Education Scotland The Free Church The Record

A Place for Christian Schools? – The Record

Today I am heading to speak at a senior Sydney secondary school….so I thought I would post this latest article on the subject of Christian education.  It was good to be back in my old patch on The Record this month.  John Macdonald has maintained the standards and edits a well produced and stimulating magazine.   The main theme of this issue was education – and I would recommend the articles on Home schooling and state schools.   I wrote one on Christian schools – the text of which is below.  Perhaps next week I will respond to the one on State schools, which makes a good, but fundamentally flawed case…?!

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A Place for Christian Schools?

By Rev. David Robertson

It is important to note that Christians are not just concerned with protecting our own children. We want to serve the poor.

The rot is in too deep for Scotland’s formerly Christian state education system to be reclaimed. We need an educational revolution.

The tendency [of those who promote public education] is to hold that this system must be altogether secular. The atheistic doctrine is gaining currency, even among professed Christians and even among some bewildered Christian ministers, that an education provided by the common government should be entirely emptied of all religious character’ (AA Hodge – 1880).

Year after year I have suggested to the General Assembly that the Free Church needs to take education seriously and that we need to start preparing for the day when it would be impossible for any Christian parent, in good conscience, to send their children to the local state indoctrination centre (what we used to call ‘schools’!).    Year after year that plea was ignored. But thanks to the kindness of the editor, I will, like Bruce’s spider, try, try and try again.

Consider this. Christian children spend perhaps one hour per week in church and Sunday School. They spend over 30 in school, where as well as being taught the three ‘R’s – reading, riting, and rithmatic – they are indoctrinated into a liberal secular humanist worldview. They are the subjects of a social engineering experiment which is totalitarian and illiberal. An experiment which is backed up both by mainstream and social media.

The basic problem is that we have moved away from the foundation of Scottish education – Christianity. When the root is removed, the fruit will soon decay.

What can be done?

There is no reason why we just have to accept the atheistic secularist agenda as the default one. The United Nations Charter on Human Rights declares in Article 26 that ‘everyone has the right to education’ and that ‘education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages’. It also states as an absolute principle that ‘parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children’. The European Convention on Human Rights Protocol 1, Article 2, states, ‘in the exercise of any functions which it assumes in relation to education and teaching, the state shall respect the rights of parents to ensure such education and teaching in conformity with their own religious and philosophical convictions’.

Given that the State schools are rapidly becoming centres of secular humanist and Queer theory indoctrination, is it not time for the Church in Scotland to return to the vision of Knox – that where there is a church, there is also a school?


In the 25 years that I have been arguing for this, the objections have always been the same. Are Christian schools not elitist? Socially divisive? Are things really that bad? Who is going to pay? Often those who make the objections are remembering with fondness their time as school pupils decades ago.

The current school system is increasingly elitist and socially divisive. If you have the money you can send your children to expensive private schools (as do one-third of parents in Edinburgh), or you can pay the financial premium to buy a house in a nice suburb with a good state school. But Christian schools would be for all. It is important to note that Christians are not just concerned with protecting our own children. We want to serve the poor. We need to remember and repeat our history – think not just Knox and Chalmers, but also Thomas Guthrie and his Ragged Schools.

Yes – things really are that bad. All is not well in Scotland’s education system. Declining standards, lack of aspiration, educational apartheid, the lack of parental involvement, the remodelling of schools into centres for social engineering rather than education, the low morale amongst many teachers, and the obsession of politicians with figures and targets are all indications of a struggling system.

Who is going to pay?

We pay taxes which are used for education. Why should those taxes not be used for Christian schools? It is after all our human right. They are used in Scotland for Catholic, Jewish and Muslim schools. It would surely be religious discrimination for the government to refuse to grant those same rights to the Free Church or other evangelical churches? Perhaps we could operate a voucher system or be like the Dutch, with their state-funded church schools?

It’s possibly already too late, but if the Free Church is serious about education, the poor and reclaiming Scotland for Christ, then we must do more than complain, shrug our shoulders and walk away. The rot is in too deep for Scotland’s formerly Christian state education system to be reclaimed. We need an educational revolution. All the churches in Scotland need to take education seriously again. We need to pray, think, invest resources and look for the highest quality education for all. It’s time for Christians in Scotland to regain the Christian vision for education in Scotland.

