writing about Wesley College
‘OPEN ENTRY’ IN ITS
HISTORICAL CONTEXT -- OUR SOCIAL MISSION. HAS IT LARGELY
BEEN A REACTIVE RESPONSE RATHER THAN A PROACTIVE POLICY?
(September, 1993, for 'Wesley
College Working Party on Open Entry', in response to the above question posed by
College Principal Glen McArthur)
Late twentieth-century Wesley College
inherits an educational tradition which reaches back through the school's
foundation in 1865 to the eighteenth-century mission of the Reverend John
Wesley, the theological essence of which his brother, Charles, neatly wrote
as verse 3 in a hymn of the 1740s:
Whilst this stated an essential tenet
in a debate regarding predestination then occurring between the Wesleys
and some fellow Christians, it also was fundamental to their work in education.
|Thy undistinguishing regard
Was cast on Adam's fallen race;
For all Thou hast in Christ prepared
Sufficient, sovereign, saving grace.
WESLEY AND EDUCATION
Keenly impressed by a huge German
school for the poor which he visited in 1738 (Wesley,
Journal 16-17; Schmidt 177), John Wesley soon
developed a set of schools at Kingswood, near Bristol, for the children
of the poorest people of that mining village (Schmidt
176). These schools taught reading, writing, the casting of accounts
and Christian religion (Wesley, Journal 323).
This was in the years following 1739.
It soon became clear, though, that Wesley also had plans for the education
of orphans, apprentices, trainees for industry or commerce and children
of gentle folk, as well as those for the education of his lay-preachers
In this context, however, reservations
were held regarding Wesley's desire to have a school for "justified Children"
only -- his aim was considered not "extensive" enough (Schmidt
By late 1748, he had opened another
school -- the fourth -- at Kingswood (Rack
355). This school enrolled only boys who had some Christian commitment
and "whose parents desired they should not be almost, but altogether, Christians"
Works 293). Its ultra-strict regimen
was aimed at achieving the parents', and Wesley's, desires. It was
intended to be a model school of Christian nurture (Wesley,
To this extent Wesley's new Kingswood
School was exclusivist (Young 6), even elitist (Schmidt
179), although strategically located adjacent the already existing charity
The proximity of the schools was
deliberate, it being aimed at the achievement of a social awareness typical
amongst the membership of the Methodist Societies (Schmidt
178-179) so painstakingly established by Wesley at the time.
Wesley's other educational enterprises,
e.g., the Orphan House at Newcastle and the school at the London Foundery,
show similar social interactions (Pritchard 280-281;
Later, from 1769, John Wesley became
aware of the far-reaching work of the charity Sunday-schools in which children
were taught the rudiments of reading, writing, and religion. By 1784
he was an admiring and optimistic supporter (Tyerman
When members of the Methodist Society
in Bolton, near Liverpool, proposed the establishment of a Sunday-school
for all comers in 1785, their superintendent minister opposed the move,
insisting that the school admit only the children of Society members.
"When Wesley visited Bolton", however, "it was opened in accordance with
their more catholic wishes and without delay..." (Mathews
Whilst there is evidence of some
exclusivity in Wesley's educational rationale, his eager and diverse enterprise
in general education gave pragmatic meaning to his brother's proclamation
of God's undistinguishing regard for the salvation of all.
FOUNDING OF WESLEY
Port Phillip Wesleyan Methodists
followed their founders' example. By the time the Colony of Victoria
was proclaimed, they had established numerous day schools and Sunday-schools
for primary education and were intensely proud of their efforts.
Their ‘Wesleyan Chronicle’ recorded
in copious detail, in issue after issue between 1857 and 1865, the statistics
and logistics of their work, repeatedly taking the government of the day
to task for its continual discrimination against their educational interests.
The Wesleyan Methodists claimed that
their contribution to general education in the colony was far greater relative
to the work of the other denominations and yet their government funding
was tied to their smaller numerical strength.
It was in this climate that Wesley
College was founded in 1865.
