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National Curriculum

Spiritual and moral development



This guidance is designed to help school headteachers, teachers and other members of the school workforce to reflect on how their work supports students' spiritual and moral development. It may also be informative for school governors and parents who have an interest in working together to create opportunities for spiritual and moral development.

This guidance offers schools:

  • short definitions of spiritual and moral development, related to the aims of the curriculum as a whole

  • help on getting started, through discussion-prompter questions for school staff 

  • examples of spiritual and moral development across the curriculum

  • eight principles of good practice 

  • illustrative case studies

  • links to other documents for further reading




What is spiritual and moral development?

There are many definitions of spiritual and moral development, and the definitions themselves are a source of rich discussion and professional reflection.

Spiritual development may be described as young people gaining personal insights from their experience of learning, enabling them to reflect on the significance of their learning, and to connect it profoundly, creatively and healthily to themselves, other people, society and the environment.

Children who are developing spiritually are likely to be  …

Successful learners, who …

  • are creative, resourceful and able to identify and solve problems

  • have enquiring minds and think for themselves to process information, reason, question and evaluate

  • know about big ideas and events that shape our world

Confident individuals, who …

  • have a sense of self-worth and personal identity

  • relate well to others and form good relationships

  • are self-aware and deal well with their emotions

  • are open to the excitement and inspiration offered by the natural world and human achievements

Responsible citizens, who …

  • have a strong sense of their own place in the world

Moral development may be described as young people gaining a sense of moral values from their experience of learning, enabling them to think and act responsibly, courageously and compassionately towards themselves, other people, society and the environment.

Children who are developing morally are likely to be  ….

Successful learners, who …

  • have enquiring minds and think for themselves to process information, reason, question and evaluate

  • understand how they learn, and learn from their mistakes

  • are able to learn independently and with others

Confident individuals, who …

  • relate well to others and form good relationships

  • have secure values and beliefs, and have principles to distinguish right from wrong

  • take managed risks and stay safe

Responsible citizens, who …

  • are well prepared for life and work

  • are able to work cooperatively with others

  • respect others and act with integrity

  • understand their own and others' cultures and traditions

  • appreciate the benefits of diversity

  • challenge injustice, are committed to human rights and strive to live peaceably with others

  • sustain and improve the environment, locally and globally

  • take account of the needs of present and future generations in the choices they make

  • can change things for the better

The spiritual and moral aspect is important not only as a legal purpose of education but also because of the way it enriches teaching and learning.

'Before I worked in this school, I thought spiritual and moral development just took place in RE lessons. Here it happens in all lessons. You can see the results in the very positive attitudes the students have towards each other.' (Jane, Teaching Assistant)

Getting started

School staff can use the following questions to explore how to recognise and create spiritual and moral development opportunities across the curriculum.

For spiritual development, how well does our school’s curriculum:

  • foster and celebrate attributes such as wonder, wisdom, openness and selflessness?

  • encourage students to consider beliefs and whether there might be some aspects of existence that are difficult to explain?

  • offer opportunities to explore their inner world of creativity and imagination as part of the essence of being human?

For moral development, how well does our school’s curriculum:

  • promote and celebrate positive values such as commitment, generosity, forgiveness and courage?

  • develop skills in moral reasoning and critical, independent thinking?

  • create structured experiences of hearing, speaking and thinking about universal human rights and standards of right and wrong?

  • give students the challenge of serving and acting on behalf of others?


Examples across the curriculum

All learning has an impact on the self, others, society and the environment. There are spiritual and moral aspects to learning in technological, scientific, mathematical and economic subjects, as well as in the personal and social, creative arts, languages and  humanities ones. The concepts and processes of every subject can be a starting-point for exploring significance or for developing values.

Spiritual and moral aspects of learning can often be explored in the context of cross-curriculum dimensions. Schools can use community projects to help develop relationships with different generations, acquire leadership skills and increased self-confidence. They can use media projects to organise broadcasts and forums for controversial issues. Collective worship and assemblies can be used to raise thought-provoking issues through student voice, visitors, celebrations or access to media or ICT-based resources.  Not only through content, but also through teaching and learning approaches, a reflective and responsible attitude to life can be encouraged.


Principles of good practice

Spiritual and moral development is at the heart of community life and building a community. This relates to the school’s ethos as well as how children learn.

The following principles of good practice can apply to all the professionals working in an extended school, all those with a relationship with the school, and to governors. The principles are a shared responsibility and work best when all staff, parents and other stakeholders understand and accept them.

1.      Think process, not product

The spiritual and moral dimension will develop best in young people when the school engages them in a learning process. Schools do not need to worry about finding all the answers, or producing spiritually and morally perfect people. Instead, schools can focus on providing experiences which young people can use in their own growth. For young people, what makes the difference is the experience of having opportunities for discovery, enquiry, reflection, expression and discussion. A study of other people’s experiences can be useful as a stimulus.

2.      Build and maintain stakeholder support

Responsibility for spiritual and moral development is best shared by all the professionals working in an extended school, and all those with a relationship with the school. It is particularly important that the senior leadership team and governors have a good understanding of, and commitment to, the school’s approach. Parents are entitled to clear information about the school’s approach. Schools will wish to reassure parents, whatever their views, that learning about spirituality and morality is an opportunity, not a threat.

3.     Promote wellbeing

There are many profound connections between spirituality, morality and wellbeing. Schools are most likely to succeed when they incorporate spiritual and moral aspects of learning alongside:

  • the five outcomes of Every Child Matters

  • emotional health and personal wellbeing

  • health education

  • healthy school status

  • social and emotional aspects of learning (SEAL)

  • personal, learning and thinking skills

  • whole-school approaches to behaviour.

4.     See connections within and across the whole curriculum

Every part of the curriculum has the potential to be personally relevant to the learner and to yield opportunities for spiritual and moral aspects of learning. Whatever the subject matter is, ask questions about it, explore connections with other subjects and reflect on the significance it has for pupils’ lives. Each subject Importance Statement can be a useful place to start planning.

5.     Be open to diversity

There is no single path or stance for spiritual and moral development. All schools have a responsibility to promote community cohesion. All schools can contribute to fostering reflective, generous-spirited and globally aware young people who can acknowledge and respect diverse ideas.

6.     Listen to children’s questions and narratives

Many good opportunities for reflection come about when young people ask questions or share their experiences. It is important to give young people time for reflection. The adult’s role in this context can be to listen, and to encourage other pupils to see the importance of the question or contribution, as well as eliciting responses.

7.     Use professional judgement

Every professional working with children needs to form his/her own professional judgement about professional boundaries with regard to spiritual and moral issues. There may be times when the appropriate response is to share some personal beliefs or experiences, but at no time should it be obligatory or a right to do so. 

8.     Be clear about what a successful process looks like

From the start, schools are more likely to be successful in providing good opportunities if they take time to be clear about how they will measure successful provision for spiritual and moral development. The range of opportunities offered across the curriculum can be improved by feedback received through pupil voice, parental and stakeholder opinion, lesson observation and staff comment.

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