What are Australian parents looking for in a school?

One of the Bible’s best known stories is “The Prodigal Son.”

It describes a man who takes his share of the inheritance, leaves home, then squanders it all in “wild living.” Starving, he remembers how well fed even the servants at his family home were. He resolves to return home and seek his father’s forgiveness. He even dares wonder if perhaps his father might be willing to take him back as a servant.

There are many twists in this story, but the biggest surprise is the shocking grace shown by the father. He had been treated with such disrespect. In demanding his inheritance, his son had effectively said “I wish you were dead.” But how does the father respond when he sees his son from a distance?

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.”

The father isn’t filled with anger. He doesn’t scold him. He doesn’t tell him off. No, he is “filled with compassion.” He clothes his son with his best robe and hosts a massive celebration. This story moves us because it is how we long to be treated, especially when we don’t deserve it.

In a harsh and unforgiving world, care and compassion is precious. Our research involving more than 1,000 Australian parents revealed how precious it is to them, too. 

We discovered:

  • When it comes to the culture of their child’s school, ‘care and compassion’ is the number one priority of parents, regardless of their age or income level, be they Christian, secular, Muslim or Hindu
  • Parents at Christian schools believe that ‘care and compassion’ is what their schools do best.

Christian teachers and staff are open about the reason for this culture – they are people who have experienced the care and compassion from God and they want others to know this also.

“God showed me grace, so I show others grace. God loves me, so I show love to others, even during difficult conversations. God has a plan and purpose for me and when I get opportunities, I share this with the students.”
– Chris, a Christian teacher in Queensland

“God loves me as I am so I have the capacity to love other people even when they aren’t being lovely. I truly believe that God has given me a care and compassion for the difficult high school students that I would not normally have.”
– Anna, a Christian teacher in New South Wales

“My faith as a Christian enables me to respond to my students in a way that makes them feel valued and respected as God’s children and image bearers. It enables me to go beyond teaching my subject content and contribute to raising them as mature, responsible individuals who will go to all ends of the earth and love and care for others as they have been loved and cared for.”
– Jess, a Christian teacher in New South Wales

It’s a care that influences how students treat each other. As Heather, a Christian teacher in Victoria recalls:

“I overheard a conversation between an autistic child new to the school and another student in the sick bay of camp. The first child said to the other, “I think you have been the bravest person I have seen at camp.” His response was that is the nicest thing anyone has ever said to me and the first time someone told me I was brave. Other kids from my old school always bullied me and put me down. Thank you so much.”

And as a Christian teacher in the ACT shares, it’s a care that goes beyond what happens beyond school hours on Monday to Friday:

“One of our Junior School students was diagnosed with a brain tumour in January 2019. While most four-year-olds spend most of their time playing and attending preschool, he had hundreds of medical tests, two rounds of chemotherapy and five high-risk brain surgeries in the two years before starting school. He lost vision in one eye and needed lots of assistance to walk. Doctors warned that he would find learning and academic achievement very difficult as he commenced Kindergarten. His teacher made adjustments to enable him to participate in his learning, play, sport. His class made him a book, and teachers and students across the whole school recorded a video as they sang ‘Be Strong and Courageous’ to encourage him during extended medical appointments in Sydney. The whole school prayed for him. With God’s kindness, and the loving care and support of his teachers, he has greatly exceeded doctors’ expectations and achieved high levels of competency in all academic areas.”

This culture of care and compassion is why parents choose to send their children to Christian schools. It is why Christian schools need to continue to be free to hire people who have experienced this care and compassion from God and want to share it with others.