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Give the spiritual a fair hearing

Stephen Jones brings welcome attention to the forthcoming guidance on spiritual, moral, social and cultural (SMSC) development ("Resurrection of moral and spiritual agenda is hard to believe in", January 15). But I fear his reflections generate more heat than light.

While we can always learn from the past, the fact is that old approaches, such as liberal studies, never really worked because they rarely got the support they deserved. It would be a shame if we set a downbeat tone for the prospects of SMSC in the future, given the almost universally accepted understanding that further education students should have access to a curriculum that goes beyond their specialism and points to both their inner soul and the external world.

Mr Jones highlights the tricky business of working with concepts such as "spiritual development". I would suggest that the term is not so much a box of "linguistic frogs" but more like a box of salamanders: their darting to and fro might dizzy us at first, but with a little effort we can get hold of one. No matter how overlapping and fuzzy the final definitions of SMSC development may turn out to be, no one can accuse them of being trivial.

What concerns me more than a lack of linguistic imagination or faith in FE staff to adapt their skills set and pedagogy is the implication of Mr Jones's view that SMSC development could be the next "big thing" in FE. Does anybody really need reminding that the acronym has long been part of Ofsted's framework for college assessment? Such amnesia can only embolden those who think that the need for guidance in this area is long overdue. I would urge everyone to give it a fair hearing and set the disappointments of the past to one side.

Rev Dr John Breadon, Churches' national adviser in FE.

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