Martyn Smith, writing about Wesley College


(July, 1987, for Lancemore Hill Senior Staff Weekend Conference: 'Plotting a Course to the Year 2000' aka 'Wesley 2000')

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In his 1985 paper entitled A Conceptual Framework for the Development and Maintenance of a Co-ordinated School Culture, Dr Ross Millikan writes:

"Culture is that system of shared meanings, cognitions, symbols and experiences which are expressed in the behaviours and practices of the members of an affiliated group, and which gives them both social definition and a sense of association."

"Culture is that complex whole which includes arts, morals, laws, customs, beliefs and knowledge, and all other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society."

Culture, he says, is inherited, but not static.  It is perpetually tested, evaluated and refined.  It is omnipresent, frequently discerned very quickly, and interprets and focuses behaviour.

Central to Millikan’s framework are "Conceptual/Intangible Elements" of school culture.  These elements are 

  • values, 
  • philosophy and 
  • ideology, 

which, he claims, are "foundational to all decision-making."

This paper attempts a re-discovery of the conceptual/intangible elements of Wesley College’s culture by referring often to the writings of John Wesley between 1738 and 1791 and the utterances of James Waugh, Inaugural President, and James Corrigan, first Headmaster of the College, in 1866.  There is one quote, also, from the Melbourne Argus of 1858.


Whilst changing times, circumstances and personnel inevitably and necessarily temper essential values, the following were present in Wesley College’s genesis.

God, through Christ, fulfils humanity.

John Wesley:
"I think it was five this morning that I opened my Testament on these words:  'There are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises, even that we should be partakers of the Divine nature’..."

"... while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed.  I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation; ..."

"The power I have I never sought.  It was the unadvised, unexpected result of the work which God was pleased to work by me."

"The best of all is, God is with us."

James Waugh:
"... we ought especially to recognize the goodness of that Great Being whom in this undertaking we desire to serve and glorify."

"... we desire to place our institution under the fostering wing of Almighty God."

"We wish it to be a Bethel, not a Bethaven - a house of God, not a house of vanity."

Education is for fulfilling individuals.

John Wesley:
"Some parents could not afford to put their children to school, so they remained as wild as an ass’s colt.  Others were sent to school where they learned to read and write, but no more ...  Our design is to train up children in every branch of useful learning."

James Waugh:
"It is not only giving instruction and conferring accomplishments.  It is that, but it is more than that.  It has to deal with body and mind, and with heart and conscience ... the better to choose rightly between truth and error, good and evil."

James Corrigan:
"... we aim steadily at training into healthy development the whole nature of the pupil, physical, intellectual and moral."

Education is for fulfilling society.

James Waugh:
"The wants of our age and our adopted country ... demand an increasing number of thoroughly, Christianly educated men."

"They" (schools) "refine and elevate society."

James Corrigan:
"... we look to the future with hope and confidence, cherishing the laudable ambition, by the Divine blessing, of making ourselves felt as a power for good in this great and rapidly rising country."

Education is a passion.

James Waugh: 
"It is not too much to say that general education ... was raised and stimulated by the Wesleyan revival.  Methodism was born in a university, and has always been a friend of mental culture.  Many of its first ministers were scholars.  She descended into the cottage and cabin, and gave the lower orders of England such an intellectual upheavement as nothing before had ever done.  She had formed Sunday-schools before the name of Robert Raikes was heard.  Her Wesley wrote grammars of Latin, Greek and Hebrew, a system of logic, and many other works besides for the encouragement of general learning.  He founded Kingswood School for the common people."

John Wesley:
"Surely the importance of this enterprise" (Kingswood School) "is apparent, even from the difficulties that attend it.  I have spent more money, and time, and care on this than almost any other enterprise I ever had, and still it exercises all the patience I have.  But it is worth all the labour."

In short, Wesley College’s raison d’etre, as gleaned here, is a deep commitment to the education of individuals and society to fulfilment as an expression of God’s will.


There are a number of specific reflections of these values.  The following notions are wise:

The School and its Church have an intimate relationship.

James Waugh:
"she" (the Church) "is to purify the fountains of instruction.  She is to encourage and promote the expansion and improvement of the human mind."

Wesley’s church-relatedness guards its priorities, forces it to account beyond the demands of its clientele and ultimately defines its nature.

The School is open-hearted.

John Wesley:
"The parents of some pay for their schooling; but the greater part, being very poor, do not; so that the expense is defrayed by voluntary contributions."

The Argus, 11 March, 1858:
"The new institution" (Wesley College) "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."

James Waugh:
"A number of boarders, equal to one for every twenty-five, and day-scholars equal to one for every twenty-five, will be admitted as free scholars.  They must be children who have lost one or both of their parents - whose parents or friends are unable to pay the usual fees."

