Category CSE Magazine
Title Ten Tests of a Christian School: British Parents Speak Out
Author/s British Parents
Preview Biblical principles should be applied in such a way that they are learned and absorbed, being part of the fabric of everyday school life.

Note from the editors: The worldwide community of Christian schools is quite diverse, but we share much in common. In the United Kingdom, some independent schools that seek to be distinctively Christian are part of TISCA, the Independent Schools Christian Alliance ( ACSI thanks TISCA for allowing CSE to adapt an article from their website so that we can see the "ties that bind."

TISCA wrote to 40 parents, asking them to identify the factors that had influenced them, as Christian parents, in their selection of an independent Christian school: "What would you like heads to know about the issues that you consider important from a Christian point of view? What features of a school do you value, and which others would you like to see developed?" The issues they raised, and their responses to those issues, are quoted below. The 10 "tests" emerged from parents' responses. Each paragraph represents a separate response.

1. Does the school recognize that, ultimately, parents are responsible to God for the education of their children, but may share that responsibility with the school, placing it in loco parentis?

Of all the decisions we have made as a married couple, choosing the right school for our children was certainly one of the most important. Parents need to know that, when they leave their children with a Christian school, they trust it to be the Christian influence that they would wish to be themselves.... They trust the school to communicate with them and form a partnership with them. We believe that our children's development is first and foremost our responsibility, and we want to work in partnership with the school. While we want our children to have a broad experience of life, we feel happier with a school that is in tune with our values. Will the school reinforce the spiritual and moral values we have tried to teach our children in the early years? Will our values be reinforced during school hours?

2. Are gospel values implicit in every part of the school's life? To what extent is the school a Christian community?

A firm foundation of Christian belief should affect the entire ethos of the school. Christian values should be interpreted actively into the school's practices: Christian clubs; prayer groups for parents, staff, and pupils; opportunities for service and sharing the gospel. And it should all be fun! Behavioural boundaries within the school should be drawn from Christian values and morals. Most important is a spiritual climate that allows all these areas to develop. The value of adult role models is an especially important one. Faith that is real, and seen in action, is a powerful tool. Holding all these things in balance is crucial for the head and the staff team. The boys are prepared for the outside world, not just for academic achievement; they are ready to be caring, responsible individuals who can help to make the world a better place. The content of the library and the pictures on the study walls were an unspoken testimony to the ethos of the school. Our children are told that they are a creation of God, that He loves them, and that they are special to Him. No wonder they are confident and able to learn! They are implicitly taught that at the heart of everything we do, a Christian faith should be the foundation. We looked for a school that was a community that values individuals for themselves, and not their status or abilities. It should foster a sense of community. The school community is structured to reflect the teaching of the Body of Christ, in which each member is vital to the well-being of the whole academic and domestic staff as well as of the young people. There is an opportunity to live and work with contemporaries from other countries and other church backgrounds. The school should prepare students for life as Christians outside the familiar and supportive community. I would like to see Christian principles applied in every area of school life: the way pupils are taught, corrected, and disciplined. In such an atmosphere pupils are encouraged to develop a strong moral conscience and accountability to others. Biblical principles should be applied in such a way that they are learned and absorbed, being part of the fabric of everyday school life, rather than just being learned in an intellectual manner in assemblies or religious education lessons.

3. A Christian school should develop a child's potential in every way, not just academically.

We looked for a school that has a successful academic record, but not one that puts academic achievement above all else. I would not choose a school if its educational record were poor. However, I would look for a school that placed emphasis on the whole person and the intrinsic value of the individual, offering a broad, imaginative, and relevant education, underpinned by Christian values and principles. I object to schools that see pupils in terms of a large number of As or A*s. Every child has some skill, strength, or trait of character to offer, whether in the academic arena, sport, drama, art, etc. Those abilities should be allowed to blossom in a caring, pastoral, encouraging, supportive, and nurturing environment.

4. Peer group pressure is powerful: is it positive?

The influence of the peer group is so strong in the teenage years that it is important to make it possible for the child to have as many Christian friends as possible. Particularly at secondary level, youngsters need adults other than their parents to turn to sometimes. They need someone in the school community they can trust. One of the key issues for developing teenagers is how to cope with peer pressure and come to understand their own identity and value.

