Christian Schools: Open or Closed Enrolment?

To open or close your enrolments? That is the question.

This particular question in fact has sparked debate for many years among educational institutions. Is there even a right and wrong answer?

Where do closed enrolments come from?

It was the 1970s when groups of Christian parents began coming together to ignite the contemporary movement of Christian schools (Christian Schools Australia). After time, local Protestant churches were increasingly looking to start schools for Christians and staffed by Christians. This movement mostly consisted of the evangelical and charismatic churches, primarily as a reaction against the increasing liberal secularisation of public education. Rather than providing an opportunity for educating through a Christian lens, the ultimate motivation of building these schools was to protect the children of Christian families from liberal influences.

This particular goal made it vital for enrolment policies and procedures to mirror the philosophical values of the relevant churches and, as a result, meant their associated schools only catered to children of their members. Over time, the policy broadened slightly to include children from other denominations but only where at least one parent was part of the congregation and a pastor’s reference was included.

Such a reactionary and sheltering approach is easy to criticise, however the arguments for closed enrolments remain relevant today.

Two sides to every coin

Even secular educational research points to the need for parents to be supportive of their children’s school to achieve best student outcomes. In fact, by insisting that both the school and parents hold the same worldview, the synergy between parties can significantly increase the quality of those outcomes.

This approach, however, can somewhat contradict the evangelical priority of the founding churches.  If the mission is to reach the masses with the Gospel message, what better way than through the education of children from non-Christian families; and not to mention the financial benefits of increasing your enrolment options.

Despite a vast range of Christian schools modernising their policies to being open (or partially open), many successful and viable schools have committed to a closed enrolment policy. A common argument for this is to protect against ‘mission drift’ or dilution of the original goals of the founding churches. However, if this is the primary concern, one must also consider the policies in place for employment or Board membership.

Interestingly, the relaxing of the strict requirements for people in these positions to evidence a genuine Christian faith may in fact accelerate mission drift much more than allowing non-Christian families into a school. Furthermore, by ensuring the school’s philosophy is enshrined clearly in pastoral care and behaviour management practices and these are clear to prospective parents, many of the concerns that can arise with allowing non-Christian families admission can be minimised, often in the first instance with them choosing not to enrol at all! When parents are made aware of what a school stands for, they can make an informed choice for their own family. 

To close or not to close?

It remains a prevalent question, perhaps today more than ever. If you are considering your enrolment policy, there are two key questions you must consider. 

  1. Does our enrolment policy enable school growth into the future?
  2. Does our enrolment policy meet our philosophical aims? 

The truth is, strong arguments can be made on either side of the ‘to close or open’ debate. The most important thing is not what a school decides in relation to this, but that those responsible for those decisions are clear in their reasoning. A clear vision and purpose for each decision is so vital in ensuring your community is on board.

If you would like to discuss strategies and solutions for your enrolment policy, contact our team today.