Here is a clear desire to make Wesleyan education accessible as widely as possible, particularly to those for whom circumstances and cost are prohibitive. 

The School offers breadth of experience for the fulfilment of students in their own time.

James Corrigan:
"The course embraces the ordinary curriculum of superior public schools, with perhaps more than ordinary time and attention devoted to the subjects essential to commercial pursuits, embracing the various branches of English, with arithmetic and bookkeeping."

In the 1986 Wesley College Chronicle, Norman Young recounted a staggeringly broad curriculum for John Wesley’s 18th Century Kingswood School claiming that John Wesley would consider modern Wesley’s curriculum lacking in breadth!

Certainly, breadth of experience has been a firmly fixed philosophical plank in the Wesleyan educational platform.  Such breadth enables widest opportunity for students.

The School is willing to change to maintain breadth of experience for the fulfilment of students in their own time.

James Corrigan:
(Referring to a parliamentary report recommending the upgrading of subjects other than the classics.)  "....organization of schools is gradually undergoing important changes .... Our own previous experience fully approved this arrangement, and....we felt free to avail ourselves of all its advantages from the necessitates a larger staff of teachers, contributes greatly to the advancement of pupils...."

A willingness to anticipate needs is a hallmark of Wesleyan education.  John Wesley’s insistence on schooling anticipated by a century moves for universal education.  Wesley College, Melbourne, in the 1860’s, was alert to change as noted above and, certainly, in the last 15 or so years it has been sensitive to altering educational priorities and needs.  We are here today because of this particular aspect of our philosophy.

The School-teacher is paramount.

John Wesley: 
"I found two schoolmasters as I wanted, men of honesty and of sufficient knowledge, who had talents for, and their hearts in, the work."

James Waugh:
" ....I honour the competent, painstaking, conscientious schoolmaster ....he is possessed of a mighty influence, and has much to do with shaping the character of the coming age."

James Corrigan:
"As head-master, I endeavour to exercise a constant and careful supervision over the entire work of the school; yet all my efforts in that respect must have failed were it not for the very efficient staff of teachers with which it has been my happiness to be associated, and to whose ability and faithfulness the success attained is mainly due." 

If the school is to comprehensively value personal and societal fulfilment and found this on Christian belief then such an undertaking is possible only with competent, committed and valued teachers.

The School is wholesome, happy and friendly.

James Waugh:
"The morals of all rightly conducted schools are carefully fenced and guarded.  They are conformed to the character of a happy, cheerful home as much as possible, so that every boy may feel that his teachers are among his best friends, and that the lines have fallen unto him in pleasant places."

The school provides an atmosphere where growth can occur.  It is humane, caring and kindly.  It is a place where a number of varying individuals can find fulfilment.

The School is an illuminator, enhancing society.

James Waugh:
"May our college be like an angel standing in the sun, sending forth streams of light, for many a year throughout this land."

In all this, the school need not be apologetic.  It has a role to actively promote the enrichment of the society in which it exists, not only by educating its pupils but also by just being there.

It may be said, in summary, that Wesley College’s philosophical focus delineates the wisdom of a church-related, broadly-based, adaptable and pupil-centred educational program executed by excellent and valued teachers in an open-hearted, friendly school which enriches and enlivens its society.


The school’s Wesleyan Methodist roots also in-lay certain positions or directions which will affect its operations.

In a conservative but shifting 18th Century English society, John Wesley’s central teachings and those of his earliest Methodist societies were first that all men and women needed to be ‘saved’ and second that before God all souls were of equal value.

(The contrast between equality before God and inequality before men eventually led many Methodists to be effective critics of the social and political order.  So began Methodism’s renowned social conscience which many 20th century Methodist Sunday School children had defined for them as WOWSER-ism  --  We Only Want Social Evils Removed.)

The application of these teachings led to immense effort, required excellent organization and demanded sensible innovation.

John Wesley’s personal efforts are legendary:  prolific author and editor; 250,000 miles travelled; 52,400 sermons between 1738 and 1791.

During that time, an organization of societies which soon led to a complex system giving centralized direction but localised power through a network of Congregations, Circuits, Districts and Annual Conferences evolved.

From, and within, local Congregations to Annual Conference, small groups met in mutual encouragement and edification acknowledging the personal relationship that God had with each person and the authority of the Bible.

The involvement of members at all levels was achieved through class leaders, local (lay) preachers (dating from 1740), trustees, leaders and committee members working with ordained ministers.

Such a structure, relying as it did on lay involvement and commitment, was revolutionary in the 18th and 19th centuries and was aimed at the widest possible outreach to all people in all conditions, particularly those neglected and disadvantaged.