‘The Argus’ of 11th March, 1858, had announced that "The new institution is to be conducted not on sectarian
but on general and catholic religious principles. In subservience
to this, it is designed to afford to the youth of our colony a first-class
classical and commercial education, as well as instruction in the higher
branches of literature at a reasonable cost so as to place the advantages
of the establishment within the reach of most persons in the colony."
On 20th December, 1865, the 'Wesleyan
Chronicle’ (p177) echoed the above: "It is right to state that while
Wesley College will be an establishment for Christian education, combined
with the highest and best secular knowledge, it will, in no degree, be
made sectarian; and will be open to the children of parents of all denominations."
Precisely one month later, the
Chronicle’ (p11) reported the Secretary of the Committee of Wesley College,
Rev. J. C. Symons, as saying that the fees were "unusually moderate", some
believing them too low.
Hence the ‘Argus’ article of eight
years previous was validated.
Still the Methodists were trying
to make their education service accessible.
Rev. James Waugh paid due honour
to the College's religious and educational tradition in his
in 1866 ('Wesleyan Chronicle’, 20/1/1866, 11-13). General education
and religion in England were raised and stimulated by the Wesleyan revival,
he said, claiming that the "lower orders" had received unprecedented uplifting
as a result. He noted John Wesley's extensive work in education,
highlighting Wesley's founding of Kingswood School for "the common people."
He claimed, also, that the Methodist
Church was one of Australia's "most earnest promoters of public education"
and that Wesley College stood in this lineage.
The College, he said, was "for the
training of the sons of Christian parents."
So the non-denominational nature
of the enrolment was preserved, a point repeated in various forms in ensuing
nineteenth century prospectuses.
Now, in 1993, Wesley's official document
entitled 'Wesley College : Nature and Purpose' says that the school "exists
to nurture young people of whatever faith, gender, race or ability."
Modern Wesley College attempts to
serve as wide a constituency as possible (Young 6),
as did John Wesley's diverse educational enterprises of the eighteenth
Elsternwick Campus Head, Rev. Robert
Renton (pers. comm.) describes the school's consequent ‘open entry’ policy
thus: "Open entry refers to the College's policy of allowing any
young person to become a student at Wesley College, provided that two conditions
can be met. The first is one that we don't particularly like and
about which we can do nothing, and that is the condition that the child's
parents can meet the fees. The second is that we can provide the
educational programme which is necessary for that child's education."
Personal communications with Lesley
Fettell (Registrar, 1972-1991, Admissions Officer, 1992/3), Allan Dodd
(Registrar, 1972, teacher and OW dating to Adamson's Headmastership) and
Pat Lake, (close colleague of the Headmaster's Secretary and Registrar,
Nancy Daddo, from 1952) reveal a policy of admissions consistent with the
Lesley Fettell recalls that throughout
her time as Registrar the policy followed was that contained in the prospectus
of the mid-seventies, viz. "All boys are required to attend an interview
and to take a series of tests (usually before school commences).
Admission to the school is, however, open; it does not depend on the results
of these tests which are used for the guidance of staff."
Whilst the same prospectus said that
a position on the waiting list did not guarantee entry, Fettell says that,
in effect, those on waiting lists were offered a place as one became available.
Pat Lake, who was occasionally acting-Headmaster's
Secretary and Registrar, is emphatic that students entered only in the
order of the waiting list and that to her knowledge the school was vigilant
in this. Students with learning disabilities were not discouraged
from attending but were encouraged to "give it a go." Similarly,
the school enrolled students with other disabilities. Lake recalls
boys who were blind, who carried colostomy bags or who had emotional difficulties.
She remembers the rationale for this
was that it was beneficial for all that all kinds of students attended
the school. The proviso was, however, that the staff was able to
It is likely that it is no accident
that this was the era in which Headmasters Frederick and Coates introduced
and developed a remedial education program, a counselling and careers department,
community service and a more virile association with parents.
Allan Dodd, who attended Wesley in
Adamson's time before becoming a long-serving and respected Wesley teacher,
recalls "overall a pretty open policy" of admission. He remembers
that Adamson set an upper enrolment limit of 600 -- Dodd says
this guaranteed for Adamson that he would know each student's name
-- and that students were admitted without test up to that number.
