In an outcome believed to be the first of its kind, a Christian maths teacher has been banned by the Secretary of State for Education for “bringing the profession into disrepute” for not using the preferred pronouns of a female student who identified as a boy.
A Teaching Regulation Agency (TRA) professional conduct panel has, with the backing of Education Secretary Gillian Keegan, ruled that Joshua Sutcliffe was guilty of unprofessional conduct and has banned him from teaching in any capacity for at least two years and potentially indefinitely.
Joshua, who has a one-year-old child and will lose significant earning capacity as a result of the decision, will appeal with the support of the Christian Legal Centre.
Joshua’s six year journey
In 2017, Joshua made headlines after taking legal action against Cherwell School after he was suspended and eventually dismissed for allegedly ‘misgendering’ a female student, referred to as Pupil A, that self-identified as a boy.
During a maths lesson, Joshua said “well done girls” in Pupil A’s presence leading her to become irate. In an attempt to diffuse the situation, Joshua apologised.
Despite an exemplary record, in which Joshua’s key-stage 3 pupils outperformed their parallel classes, and having received no guidance or formal instruction on how he was to refer to Pupil A, the school launched an investigation into Joshua’s behaviour. During this time, he was prevented from teaching and forced to spend all his time in isolation in the staff room. He was subsequently suspended and dismissed.
The legal case against the Oxford-based school was settled out of court.
Following his ordeal at Cherwell School, Joshua started working at St Aloysius RC College in North London. However, after more than a year in the role, he felt forced to resign over views he posted on his personal YouTube channel.
In addition to a passion for teaching, Joshua has a passion to share the good news of Jesus Christ. He expresses this through street preaching and through uploading his reflections on Bible passages and Christian apologetic videos on YouTube.
Joshua was suspended for one week, in November 2019, after one parent objected to one video where Joshua states that “Muhammad is a false prophet” and for suggesting that “Muslims have a false understanding of God because they’ve been led by a false prophet”.
Speaking to Premier Christianity’s Sam Hailes about why he resigned, Joshua said: “because it had happened before, I was quite quick to say: ‘OK, I’ll find something else to do.’ I didn’t really have it in me [to fight the decision]. Maybe I should have.”.
Despite issues between Joshua and both schools being settled, the TRA has continued to pursue an investigation against him with a 7-day hearing taking place earlier this year.
As well as accusations of ‘misgendering’ and “unprofessional conduct”, over his criticism of Islam, the TRA professional conduct panel also investigated comments Joshua had made on same-sex ‘marriage’ in response to a pupils questions at a Christian Union meeting and allegations he had shown a video on masculinity without providing an alternative view.
Allegation 1: ‘Misgendering’
The professional conduct panel stated in their recommendations to the Education Secretary that they “recognised that Pupil A is a transgender male” and, that by ‘misgendering’ Pupil A, Joshua had shown Pupil A “a lack of dignity and respect”.
The panel also found that Joshua had repeatedly ‘misgendered’ Pupil A – something Joshua denies. In their recommendations to the Education Secretary the panel states: “Given the evidence of the pupils that Mr. Sutcliffe had failed to use Pupil A’s pronoun on various occasions, and Mr Sutcliffe’s own admission that he had failed to use pupil A’s pronoun on one occasion, the panel found that it was more probable than not that Mr Sutcliffe had failed to use Pupil A’s preferred pronoun in the classroom during teaching on one or more occasions.
“The panel therefore concluded on balance that by failing to use pupil A’s preferred pronouns, Mr Sutcliffe had failed to uphold Pupil A’s dignity and respect and failed to safeguard Pupil A’s wellbeing.”
The panel added that Mr Sutcliffe had “failed in his safeguarding duty” to Pupil A by sharing the story of his sacking on ITV’s This Morning.
Allegation 2: Criticism of Islam
The allegation that Mr Sutcliffe had recommended a video to pupils which said “Muhammed is a false prophet” was dismissed by the panel as it had not even been uploaded to Mr Sutcliffe’s personal YouTube channel while he was working at St Aloysius school.
Allegation 3: Comments on same-sex ‘marriage’
The allegation that Mr Sutcliffe had said that he “disagreed with gay marriage”, after being asked for his views by a pupil, was found to be “proven” by the panel. However, the panel concluded that: “In answering the direct question and in giving his view on gay marriage, Mr. Sutcliffe did not demonstrate a failure to treat pupils with dignity and respect, nor did he demonstrate a failure to safeguard pupils well-being.”
Allegation 4: ‘A lack of professionalism’
However, Joshua was criticised for showing “a lack of professionalism” in failing to provide alternative arguments and points of view to pupils when he allegedly promoted a video on masculinity from conservative non-profit PragerU.
Joshua denies showing the video during form time but does say he told pupils about its availability online.
TRA decision: Struck off for ‘misgendering’
At the culmination of a 7-day hearing, the professional conduct panel recommended to Ms Keegan that a prohibition order should be imposed against Joshua with provisions for a two-year review period.
