A chaplain who lost his job at a Church of England school has given evidence to a tribunal that “truth, Christian faith, freedom of faith and speech” were “ridden roughshod over” as the school disciplined him and eventually made him redundant.
Today, Rev. Dr Bernard Randall told East Midlands Employment Tribunal that Trent College, where he worked as a chaplain, that the school had shown “absolutely no regard for the concern [he] had for those upset or confused by the implementation of Educate and Celebrate” – a charity that provides training “to embed gender, gender identity and sexual orientation into the fabric” of their organisations.
Staff training from Educate and Celebrate
In the summer of 2018, Dr Randall became aware that Educate and Celebrate was due to lead a staff training session at the Church of England school. When he visited the charity’s website to understand what the session would involve, he saw that it “went beyond a neutral stance of inclusivity, into active promotion of ideas”. Alarmed by the group’s intention to “smash heteronormativity,” its promotion of identity politics and ‘misleading’ claims, Dr Randall considered writing to the Head, suggesting that the invitation be delayed until there was time to address his concerns.
However, Dr Randall decided instead to attend the Educate & Celebrate training when it took place in September. Although he had no objection to some of what was taught by Ms Elly Barnes, the charity’s founder, he “considered some areas impossible to reconcile with Christian principles, and therefore with the stated objects of the school”.
This included “the notion that ‘love is love’, without further definition” and “having the staff chanting about the need to ‘smash heteronormativity’”.
Dr Randall challenged Ms Barnes over “selective” use of statistics about intersex/Differences in Sexual Development. “I pointed out that, contrary to the list produced by E&C, gender identity is not a protected characteristic, to which Ms Barnes smiled and responded, ‘Well, it should be’”.
Implementing Educate and Celebrate
After the training session, Dr Randall spoke to his line manager and the Head to explain his concerns. They gave assurances that they had not known the full content of the session and were also concerned by the chanting. They said that they “would not simply implement the entire Educate and Celebrate programme as presented, but would make selective use of whatever fitted with the Trent ethos.”
Dr Randall was told that he would be part of a group looking at what aspects of Educate and Celebrate’s programme the school would use. However, in November, after mentioning the lack of meetings he was told he had “not been invited to discussions because [he] ‘might disagree with it.’” He later discovered that the school had since committed to pursuing the charity’s gold award by implementing their entire programme.
Dr Randall picked up on concerns among the school community about aspects of the programme. “Some objected to elements on religious grounds; others found the aggressively political approach concerning, feeling that beliefs were being forced on them; others were simply confused about what they could, or could not, believe.”
When one child asked if he could use a sermon to address the question “How come we are told we have to accept all this LGBT stuff in a Christian school”, he carefully wrote an explanatory, moderate sermon emphasising the importance of “respecting those with whom we disagree”.
He gave the sermon twice in chapel, once with minor alterations, and spoke to various members of staff and pupils. Dr Randall recalled, “They broadly said the message was interesting, enjoyable, and thought-provoking. None seemed to have been upset.”
He even spoke to a pupil who was public about his homosexuality, who also spoke positively. “At no stage did any member of staff or pupil give me any indication of wanting to express negative views, or ask to meet with me to discuss what I had said.”
Nevertheless, within a week, Dr Randall had been asked to attend a meeting with the school’s Designated Safeguarding Lead. He was given a glancing look at concerns which Dr Randall says “were from people who simply disagreed with Church teaching, or disagreed with it being taught.” He explained that there were factual errors in the complaints about what he had said, but this was brushed aside and Dr Randall was questioned about Church of England doctrine.
Asking what they considered was wrong with his presentation, Dr Randall said that two issues were raised: first, they incorrectly contended that gender identity was a protected characteristic; second, they claimed that psychology textbooks say there are three genders. But the real problem, according to the school was not what Dr Randall had said but how the sermon made people feel.
Dr Randall felt ambushed. While being accused of lacking empathy, he says he “was shown absolutely no empathy during the course of the meeting … There was absolutely no regard for the concern I had expressed for those upset or confused by the implementation of Educate and Celebrate”.
Dr Randall soon found himself suspended.
In the disciplinary process, he was given notes revealing that he had been referred to Prevent, the government’s counter-terrorism watchdog.
“I was astonished and extremely frightened by this. The suggestion that I might be an extremist or a terrorist made no sense to me.” After further research Dr Randall “considered the referral itself to be wholly inappropriate, and demonstrative of an apparent bias against mainstream Christian teaching that Trent College was actually founded upon…
“…I cried with relief when [at a later disciplinary hearing] told the Prevent referral had been returned as the threshold was not met.”
Dr Randall told the tribunal, “this general acceptance that a belief in Church of England doctrine can merit a referral to Prevent was the most worrying aspect of this whole saga.”
