Wellbeing: is Spices the answer to happier students?

In this moment of re-evaluation, an approach called Spices could be just what young people need, says Jo Steer

Jo Steer

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As the talk of “catch-up” continues, we know that the only real option is to work with students as they are now. 

Otherwise, we risk adding to the emotional baggage they’re already carrying, which is counterproductive to academic recovery and wellbeing.

And we still have the opportunity to reimagine just what it is that our students need to catch up on, to redefine and broaden what progress actually looks like. 


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In doing so, we might draw inspiration from alternative, holistic approaches, which place wellbeing at the heart of planning and assessment. Let’s take a closer look at one in particular, the Spices model, commonly used within Forest School practice.

What is it?

Spices stands for “social, physical, intellectual, character, emotional and spiritual” development. Across a unit of work, a practitioner will plan opportunities for children to learn, practice, achieve and reflect across some or all of these areas, assessing them against this framework.

The type of tasks depend on the age, ability and the skills of the students in question but they are nothing out of the ordinary. If you’re focusing on social skills, for example, you might start out with structured, turn-taking tasks, and move towards looser activities that strengthen trust, empathy and understanding.

In terms of intellectual development, on the other hand, you might be striving to offer students variety in terms of the differing ways they are asked to think, question, read, record and express themselves.

Aren’t we already doing this?

Yes and no. While this isn’t worlds away from the good practice happening in classrooms, across ages, there’s a key difference in that the intellectual component – probably closest to a measure of academic success – isn’t prioritised above all else in the Spices model. Soft skills aren’t an afterthought, they’re equal in value to subject skills.

What does this look like in terms of assessment?

Generally, Forest School leaders will score children individually, from 1 to 5, against a series of scales covering student involvement, behaviour, wellbeing and emotional intelligence. Try an image search of “Forest School Pupil Observation” and you’ll see what I mean.

If your teaching focus is on social skills, for instance, you’d be hoping to see children moving up the social skills scale; perhaps displaying an improvement in body language, tone of voice and overall willingness to work collaboratively.

How does this translate to standard classroom practice?

You can use the Spices framework as a basis for discussion around planning. Take the character strand, for example. You might ask: how do we teach and support resilience across school? What does it look like when someone is working towards/achieving/above expectations? How can we break this down into measurable, achievable layers? How can we make this visible to children, staff and parents, without asking too much of staff?

All in all, it doesn’t matter whether you’re drawing from Spices or Seal (social and emotional aspects of learning), SMSC (spiritual, moral, social and cultural development) or PSHE (personal, social, health and economic education). What matters is that children are given a measure of success outside the realm of pure academics.

Because, as 76 per cent of parents agree, we need to measure young people’s wellbeing if we are going to improve it.

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Jo Steer

Jo Steer is a former leader now working with schools as a wellbeing consultant

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