The John Calvin Schools in metropolitan Perth and the South West have their origin in the Dutch migration wave of the 1950s, when many members of the Dutch Reformed Church (liberated) arrived in Western Australia and settled in Armadale and surrounds. The first congregation, the Free Reformed Church of Armadale, was established in 1951. Mindful of the biblical mandate to educate their children in the fear of the Lord, the desire for a Reformed School led to the formal establishment of the Free Reformed School Association on 20 December 1954. The foundational elements of the Association’s first constitution remain till today:
The foundation is the doctrine which is contained in the Old and New Testament and included in the Articles of the Christian faith and is taught in the Free Reformed Church of Armadale. This Article cannot be changed or amended (Article 2).
The objective is the establishment and maintenance of schools where instruction is given according to Article Two of these statutes (Article 3).
In keeping with the conviction that education was the shared responsibility of the whole church, the school would be funded through Association membership fees rather than fees charged only to parents with children at school; an enduring principle which still applies today, although since the 1960s the provision of government funding has been a significant blessing.
The John Calvin School first opened its doors on December 2, 1957. It was a simple, two-room building on a roughly cleared bush-block behind the existing manse on Robin Hood Avenue, Armadale. Some 70 primary aged students, under the tutelage of two teachers newly arrived from the Netherlands, became the first recipients of reformed education in Australia. Conditions were no doubt quite primitive compared to today. For the teachers, teaching in the English language according to Australian curriculum was difficult. As the school grew larger, there was the ongoing challenge of staffing. With no government funding, finances were an ever-present concern, especially as additional classrooms and other facilities were required. Yet the school grew and thrived under God’s unchanging faithfulness to his covenant people.
The first major expansion occurred with the opening of the High School, beginning in 1977 with 57 students in Years 7 and 8. For the two teachers in charge of teaching a plethora of quite specialist subjects the task was daunting, but by 1979 another milestone was reached in the celebration of the High Schools first Year 10 class. At the same time, steady growth in numbers at the Primary School -helped partly by a new ‘migration wave’ from the Netherlands – led to plans to open another primary campus. The Kelmscott John Calvin School, located on a large rural property on Lake Road, Kelmscott, opened in February 1983.
Expansion became one of the dominant themes over the next decades. As church numbers grew, and members tended to move into other areas, new Free Reformed Churches were also instituted, some leading to the establishment of new primary campuses. Rockingham John Calvin School opened in 1995, and Byford John Calvin School in 1999. Of note is also the growth of a church community in the South West. While initially working independently from the FRSA, in 2002 Bunbury John Calvin School joined the FRSA.
The extension of the High School into Years 11 and 12 in 1988 marked another major milestone in the history of the Association. Curriculum needs, more specialised facilities, and the sudden call for specialist teachers certainly placed heavy demands on the Association, but once again, God provided. Some years later, in a major restructuring of the high school system, John Calvin Christian College divided into Middle School and Senior School. Till then, primary and high school had coexisted on the initial school site. However, the needs of the high school, as well as the changing demographics of the Free Reformed community, saw the end of an era with the closure of the Armadale John Calvin Primary School at the end of 2008. Middle School was also added to the Bunbury John Calvin School in 2011. For many years, Bunbury School operated in slightly makeshift, though adequate, facilities, but in 2018 they were able to celebrate the opening of the brand-new campus in Capel, the South West John Calvin Christian College.
While growth in the number of campuses were a hallmark of expansion, growing complexities and opportunities in education resulted in considerable growth in other areas. Pre-primary and kindy have become a part of every school. The conviction that all children of the church should be provided for led to particular focus in the area of Special Needs. School infrastructure was developed to cater not only for growth in numbers, but also new educational opportunities associated with technological and curriculum change.
The last two decades have been marked by considerable growth in the areas of administration and support, including the management of finances, secretarial services and technical support. In 2000, the Support Office was opened to assist in the areas of Curriculum Development and reformed teacher training and in 2016 its function was merged into the newly developed Office of Reformed Education.
Today the Free Reformed School Association operates five campuses consisting of some 1,000 students, and over 130 teachers, educational assistants and support staff. The enormous growth – in numbers, facilities, budget and opportunity – has been spectacular. Most important, however, are the things which have not changed: a commitment to God-centred education under the blessing of faithful covenant God who is the same yesterday, today and forever.