Transformational Education – or Not?

Christian schools play a significant role in Australian society. My interest is in the effectiveness of Christian schooling, a topic to which I have devoted my doctoral studies. Specifically I want to appraise whether member schools of Christian Schools Australia (CSA) – an umbrella organisation supporting church based schools across the nation – are achieving their mission. I have been involved in Christian education for over 30 years and am committed to the ministry of Christian schooling.

Christian Schools Australia (CSA): Background

Member schools of CSA are shaped by a Christian worldview founded on a conservative traditional view of the Bible and its metanarrative – namely that belief in God and issues of faith are integral to the education and learning experience of students. The mission of member schools of CSA, is “the spiritual, educational, emotional, social and physical development of every child in a holistic way”. In such Christian learning communities, students are encouraged to “grow up into Christ” and “learn to live as responsive disciples of Jesus Christ.”

Christian schools then aim not simply to teach an intellectual knowledge of Christian doctrine to students but develop in them an integrated biblical worldview that dynamically informs life’s experiences.

As churches were challenged by the biblical principles on which Christian education is based they caught the vision to see schools as a positive function of the church in its ministry in the world. CSA schools are generally sponsored by Protestant churches viz. Baptist, Brethren and Pentecostal with Boards appointed to give oversight and policy directions to schools.

Parents who send their children to such schools are often expected to be Christians themselves or at least support and accept the ethos of the school. Staff are to be committed Christians, be well-trained and competent and see teaching in Christian schools as a ministry of service and more than just a profession. Curriculum in CSA schools is based on State and National education documents but developed by teachers to reflect a Christian world view.

David Magill, one of the founders of Christian Community Schools (CCS), the original organisation of CSA, wrote that:

A Christian school is not just a school run by Christians, a church copy of a State school. It is a school based on biblical principles of training, discipline and growth to maturity, where all learning is focused on Jesus Christ and integrated with the Bible. It is a school that seeks to train the whole person – body, mind and spirit – so that each child will grow up into Jesus Christ in all things, and be adequately prepared for life in the world and for eternity. It aims to give children a Christian world view that will enable them to live work and witness in the world without being part of it.

Christian schools were at one time the fastest growing school sector in Australia. Although this is no longer the case, Christian schools still continue to educate a significant percentage of students. In 2014, government schools educated 65% of all students, Catholic schools educated 35% of all students and 14% of students went to Independent Schools – which, in Australia, overwhelmingly means Christian schools.

Why are families opting to go to Christian schools? For most it is because of the values, discipline and security that their children receive at such schools rather than because of faith formation, but it must be added that families are not scared off by faith formation.

There are many Christian schools who are doing great things and studies have shown that they are: managed well, growing and building, educating well, and graduating students with excellent academic results. I am aware of many great stories of students growing up, graduating from school and living out daily their Christian faith. There are other stories of students who upon graduating leave behind the principles and values of their school as easily as they leave behind their uniforms.

Exploring the Effectiveness of Christian Schools

So, how effective are Christian schools? The purpose of my doctoral research is to appraise whether CSA member schools act in accord with their declared intent as a movement and are achieving their aim of developing in students a biblical worldview that dynamically informs life’s experiences.

Although Christian schools have been operating in Australia for more than three decades there still needs to be a clearly defined history and explanation of the nature of these schools. Generally an understanding of the growth of these schools has been clouded by a lack of scholarly research. My study seeks to address this and begin to close the knowledge gap a little.

To achieve this I am going to initially research the founding documents for CSA member schools to define authentic Christian education and identify the unique features of these schools. Then, in order to appraise their effectiveness I am going to visit a number of schools to find out if the original intent of the school has changed over time and see if the Christian ethos of the school informs educational practice. Finally I intend to survey and interview past students to determine if past students of the schools continue to live out the values and principles of the school.

I trust the conclusions and insights gained from this study will inform and assist future policy makers in understanding the impact of Christian schooling.

Conclusion

While I am yet to find out the results from my research, this topic is something that merits continued discussion and thought. Christians and non-Christians alike have placed much stock in faith-based education, over the years. The long-term effectiveness of Christian schools is therefore of relevance to a wide group of people. I hope this article will spark interest and conversation on this topic.

 

About the Author: Stephen Brinton studied for three years at theological college prior to training as a primary teacher in Queensland and then as a teacher-librarian. Teaching became his ministry when he was called into Christian schooling, a ministry that has seen him as a curriculum officer, principal, head of primary and teacher-librarian in a number of Christian schools. For the past four years, Stephen has been an adjunct lecturer in Christian tertiary education. Currently he is the Program Director: Bachelor of Education/Diploma of Arts at Alphacrucis College and doing a PhD at the University of Newcastle researching the effectiveness of Christian schooling entitled “Transformational Education – or not!”