Asking the Big Questions by Erica Cervini
David Hastie used to teach in secondary schools. Now he is finding ways to improve teacher
education and help set up Australia’s first broad-based Protestant university.
A talent for deep reflection has steered David Hastie’s career choices from an early age.
When the associate dean of education development at Alphacrucis College became very ill at
the age of 18, he discovered the power of reading through long convalescence to show him a
way forward. Brideshead Revisited was a standout book for him.
“It had such a profound impact on me,” Dr Hastie says. “I was then able to set my sights on
In 1997, Dr Hastie became an English and history teacher in independent schools, and
discovered he had an entertaining teaching style. “In my early days as a teacher, I very much
was a performer, a sage on the stage,” Dr Hastie says. But after reflecting on his teaching
style, he realised that his performances might work for some students, but not for others.
“So, as I progressed as a teacher, I discovered that it wasn’t just about me flamboyantly
imparting the love of a topic to people who agreed with me, I actually needed to be imparting
the love of a topic to whoever was in the room. And that requires a variation in pedagogy.”
While teaching in Christian and independent schools, Dr Hastie began reflecting on and
asking questions about the place of religion in these schools. In 2016, he completed his PhD
at Macquarie University examining the effects of religious schooling in Australia. Dr Hastie
found that religion had “fairly limited effects” in the teaching of English. It did, however,
have some impact on the selection and censorship of texts, and that the rise of faith-based
schools was having a huge impact on the Australian social contract.
“This is a shift for which no-one has a coherent plan – moving from a social democratic
model of the comprehensive state school– largely modelled on British Post -War socialism, to
a marketised school choice model, with many affiliations to religion, has deep implications
for how we operate as a nation. Both good and bad.”
Dr Hastie’s teaching and research experiences have fuelled a desire to improve teacher
education. He was one of the creators of the clinical teaching school hub model at
Alphacrucis College, where he has been associate dean of education development since 2017.
As part of the model, a cluster of schools select local students to go into initial teacher
education, sponsor half their tertiary fees, and employ them one day a week as a teacher’s
aid. Students can opt to be part of this training model.
Alphacrucis College has largely based its clinical teaching elements of the model on the
clinical teaching practices at the University of Melbourne, the University of Glasgow, and a
few other models globally. However, there are unique differences. Melbourne’s clinical
teaching is largely campus-based and there is not the expectation that schools will have the
agency in selecting who will be accepted into teaching. At Alphacrucis, the schools and
communities have their say on choosing who goes into teaching and who they will sponsor.
Dr Hastie says a key to education moving forward lies in partnerships between industry and
tertiary institutions. He questions the idea that if education students train in one place, they’ve
been sufficiently trained for all places and all schools. Teachers need to be prepared for the
environment in which they teach.
“And we’ve come up with this concept called formation in subsidiarity, or training on
Country, for Country.” Dr Hastie says. “What I mean is by that there are the two key
questions facing teacher education: How should a sizable percentage of teachers be formed?
And the answer is clinical teaching. And where should they be formed? And the answer is
subsidiarity, which means close to the local situation in which they will work.”
He says budding teachers need to be attuned to the requirements of the community in which
they will teach. If teachers are at schools in Wilcannia in western NSW, for example, the
subsidiarity principle means they would have to be comprehensibly prepared to teach
Indigenous students in that community. The model, Dr Hastie says, is designed to prepare
education students for what is about to occur.
He adds that the education students also gain an understanding of the community in which
they will work, but the community also embraces them by selecting the education students to
train and work in their schools, and retaining local talent to invest back into the regions.
Dr Hastie is still reflecting and asking questions. He enjoys analysing annual Australian
Bureau of Statistics figures that no one is analysing, to debunk unhelpful generalisations. For
example, journalists have recently reported that a number of students have moved out of
Catholic primary schools and are now in state schools, and that this has some kind of social
But Dr Hastie says this is based on a national snapshot and people are not examining
individual states or regional localities, and hence such generalisations are fairly useless for
indicating social trends. The more finely grained trends are widely various, and variously
Dr Hastie also has a COVID assumption to interrogate. He wonders why there has been a
surprising spike in enrolments in non-government schools during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“There was an assumption when COVID hit that there would be a collapse in enrolments, or
at least a reduction in numbers because of financial pressure on private school fees,” Dr
“Something like that happened in the GFC, in what we call the GFC slump in independent
schools. But there has been no COVID slump, there has been a COVID spike in enrolments.
It has surprised everyone.”
Dr Hastie has been busy working on Alphacrucis College’s bid to become Australia’s first
broad Protestant university. He says non-Catholic Australian Christians, and many Christian
NGOs, lack an intellectual home-base like a university.
“This (a broad Protestant university) is a natural gathering ground. It’s an intellectual site. It’s
a professional training site where organisations such as independent and non-Catholic faithbased
schools can look for research, for policy for teachers, and where health and social
services in the NFP sector can find a research-based training home.”
Dr Hastie love for reading has never waned, although in recent times his reading has included
far more hard-nosed academic articles than in his romantic youth. In particular, he likes
“I have a deep and abiding love of the truth of poetry. As Les Murray once wrote in Poetry
and religion, ‘You can’t pray a lie, said Huckleberry Finn; you can’t poe one either.’”