As a sidelight to this theme of innovation here is John Wesley’s written account of a new experience for him:  "I could scarce reconcile myself at first to this strange way of preaching in the fields ... having been all my life, till very lately, so tenacious of every point relating to decency and order, that I should have thought the saving of souls almost a sin, if it had not been done in a church."

(The 'Methodists' didn’t break from the established Church of England till 1795  --  51 years after the first Annual Conference and 4 years after Wesley’s death.  Methodism, with its founder, had stood, somehow, within and yet apart from its doctrinal and organizational 'parent'.)

Finally, much of the enthusiasm and unification needed for this enterprise and the imparting of knowledge and emotion was buoyed and enshrined in the hymns of Charles Wesley  --  singing was important.

Many characteristics from this all too brief account of the peculiarly Methodist 'way' will be familiar.

Effort, organization, innovation, enthusiasm, fellowship, involvement, time, mutual support and a social conscience are required if, as David Prest often and rightly reminds contemporary Wesleyans, each individual in our school is unique and of infinite worth.  "Standing within and yet apart" also may be familiar  --  and singing!


This paper has aimed at exploring the conceptual/intangible elements (values, philosophy and ideology) of Wesley College’s culture.

These elements, as Ross Millikan writes, "while closely inter-related, are discrete to the extent that the latter two can be conceived of as reflecting greater degrees of specificity, selectivity or focus within the former."

Millikan also explores, in some detail, the "Expressive/Tangible Elements" of school culture which he catalogues thus:

Written and Aural Symbolism:  Aims and Objectives; Curriculum; Language; Sagas and Legends; Myths and Fables; Traditions.

Physical and Visual Symbolism:  Crests and Mottos; Icons; Uniforms/Dress; Resources and Facilities; Artefacts and Memorabilia.

Enacted or Behavioural Symbolism:  Rituals; Ceremonies; Metaphors; Organizational Structures; Operational Procedures; Rules and Regulations; Rewards and Sanctions.

As well, Dr Millikan appends a set of "Perceptual-Observational Bases for Considering the Nature and Degree of a Co-ordinated and Constructive School Culture"  to his paper. 

This is a 'checklist' of desirable characteristics of a worthy school culture.  It may be useful to peruse these with particular reference to numbers 1 and 2; 3 and 4; 20; 6; 17 and 18; 23 and 26.

"1.  Members of the school community have a clear perception about, understanding of, and are able to articulate:  the underlying values, philosophy and ideology of the school (both that which is formally/officially presented as well as that which is informally/unofficially practiced).

2.  There is a clear collective/shared vision about the operational direction and future mission of the school.

3.  The formal statements of Aims and Objectives are unambiguous and understood by the school community.  These statements bear a direct relationship to the espoused values, philosophy and ideology.

4.  Curricula foci and content are clearly established in accordance with the stated Aims and Objectives, and are supported with appropriate and consistent levels of staffing and material resources.  The long-term vision is clear, but is subject to continual re-appraisal and planned up-dating in accordance with the needs of students.

20.  The operational metaphors have been carefully adopted and adapted to closely reflect the espoused values, philosophy and ideology of the school.  The language, curriculum and operations of the school reflect the adopted metaphors, each supporting and re-inforcing the others.

6.  Teachers and administrative personnel understand the selected operational metaphors of the school and choose their words very carefully to help ensure that ambiguity in communication with students is minimized.  They also recognize the power of words, and the potential for misinterpretation by students and colleagues.

17.  Organizational structures are both people and task oriented, and are flexible to accommodate shifts in emphasis appropriate to particular situations and circumstances.  There is a clear relationship between the espoused values and philosophy of the school and the organizational structures.

18.  Operational procedures and processes are again people and task oriented and closely align with the organizational structures and the espoused values.  The emphasis is on support, flexibility, and responsiveness to each issue and context.  Negotiation is a high priority as is representativeness and influence in policy and decision-making.

23.  The leadership of the school displays expertise, consistency, sensitivity, flexibility, responsiveness, trust, consideration and commitment in interaction with both students and staff.  The Principal/Headmaster/mistress embodies the values and philosophy of the school and conveys a clear vision for its future.

26.  The general appearance and ethos of the school convey a concern for image and for interpersonal relationships.  The culture of the school has been carefully developed and maintained as evidenced by a high order of reciprocity and reinforcement between the various elements of the framework.  The gestalt is a constructive and co-ordinated school culture."

* * * * *

Related links
Reverend James S. Waugh
What it means to be a Christian School
The Importance of All
‘Open Entry’ in its Historical Context - Our Social Mission
Select thoughts following Glen Waverley CMT Wesley Review Meeting
Wesley's Heritage
John Wesley : Doing All The Good He Could
Methodist Archives and Research Centre
Home, incl. email


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