Similarly, Dodd remembers that this
"no selection, not selective" policy was consistent throughout his time
at the College as a teacher.
The Reverend E. Keith Ditterich,
M.B.E. (OW, President of the Council of Wesley College, 1966-1980, Fellow
of Wesley College, parent and current grandparent) confirms all that here
precedes (pers. comm.).
Also an old Collegian from Adamson's
time, Ditterich reiterates the theological basis of the open entry policy,
his view being that students were taken for what they were and the best
was done for them. Wesley College found students' talents and built
on them, he says.
Ditterich affirms that the open entry
policy is essential to the nature of the school.
The educational tradition inherited
by our school is characterised by a mission to serve as wide a community
of learners as possible. This is founded on a theological understanding
that God's saving grace is offered freely for all. Although our contemporary
secularism may not give credit to this theology, it nonetheless lies at
the genesis of our school and, if the truth be known, is quietly present
at Wesley today.
Our open entry policy is not reactive,
it is proactive.
Mathews, H.F., Methodism and the
Education of the People, 1791-1851, London, Epworth Press, 1949.
Methodist Hymn Book for use in
Australasia and New Zealand, The,
London, Methodist Conference Office, 1954.
Pritchard, F.C. in Davies, R., George,
A.R., Rupp, G. (eds.), A History of the Methodist
Church in Great Britain, Volume 3, London, Epworth Press, 1983.
Rack, H.D., Reasonable Enthusiast.
John Wesley and the Rise of Methodism, London,
Epworth Press, 1989.
Schmidt, M., John Wesley. A Theological Biography,
Volume 2, Part 2, London, Epworth Press, 1973.
Tyerman, L., The Life and Times
of the Rev. John Wesley, M.A., Founder of the
Methodists, Volume 3, London, Hodder and Stoughton, 1872.
Wesley, J. in Curnock, N. (ed.),
The Journal of the Rev. John Wesley, A.M.,
Volume 2, London, Epworth Press, 1938.
Wesley, J. in Jackson, T. (ed.),
The Works of John Wesley, Volume 7, Grand Rapids,
MI., Zondervan Publishing House.
Young, N.J. in the 'Wesley College
‘The Argus’ and ‘Wesleyan Chronicle’
as noted in the text.
As well as those mentioned in the
paper, the following people provided resources and insight for this paper:
Rev. Max O'Connor: consultation
and the resources of the archives of the Victorian Synod of the Uniting
Church in Australia.
Dr. Lawrence McIntosh: consultation,
the resources of the Joint Theological Library and a critique of the draft.
Ms. Louise Elliot, Mr. Greg Hocking:
the resources of the Sugden Collection of Wesleyana and Methodistica, Queen's
Rev. Dr. Denham Grierson, Rev.
Graeme James (who also lent
Rev. Fred Webber: critiques of the draft.
Critiques of the draft of this paper
were requested from the following, and their responses are paraphrased:
Rev. Dr. Denham Grierson,
distinguished between the assumed Christian society which John Wesley engaged
and the pluralist society in which Wesley College is placed. As a
school of the Uniting Church, Wesley inherits its "open entry policy" as
outlined in the paper which means, today, that people of many differing
faiths attend the school. Consequently, Wesley faces the important
question of understanding and defining its position as a Christian school
in such a society.
Rev. Graeme James, drew attention
to the fact that acknowledging the theological basis for "open entry" means
also that Wesley College should proclaim that theology.
Dr. Lawrence McIntosh, pointed
out that the word "all" in the verse of the hymn quoted in the first section
is critical. He wondered if the first section was "a theological
mystery to the uninitiated". The section remains unaltered.
He also made helpful suggestions regarding the style of citing and they
have been implemented.
Rev. Fred Webber, referred
to two documents which illustrate John Wesley's "ecumenical spirit".
They were a sermon published between 1746 and 1760 entitled ‘The Catholic
Spirit’ and his ‘Letter to a Roman Catholic’, dated 18th July, 1749.
These documents show Wesley's kindly outreach to those with differing faith
commitments as he sought common ground to share with them.
* * * * *