Martyn Smith, writing about Wesley College

(September, 1993, for 'Wesley College Working Party on Open Entry', in response to the above question posed by College Principal Glen McArthur)
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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:

Thy undistinguishing regard
Was cast on Adam's fallen race;
For all Thou hast in Christ prepared
Sufficient, sovereign, saving grace. 
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. 


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 (Schmidt 178). 

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 178, 277).

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" (Wesley, 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, Works 301).

To this extent Wesley's new Kingswood School was exclusivist (Young 6), even elitist (Schmidt 179), although strategically located adjacent the already existing charity schools.

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; Mathews 22-23). 

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 415-416, 500-501).

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 37).

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.


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 'Wesleyan 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 Inaugural Address 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 century.

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 foregoing.

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 cope.

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.

Literature cited

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 Chronicle’, 1986.

‘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 College Library.

Rev. Dr. Denham Grierson, Rev. Graeme James (who also lent many books), 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.

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Related  links
The Importance of All
The Values, Philosophy and Ideology of the Culture of Wesley College
What it means to be a Christian School
Wesley's Heritage
John Wesley : Doing All The Good He Could
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