The panel described Mr Sutcliffe as “intolerant” and said that taken as a whole it was “satisfied that Mr. Sutcliffe was guilty of unacceptable professional conduct and conduct that may bring the profession into disrepute.”
Despite Joshua’s pleas for leniency and good character evidence from two parents, three lesson observations and one professional reference, the Chief Executive of the Teaching Regulation Agency, Alan Meyrick, dismissed his positive contribution to teaching and “concluded that a prohibition order is proportionate and in the public interest” in order to maintain “confidence in the profession”.
Acting on behalf of the Education Secretary, Mr Meyrick explained his decision was, in part, because Joshua had expressed “insufficient” levels of remorse after ‘misgendering’ Pupil A and had “failed to treat Pupil A with dignity and to build a relationship with Pupil A rooted in mutual respect”.
Concluding the statement, the Education Secretary said: “This means that Mr Joshua Sutcliffe is prohibited from teaching indefinitely and cannot teach in any school, sixth form college, relevant youth accommodation or children’s home in England. He may apply for the prohibition order to be set aside, but not until 2025, 2 years from the date of this order at the earliest. This is not an automatic right to have the prohibition order removed. If he does apply, a panel will meet to consider whether the prohibition order should be set aside. Without a successful application, Mr Joshua Sutcliffe remains prohibited from teaching indefinitely.”
The panel’s decision, which has been made with the backing of the Education Secretary, seems to be at odds with what has been alluded to in the upcoming transgender guidance for schools.
Earlier this year, the Telegraph reported that the guidelines will likely to warn teachers and schools against ‘socially transitioning’ pupils as it can “cause major psychological harm”.
The ruling against Joshua is also at odds with the Education Secretary’s recent defence of a teacher at a private all-girls school who was accused of ‘misgendering’ after saying “good afternoon girls”.
Expert backing and parental commendations ignored
The panel also rejected expert evidence from Sex Matters’ Executive Director, Maya Forstater, a Christian theologian and backing from parents and pupils taught by Mr Sutcliffe.
One parent, whose daughter had been tutored by Mr Sutcliffe, told the panel: “Joshua was very good at his job and teaching. Patient, kind and considerate, he was respectful and good at explaining things. My daughter enjoyed being taught by him and it was a very positive experience.
“I have never witnessed him being unkind to anyone.”
Another parent, whose son has been tutored by Mr Sutcliffe for five years said: “Joshua helped my son become an A* student for GCSE Maths. Joshua has never been inappropriate in any way. He is a gentleman, he is considerate, he is trustworthy, professional and good time keeping. He is like a mentor to my son. He is very focused on tutoring my son to make sure he really understands Maths.”
‘Banned from the profession I love’
Responding to the outcome, Joshua said: “I am devastated by the panel’s ruling and will appeal.
“Based on this ruling, every teacher is at risk if they share their beliefs and views in the classroom. If a teacher had shown or recommended a video from a liberal YouTube platform, would they have been treated as I have?
“I believe affirming children in gender confusion in the classroom is psychologically damaging for them. I refuse to go against my conscience and cause a child harm and refuse to apologise for that. I am backed by the Policy Exchange report, and even the government, yet they have signed off my ban.
“The TRA wanted me to capitulate and say that I was wrong. I have been mercilessly punished for refusing to do so.
“Indoctrinating children across the country to bow before the Pride flag is celebrated, but if Christian beliefs are raised or expressed in the classroom, you can face having your career and life torn apart.
“I have been bullied and pursued and have had every part of my life scrutinised for expressing my beliefs and biological truth.
“This decision is putting me and my family at risk. I have a young son and everything that is happening is affecting him.
“Mathematics has always been a great joy of mine; my teaching record is exemplary, and I was always respectful to everyone. From the beginning, however, this case has not been about my ability to teach but about me being a Christian and believing in the gospel and the Lordship of Jesus Christ.”
Andrea Williams, chief executive of the Christian Legal Centre, which has supported Joshua’s throughout his ordeal, said: “This ruling sends a clear message that Christian teachers can no longer express their beliefs in the teaching profession. If you are, you will be hounded out and barred from being in the classroom.
“For refusing to use preferred pronouns and expressing his Christian belief on marriage in response to questions from pupils, he became a marked man. From that moment, everything he did in the classroom and outside of it came under intense scrutiny.
“From the beginning, Joshua has faced viewpoint discrimination from the schools, the TRA and now the Secretary of State for Education.
“The TRA has targeted an exceptional teacher because his Christian beliefs do not fall in line with the prevailing secular orthodoxy which will not tolerate any dissent.
“The backing of the panel’s recommendations from the Secretary of State is baffling considering the urgent concern coming from the government about the extent of transgender ideology and harmful gender identity teaching in UK schools.
“For loving Jesus, speaking truth in his personal time, and responding to questions from students on the Christian faith, he has been hounded out of the teaching profession.
“Joshua will appeal, and we will stand with him for as long as it takes to get justice.”
Find out more about Joshua Sutcliffe