Spirituality in Schools - what do Ofsted and SIAMS expect? 

Since 1944 schools have been required by law to provide for the spiritual development of pupils. 

In the Ofsted Framework 2022 here, it outlines that schools should make provision for SMSC (Spiritual, Moral, Social and Cultural Education):

The spiritual development of pupils includes developing their:

  • ability to be reflective about their own beliefs (religious or otherwise) and perspective on life;
  • knowledge of, and respect for, different people’s faiths, feelings and values;
  • sense of enjoyment and fascination in learning about themselves, others and the world around them;
  • use of imagination and creativity in their learning;
  • willingness to reflect on their experiences;

During Ofsted inspection, inspectors may gather evidence from anywhere relevant (including RE lessons and assemblies) to evaluate pupils’ spiritual, moral, social and cultural education, personal development and/or behaviour and attitudes.

The 2023 SIAMS framework here sets out the expectation for church schools to meet the ‘spiritual needs of all learners’ through the curriculum by asking:

  • in IQ2 “How is spiritual development an intrinsic part of the curriculum?”
  • and IQ3 asks, “How is collective worship enabling pupils and adults to flourish spiritually?”
    • and furthermore explores, “How do the theologically rooted Christian vision and the Anglican foundation of the school shape worship and spirituality in the school?”
    • and asks “What do pupils and adults understand to be the meaning of spirituality? How does this enhance and enrich collective worship and individuals’ spiritual development?”

The Church of England Vision for Education here sets out a goal to enable all children to flourish and to flourish fully. ‘Life in all its fullness’ means giving emphasis to physical, emotional and intellectual development and also meeting the needs for spiritual, moral, social and cultural development.

There is a clear requirement for the school to have a shared understanding of what is meant by spirituality and spiritual growth. Also, for the provision in school to be planned and progressive and embedded across the school (and not just found in collective worship).

Spirituality – what is it?
The concept of spirituality is difficult to define. Whilst some people, historically, may have linked spirituality with religion, it is in fact something that makes us human, whether or not we are religious.

“Spirituality is like a bird; if you hold it too tightly it chokes; if you hold it too loosely, it flies away.” Rabbi Hugo Gryn.

Each person is unique and therefore will experience spiritual encounter in different ways. Spiritual encounters may be visual, auditory and a sense of something ‘other’ – something ‘beyond the ordinary’. They can happen in both positive experiences of life but also at times of difficulty and despair. Indeed, as The Diocese of Gloucester Education Team have reflected, they can also happen in the everyday times in our lives. When we notice the spiritual opportunities of the everyday (the ‘NOWs’), and when we reflect upon or wonder about life’s ‘WOWs’ (things that are wonderful or awe-inspiring) and ‘OWs’ (things that challenge us or make us sad) we grow spiritually more aware. In these ways, children, young people and adults are learning about life in all its fullness.

The SDBE encourages you to read Interpretations of Spiritual Development in the Classroom here where you will find different ways in which spirituality can be described, defined and explored in schools. Salisbury Diocese’s work with Andrew Rickett on developing Spirituality in Schools is well known nationally and is outlined in this document in Chapter Five.

In essence this definition includes four areas:

Self (one’s understanding of being a unique person)
Others (how empathy, concern, compassion and other values and principles affect relationships; and that each of us is unique and special)
World and/or Beauty (how we see and relate to the physical and creative world – this might be through responses to nature and art, for example)
Beyond (relating to the ‘unanswerable questions’/ the transcendental; considering our responses to experiences that might be ‘outside’ of those that are ‘everyday’)

Key questions for the schools include:

• How does the school’s Christian vision provide opportunities to meet the spiritual needs of learners?
• How does an awareness of spirituality permeate school life?
• What is the impact of this for the learner (and staff and the wider community)?
• How are staff inducted and supported so that they have a shared understanding of spirituality and spiritual development?

What is spiritual development? It is not about becoming ‘more spiritual’ in a way that must be measured but it is about realising or becoming more and more aware of one’s natural, innate spirituality. Schools should provide ways in which children, young people and adults can explore their spirituality in increasingly developed ways.

From the Diocese of Exeter: Spiritual Development is sometimes a slow and gradual process, at other times there might be significant stages of realisation, which are part of the ongoing ‘developing’ process. Unlike the development of a photograph, people don’t reach a finished state of spiritual development, but participate in the ongoing process of spiritual realisation. If spirituality were something which developed or grew in a quantifiable sense, then surely adult would be more spiritual than children. However many would argue that children seem to be far more spiritually aware than adults. Perhaps as a part of growing older, the pressures of life can distract or distort our interests so that as adults, our spiritual awareness is dulled, and we do not ‘realise it’ to the full.
Useful Downloads/Recommended Reading:
• All downloadable resources can be found on our online learning platform here. (You will be required to register before accessing these downloads).
• SMSC Curriculum Examples from Norwich Diocese - SMSC Curriculum Examples
• Liz Mills’ article on Spiritual Development - Spiritual Development WMD
• Theos Think Tank ‘Faith in the Nexus’ research and videos.
• NATRE Spirited Arts Gallery and Annual Competition


Main contacts for further support

Nicola Coupe 

School Improvement Advisor 

Get in touch





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