‘In the absence of a coherent worldview, secular education is fragmenting knowledge. Unrelated bits of information give no basis to grasp a vision like Comenius’s to change the world through education. The secular university knows no Messiah that promises a kingdom to the poor, the weak, the sick and the sorrowing destitute.’

Vishnal Mangelwadi, The Book That Made Your World

Rev. David Robertson is Director of Third Space, an evangelism project based in Sydney, Australia. He is a Free Church minister and former Moderator of the General Assembly.

The Free Church and Education

Education in Wartime – Third Space Podcast








  1. Very interesting and it is true that there is open hostility in education in Scotland. It is very different to the time I had growing up in the late 60’s and 70’s where the Lord’s prayer was said at school assembly and churches were full on a Sunday with shops being closed on a Sunday. Do you remember that?

    At the same time I don’t remember ever praying as an individual apart from what was institutionalised. I was brought up in an atheist / agnostic home so why would I pray – right? But looking back I always had a scene as a child that I had a father other then my natural father who in the house frequently was a pair of legs with the rest of him obscured by a full sized newspaper. Something I believe was God giving me a sense of his presence. Isn’t it true that God has placed eternity in every human heart?

    In my experience with fellow students at college in an HNC course, I have known someone openly ask for prayer, someone say they are praying and living on a prayer and another talk about being a “man of God” and being centred on “God within”. So there are these flickering examples of light individually in a way that I don’t ever recall happening in my school days.

    Could it be that the way things were done before were at least at times religiously oppressive both in church and with the Christian influence in schools?

    So where your article resonates with me David as they frequently do I wonder if there is a little degree about romanticising about the past? Possibly, possibly not but whatever the truth of that is, all that hell has to throw at the kingdom with all it’s violence won’t prevail and there is nothing that will prevent the kingdom expanding – in spite sometimes of our own best efforts!

    I’m not a politician and I’m quite happy to leave the politics to someone else who is better at me than influencing social change. But I can do my bit in my spheres of influence and yes, if that means being a thorn in the side to existing systems and structures in this illiberal liberal culture then so be it.

    Hasn’t it been the case that there have been courageous Christians throughout history turning the tables both in their religious institutions and systems and structures in the wider society? I’m thinking prison reform, social care, setting up of City Missions, Christianity and commerce, and let’s not forget individuals like Wilberforce with the banning of the slave trade in the light of recent events!

  2. “Christian schools would be for all”
    This is the key. Thank you for this repeated plea, David.
    The hostility towards the perceived ‘elitist’ nature of any proposed christian school in Scotland will only be overcome by offering the very best education possible to everyone; schools so good that every parent wants to send their children there.
    This was the driving rationale for the Free Church of Scotland establishing a school based on christian principles, developing a christian curriculum in every subject, a school open to everyone, which gained the accolade of the local population and of the government. But the Free Church did this in Peru in the 20th century, not in Scotland. As far as I know, we now no longer have any board or committee dealing with any aspect of education.
    To do this in Scotland in the 21st century requires a huge commitment: in a very long-term project to educate rising generations of young people with a christian, biblical worldview; in financing a work which may not bear visible fruit for decades: but a commitment to glorify our covenant-keeping God.

  3. David
    May thanks for this
    As an octogenarian I can still remember both school and Moray House (Teacher training College, Edinburgh) vividly.
    School started with the class reciting the Lord’s Prayer every morning and I concluded my teaching day with the last verse of Away in a manger.
    As I travelled daily to College, sometimes the train was late and I missed Prayers in College
    How very different today
    Sadly we never had children, but I totally support home schooling and am delighted that so many in St Peters do exactly that
    Why can so many not join up the dots and see why there is so much vandalism today .Living in Pennycook Lane when school is on the language of the children passing by is sometimes horrendous
    Please keep on writing about this matter
    Missing you both so much and looking forward to your return to Scotland when all that you have learned can be transplanted into Scottish soil
    Love to all the family
    Elizabeth W

      1. Not easy if one does not live in those particular localities – or Hamilton and area!

  4. Is not Hamilton College, in Hamilton, Lanarkshire, a “Christian School”? I recall visiting it on an “Open Evening” and chatting with the Founder – Charles Oxley. What surprised me was to hear him speak of the children from Muslim and Hindu families who had enrolled their children – in spite of the clear understanding that those children would be in the same Christian ethos as the other pupils. I recall him explaining to me that, in those far-off days, these parents were looking for a level of discipline that the state sector no longer provided!

