Thank you for your time today. I appreciate it’s been a long day for you all.
My name is Catriona Wansbrough and I am principal of St Andrews Christian College. I’m also on the State Council for CSA (Christian Schools Australia).
I have been a principal of 2 different Christian schools for a total of 16 years.
I am here because I am concerned about the misconceptions of Christian schools in the media.
I am concerned about the statement of why we are here today: Exemptions that allow faith- based educational institutions to discriminate against students, teachers and staff.
First of all, we don’t discriminate against students or want to discriminate against any student in any way – especially on the basis of their sexuality.
We have a non-threatening environment and our school is a safe place for everyone.
An active effort is made not to approve or disapprove of any student, because approval is conditional. It says, if you do this, I will like you; I will approve of you.
All students are accepted for who they are- that is, made in the image of God – but also unique in their different personalities, their religions, their cultures, their backgrounds, their gender and their sex. We care for and nurture every student.
Successful education is relational, and that’s how we deal with issues. Research by Relational Schools exhibit that Christian schools actually excel in this area.
When parents are interviewed for enrolment into the school (this is a get-to-know-you interview), I say to parents:
‘We are happy with you, but are you really happy and content with who we are as a school? We are a genuine Christian school where Christ is the foundation of everything that happens in the school. Faith is not compartmentalised. Religion is not a separate subject. Our faith affects every part of our life, our thoughts and our actions, and so it is in a Christian school, where Christ is foundational in every aspect of the College.’
I tell the parents: ‘We love Jesus so much that we will be praying that your child accepts Jesus as Lord in their life and becomes a Christian.’
I then ask: ‘How do you feel about that? Are you still happy to enrol your child at St Andrews?’
I often feel embarrassed for the family I’m interviewing, because I’m so full-on in their face about the Christian focus in the school, but it is better to be clear up front and let parents make an informed choice.
We love all the children whether they are Christian or not. Most young children adopt the faith of their parents, but as children grow, it is up to them to make that choice. Personal faith is a heart decision.
In interviewing prospective parents we also insist that people read and understand our STATEMENT OF FAITH.
This explains what we believe and what we teach at the school. I explain that they don’t have to agree with or believe what we believe. Even though we have a majority of Christians at the school, they don’t have to embrace what we embrace, but they have to understand we don’t change what we believe or teach to suit individuals. If their values and faith are so different to how we worship or how we live, it will be really difficult for the student to cope and it could cause difficulties at home, because there’s a conflict of values between home and school, when school is teaching this and home is teaching that. It becomes really difficult for students.
There is a choice in education! People don’t have to come to our school, but they’re actually coming in droves. We have long waiting lists. For next year, in 2019, we have nearly 200 students on the waiting list for Prep.
There are parents in our society who are desperate for a genuine Christian education for their child, where biblical truth is taught and Christian morals and values are upheld.
Teachers are in loco parentis – The Children Act 1989 states that the teacher is seen as a parent. This is driven by our parents. Parents want teachers to uphold the same values as what they have at home.
I am not sure whether you are aware of this, but there are many Christian families that are moving to authentic Christian schools because they are being discriminated against in public schools. These are families who were committed to public education, but because of programs like Safe Schools and because they’re not able to express their faith freely, they can no longer support public education.
As an educationalist, I find this is wrong! It is polarising our society!
We’re looking at the differences rather than the commonality, in the care for all our children, whoever they are.
To be a genuine Christian school you need committed Christian staff who model and demonstrate the reality of the gospel by the way they live; who are people that love Jesus; who are passionate about education and their area of expertise and specialty.
The employment process is a self-select one. We are up-front in all our information, policies and forms, that it is an inherent requirement to be a committed Christian to teach at our school and to be a staff member of the school, even for our gardener and office staff - because staff model that faith.
Education is not just about head knowledge; it’s whole education and it’s who you are. We have staff who walk-the-talk, not just in their words but in their actions.
For Christian staff working at St Andrews Christian College it’s seen not just as a job but as a vocation. I have many testimonies to support this. You’re all welcome to come to our school and talk with people yourself.
Each year in July, I put out a form to all staff to see their desires and requests for the following year, but I also ask the question: ‘Do you still feel called to be at St Andrews Christian College?’
Also on this form is a clear Statement of Faith that people sign. We just have passionate staff and we have passionate families who desire a Christian education, and we need the freedom to do that!
Threatening the viability of faith-based schools, we believe, is an attack on the basic human rights of people of faith in Australia.
If we take away the right of teachers and staff to teach according to their Christian faith, how can we be really free in this country?
St Andrews Christian College