5. Does the head exercise Christian leadership?

Are the senior management team and staff committed to the head's vision? It's essential that those in charge of the school are 100 percent committed to a definite Christian approach that won't be swayed by the standards of the day.... The head's personal witness and attention to detail is fundamental to [the school's] success and high standards. [The head administrator] has chosen a well-motivated staff whose Christian principles support the school's ethos. His wife adds an enormous amount: they are a wonderful team. We are delighted to see how various members of staff live out their faith in the way that they communicate and interact with the boys. The emphasis on the boys treating each other in a Christian way is tangible, and encouraged under the leadership of the head. [In choosing a school, we consider] the reaction of the head to straight Christian questions. Do the board and staff meet to pray together over educational and school issues? Senior staff who influence policy need to be chosen for more than teaching skills, but for character and attitudes in line with our Lord's.

6. Does the prospectus genuinely reflect the nature of the school?

Spin has no place here. The prospectus does need to be honest about the Christian nature of the school. We received several prospectuses from prominent UK prep schools, but ... when it came to spiritual values there seemed to be an overwhelming attitude of compromise and a keenness to accommodate all faiths without holding fast to any particular one. It seemed that the key issue was not to offend anyone.... X's prospectus read differently. It was quite obvious that this was a school based on spiritual values rather than worldly ones. The emphasis was not just on facilities and achievements, but on encouraging the boys to develop their relationship with God through Jesus Christ. If you are determined to lead a Christian school, then please be prepared to say so. Tell everyone why you consider the Christian faith to be important in education. This needs to be done constantly; the prospectus is a good place to begin.

7. Do assemblies, chapel, and the Christian Union (preferably student-led) make explicit the Christian nature of the school?

Assemblies [in many schools] are stagnant and dreary. The Christian message should be put across in a varied, dynamic, and exciting way for the pupils, with pupil participation. There should be opportunities for Christian pupils to meet and explore their faith in a modern, contemporary way that is suited to the twenty-first-century child. We looked for a school where Christian worship and activities are actively encouraged and where there is an awareness of the spiritual needs of the individual. We value an active and pupil-led Christian Union [CU] as well as small Bible-study groups led by adults. Time for CU is time-tabled and protected, but there is no pressure on individuals to attend. Assemblies should communicate the Christian message in a modern and attractive way. Are the children really encouraged to explore the spiritual side of their personality during assembly, or is it just an excuse to have a humanistic look at some moral issue? We also look for links with Christian camps-an invaluable way to reinforce faith and to have something to take their friends to.

8. Does a Christian worldview undergird every curricular subject taught?

Subjects should be taught from a Christian perspective by highly qualified, committed, and enthusiastic teachers. This is far more important than state-of-the-art equipment and facilities. Our young people need to be prepared to cope with the difficult realities of modern-day life: drugs, sex, AIDS, homosexuality, materialism, sex before marriage, teenage pregnancy, abortion, etc. They will all too quickly have to leave the security of a Christian home/school, and will have to live their lives in a harsh and hostile world where difficult choices have to be made. There has to be a consistent application of Christian values to every aspect of school life. This should not be confined to the "religious bits." Young people should be taught to question contemporary values and develop a Christian mind-set.

9. How seriously does the school value its links with parents?

Good communication with parents should be established to ensure that the aims of the school are in line with and can be backed up by the home-and vice versa. Where are the spiritual connections with parents? How can parents contribute to school life? How can they pray for the school by meeting together?

10. "By their fruits you will know them": do pupils leave with a readiness to see life, not in terms of gain but of service?

They will become focused individuals who realize they have a responsibility to share their skills and knowledge for the greater good. There is nothing sadder than an individual who has been given the best education but at the end of school days feels no motivation or vocation. There is no more crucial work in God's kingdom than preparing youngsters who will be influential in their chosen field, and helping them become disciples and workers in the vineyard.

Is the school outward-looking towards the community? It is good to have opportunities to have friends from other cultures. We looked for a school that encourages moral integrity and produces strong leaders. Careers advice should reflect the spiritual dimension by asking, "What can I give?" rather than "What can I get?" 

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