    I am certain that, if the Free Church, or any grouping of evangelical fellowships, wished to pursue the idea of setting up a school, then Hamilton College would be delighted to provide advice based on nearly forty years of experience.

    1. In the bad, bygone days of Empire, Hindus , Buddhists and Muslims enrolled their ( overwhelmingly male ) children in schools run by Christians and did so because of a well – founded belief in the superiority of the education provided.

      Sport was important and , of course ,reflected Matthew Arnold’s Public School / Oxbridge brand of Muscular Christianity.

    2. This school has as you say a Christian ethos, more akin to a Church of England school. Which is better than nothing. But the curriculum itself is not bible centred and teachers need not be Christian but only agree to the ethos. Which is really something different to a Bible believing fundamental Christian school of the type that the Humanist society target to tear down!

      1. What you say may well be true, but I have known a number if members of staff from Hamilton College, and each was a sound disciple of Jesus. I was unaware that one was not required to be so in order to teach there!

      2. I know there are some true Christians there, staff and pupils. However, my daughter was there for a year and I expressed some concerns and was told that as an employer they could not ensure that teachers were Christian as it would be considered discriminatory, and the best they could do is ensure an agreement to honour the ethos (I’m not sure why as other Christian workplaces can require it- maybe the college has a different organisational status from other Christian organisations) Also very few of the children were actually Christian which was not what I had expected to surround my child with children of the Christian faith. Most people seem to send their children simply because it is a good private school that is not as expensive as other good private schools (but still expensive enough to exclude the average person from being able to afford it!) This is very different to the likes of Melville Knox and Mannafields, independent Christian primary schools where teachers have to evidence a living faith and children from families who wish a fundamentally Christian education first and foremost, and seek support from churches and other Christian organisations in order to keep their costs as low as possible

  5. Thank you for this articles and the points you made David!
    As a teacher who trained and worked in state-schools (London), but now work in an independent Christian school, I can vouch for the IT WORKS! side of things. The children here have a security that comes from their parents and teachers’ unity of purpose. Of course they’re still human children, but I’ve seen this security free them up for excellence in academics, sports, hobbies, or whatever they choose to do as they leave us to find God’s will in their lives. We don’t do a lot of religious talk/prayers in classes, etc… the biggest difference probably is that these kids’ education is a church priority, and the church still upholds the sacredness of life, fights for family as God ordained, and cares for its elderly….

  6. Once again David, this is a banner that you have held up well but when will something be done. As a native Scot I long to see schooling n my home nation that is for all, that is not elitist, but sets and aims for the highest standards, built firmly on biblical foundations – is it any wonder that when we turn away from the makers instructions that it all goes wrong? What is being done to see this established? Who is there that wants to make it happen?
    And yes, there will be opposition and it will be hard and as a previous reader pointed out the efforts of some schools in England have been met with difficulties. But surely it is better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all. And it can be done, here is a link that proves it;
    We are not the finished article and not the perfect model but as a Christian it gives me so much joy to be able to look at how education can be done biblically in a context that includes all, whatever their faith, ethnic, economic or social background. We see that every child is uniquely and preciously made in Gods image, Each with a purpose and equipped for that purpose. We want our students to realise their God given potential and purpose And change their communities for the better.
    This is something that every child and family deserves and to do it to God’s glory is a blessing.
    Why can’t, and why shouldn’t this be possible in Scotland too?
    What would be the next steps to see this happen?

    1. David, we are a small group of parents setting up a Secondary Christian co-op in Glasgow, for the very reason that we believe in Christian education. What is stopping us from running more than one day a week, and then developing the co-op into a full time school, sadly, is lack of demand! We are hopeful however, of building up to three days a week, and eventually a full time school. David, and any one else who is keen to see this come to fruition, please do get in touch via Glasgow Christian Secondary Co-op facebook page.

  7. that’s all very well until they get past primary age – (or s3 in the case of Mannafields)

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