Thursday, November 24, 2011

Why faith schools are hot

There is a really interesting article in North and South, a New Zealand magazine. Titled “Brand Catholic: A (Not so) Private education,” (Joanna Wane, 40-52, North and South, November, 2011) it explores the reasons for the popularity of faith-based schools.

It notes the irony, that “[Western society] may indeed be an increasingly godless society …. Yet despite that spiritual drift, parents are flocking to faith-based schools, with one Auckland principal describing Catholic education as a “very hot” brand.” (42)

While peculiar to New Zealand (where private schools can chose to integrate with the government, thus qualify for government funding, while retaining a “special character.”), the place of faith-based schools is also a crucial part of mission in other countries, like Australia.

So why are these schools hot?

One suggestion is that this is part of a cultural shift toward a values-based education. “There is a lot of hopelessness around in the world today. In a faith-based school, you can provide meaning and hope in the lives of kids in a way that you can’t in a school that has to be basically secular.” says Pat Lynch from Association of Integrated Schools (44).

A second is that they are a great greenhouse. Says one parent of a Catholic school, “It’s a very nurturing environment and by and large the girls come out with a nicer worldview that from the private schools.” (42).

A third suggestion it that it is because of an underlying pragmatism. They are good value of money. They show quality academic performance indicators, all at a cheaper rate than independent private schools.

Not everyone is convinced that being hot is positive. New Zealand PPTA President Robin Duff expresses concern over the potential for group think and asks whether government money should be spent on potentially sectarian communities.

Yet a contrasting experience is noted by a non-believing teacher at a Catholic school, who shared in the article how comforting it was for her to be in a close-knit community in the days following the Christchurch earthquake (46).

As a missiologist and as someone interested in fresh expressions, the article clarified for me a number of questions around the relationship between faith and community.

  • Are faith-based schools a “soft” expression of Christendom, in which the school becomes a “carrot”, used by churches to enforce church attendance upon families seeking admittance?
  • Are faith-based schools in fact a new form of church – offering formation, care and mission? Is this a logical place for fresh expressions? Or does this simply increase the dangers of group think? And how would inter-generational relationships work in the complexity of being a teenager today (going to church at school with my parent!)
  • How should faith-based schools connect with the ministry of the surrounding local churches? What is the impact for the local church when the school does Easter and Christmas, in term ie before the holidays, perhaps better than the local church?In a network society, should parents who send their children to faith-based schools be taking a break from their local church?

Lots of room for further (post-graduate) research me thinks!

Posted by steve at 02:22 PM


  1. holly’s (my wife) has just been offered a teaching position at a christian school locally and she’s torn between the missiological + sociological stuff that has made us generally talk against our denomination having private schools and the call she has to be a teacher and the reality that out here the det arent offering her any positions (not ft) in the region… personally, we’re not a fan of private schools, but in that sense do we make a call and not work for one if they’re the only ones offering…

    i like your questions but i fear that for the mainline denominational private schools they’re abotu 100 years too late and we’re not talking mission as much as we’re talking about how to get back in touch with the schools after them almost having their way for the last so long. i wont say too much but the amount of burnt out chaplains that have tried turning the tide can attest to this, two mates of mine only in the last year or so have basically left faith based roles in our denominational schools after burning out and having very little support (to the point of some schools acting actively against their roles)

    id love it if we were able to see schools as new expressions of community but many are so entrenched in their history and structure that they are so very far from that altogether

    and dont get me started as someone who went to a faith based school for 3 years as i’m sure they did their darndest to freak me out of the faith than into it (non denominational where “like a thief in the night etc was compulsory bible study material)

    i think this would be a great postgrad thesis, explore the community and missiology inside a number of our schools and then to actually give us some solid information to either support the ownership of such schools or the need to let them go or to radically restructure them…

    Comment by Darren — November 25, 2011 @ 3:13 pm

  2. ‘faith-based schools’ is an interesting phrase. we have plwnty of schools that were a product of Christendom, and in many way still are. what they might be is a different thing, but largely around who owns and shapes the school. for the UCA at least is often has little to do with the denomination. while I haven’t looked at it directly there does seem to be a lot of research about the faith dimension of church schools, although I suspect much less about in what way this is ‘mission’. I’d certainly agree that there doesnt seem to have been an empirical study of UCA schools at least.

    Comment by craig — November 28, 2011 @ 10:52 pm

  3. i think there’s been more study into the amount of cricketers PAC has developed rather than christians/disciples…

    definitely more publicity…


    Comment by Darren — November 30, 2011 @ 3:27 pm

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