - and take ownership of your final choices

“MSCs” and evaluating SMSC progress

Collaboration with parents and carers is fundamental to successful SMSC development and values education. A few years ago, when values education research projects were being undertaken in Australian schools, students, teachers and parents found their learning and personal growth was deepened when they reported back on the “Most Significant Changes” or MSCs that had taken place. This practice can help demonstrate SMSC progress today.

A very comprehensive, practical guide on values-centred schools is available at

“Values literacy” is an ever expanding, dynamic toolkit that, with a cross-curricular, whole-school approach, not only equips and informs children and young people throughout their school careers but also as they step up the ladder of life and make transitions into new situations.

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