Mood ‘extremely low’
During July and August 2019, while suspended, Dr Randall testified about the effect this process had had on him:
“I had been devalued; my faith had been devalued; I felt devalued. I had been lied to and disrespected; I was unable to feel self-respect. My faith had been treated as having no place in the school, or in society; I felt I had no place in society. The things I valued most, and against which I measured myself – truth, Christian faith, freedom of faith and speech – had been ridden roughshod over by people who ought to have upheld these things by virtue of their place in a Christian school. I was left questioning everything. I contemplated suicide on a number of occasions, rather than live in a world so turned upside down, and so hostile to me. I was fortunate to have colleagues and family members who supported me and could speak of the injustice which had been done to me, so that I was not left alone in my despair.”
Dr Randall was dismissed for gross misconduct by letter on 30 Aug 2019. He said that “The dismissal letter took no notice of any of the things I had said in my defence, or the points of agreement in that meeting, for example about me being judged on what I had said, and on my upholding Fundamental British Values…It was upsetting that I could be considered guilty of misconduct for emphasising the importance of respecting different viewpoints, at the same time as the Head was apparently endorsing the fact that “society is continually moving in a more liberal, accommodating and accepting direction”.
Dr Randall gave evidence that at his appeal in September 2019, “there was reference to the Church’s teaching being harmful or a risk. I was concerned about this, since no evidence had ever been offered to support such views, meaning it seemed based entirely in prejudice. At no stage in the prior process had I heard that the Church’s ethical teaching might not be correct, or not deserving respect, but this seemed to indicate that the Head felt there was no possible way in which such views could acceptably be expressed.”
Reinstated on final written warning
His appeal was successful, reinstating him as chaplain but on a final written warning. However, Dr Randall was warned about saying anything that was likely to cause offence:
“I was not to ‘broach any topic or express any opinion (in Chapel and more generally around School) that [was] likely to cause offence or distress to members of the school body,’ which was problematic because all Christian teaching will be offensive to some (the existence of God to atheists, the eternal Sonship of Jesus and his death to Muslims and Jews (cf 1 Corinthians 1.23: ‘we proclaim the crucified Christ, a message that is offensive to the Jews and nonsense to the Gentiles.’ (GNT)). Acceptance of some offence is a necessary precondition for a liberal secular democracy. I felt that this requirement was designed to enable to disciplinary action to be renewed on the basis of entirely subjective standards, and contrary to my job description and wider role as Chaplain.”
Given how gentle and respectful his ‘competing ideologies’ sermon had been, it seems that the school could have claimed just about any sermon was likely to cause offence.
Though reinstated, Dr Randall felt “under oppressive scrutiny from the management measures.” He told the tribunal that “it was especially undignified to have people with little or no knowledge of Church teaching assessing whether what I said was in keeping with the school’s Christian ethos.”
Furlough and redundancy
During coronavirus restrictions Dr Randall was put on furlough. He initially resisted this idea, seeing that “spiritual support would be extremely valuable in such uncertain times”. He believed that “behind the decision to furlough me was a desire to restrict as much as possible my engagement with members of the school community.”
He said, “The Head’s response felt entirely dismissive of the need for spiritual elements in the life of the school, which seemed inexplicable in a school with a Christian ethos. However, I reluctantly accepted furlough, as I believed any further resistance would be counted against me.”
In October 2021, not having been reinstated from furlough, Dr Randall was advised by the school that they wanted to consult on reconstructing the Chaplaincy provision to become a 0.2 full time equivalent post.
“I felt this was designed to be an offer which I could not accept … the letter claimed as justification that it was necessary to cut costs, and also that I did not have a teaching allocation. I felt the disingenuousness of this situation was obvious, since my lack of teaching had been orchestrated by their failure to reinstate my timetable. I had no doubt that this proposal had been created to either remove me from the school or restrict my involvement, since the management measures had expired, and I would expect to have considerably more freedom to do my job properly on my return.”
During these discussions, the school seemed to have little appreciation for the scope of Dr Randall’s work. Dr Randall said:
“I was stunned into silence when [his line manager] claimed to be able to prepare a service, including choice of hymns and readings, and writing prayers and a sermon, in as little as fifteen minutes. I felt that this betrayed a contempt for the Chaplaincy role and revealed his determination to reduce the position to a ‘bolt-on’ job for unqualified staff with other duties.”
Labelled a safeguarding risk by Church of England diocese
Ahead of the hearing, Dr Randall shared for the first time the other side of his story – how a Church of England diocese had labelled him a safeguarding risk after the school shared concerns about him. The safeguarding report even labelled the Church itself as a risk factor, given Dr Randall was simply holding firmly to the Church’s own teaching.
The Church’s treatment of Dr Randall is now the subject of a separate legal action.