Teacher fights ban for not using preferred pronouns

30 April 2024

A Christian maths teacher will pursue a Judicial Review of the Secretary of State For Education’s (SOS) decision to ban him indefinitely from the profession for refusing to use the preferred pronouns of a girl identifying as a boy at school.

Supported by the Christian Legal Centre, Mr Joshua Sutcliffe’s appeal will begin at the High Court in London on Wednesday 1 May 2024.

In May 2023, following an investigation and disciplinary hearing, the Professional Conduct Panel Teaching Regulation Authority (TRA) made a recommendation to the SoS that Mr Sutcliffe should be banned from teaching for a minimum of two years for allegedly “bringing the profession into disrepute”.

Mr Sutcliffe, 32, has said he has been a ‘marked man’ since 2017, when he made headlines for taking legal action against Cherwell School in Oxford after he was suspended and eventually dismissed for allegedly ‘misgendering’ a girl and refusing to use preferred pronouns.

Following the story appearing in the media, every part of Mr Sutcliffe’s life and expressions of his Christian beliefs in public and private faced the severest scrutiny.

The subsequent case brought against him by the TRA was believed to be the first time that a teacher had been banned from teaching for ‘misgendering’ a pupil and refusing to use preferred pronouns.

Sinister documents revealed that Mr Sutcliffe was referred to the TRA after seeking a reference from a school where he had worked previously without issue.

Correspondence also revealed that the school (instead of giving him a reference) made the referral ‘under the Prevent Strategy’, because Mr Sutcliffe had criticised Islam and discussed what the Bible says about homosexuality in his own time while preaching and on YouTube.

The SoS then endorsed and signed off the Panel’s recommendation, concluding: “In my view, it is necessary to impose a prohibition order in order to maintain public confidence in the profession.”

The ban, which could see Mr Sutcliffe unable to teach again, was made despite his legal freedom not to promote gender identity belief being recognised in law.

Furthermore, the teaching ban was made after the Panel found that Mr Sutcliffe did not maliciously intend to cause distress to pupils and that he had demonstrated exceptionally high standards in this personal life.

Draft guidance vindication

Mr Sutcliffe’s appeal came after the government announced its draft transgender guidance for schools in December 2023.

Vindicating Mr Sutcliffe, the new guidance says that teachers should not be compelled to go against their conscience and use a pupils’ preferred pronouns which are contrary to their biological sex.

Section 6.3 of the draft guidance says:

“No teacher or pupil should be compelled to use these preferred pronouns and it should not prevent teachers from referring to children collectively as ‘girls’ or ‘boys,’ even in the presence of a child that has been allowed to change their pronouns.”

The guidance appears to be a direct response to Mr Sutcliffe’s case which was the first of its kind.

The guidance makes clear that schools and colleges now have specific legal duties that are framed by a child’s biological sex, and that there is no general duty to allow a child to ‘social transition’.

The appeal

Lawyers representing Mr Sutcliffe are expected to argue at the High Court that the decisions made by the TRA and SoS were ‘perverse’ and made in the absence of any authority – legal, psychological or otherwise.

They will say that the findings against Mr Sutcliffe, that he was compelled to use Pupil A’s preferred pronouns, were an unjustified interference with his Article 9 and/or Article 10 ECHR rights.

They will add that Mr Sutcliffe’s case concerns fundamental constitutional rights protected by the Common Law and by the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR).

The appeal will also seek to overturn a number of other erroneous decisions used by the TRA to justify the ban. For example, Mr Sutcliffe was found guilty of professional misconduct for playing a video from a popular American conservative outlet, PragerU, entitled ‘Make Men Masculine Again’, in form time without time for debate.

The case will highlight the TRA’s two-tiered approach to such issues in the classroom. Last year, at a school in south London, a teacher was recorded aggressively promoting LGBTQI+ rights in a lesson, telling pupils they would be ‘dealt with severely’ for rejecting LGBTQI+ beliefs and that they had ‘no choice’ but to learn about it. The teacher was referred to the TRA. The TRA took no action.

‘Every teacher at risk’

Ahead of the hearing, Mr Sutcliffe, who has a young child, and had his life turned upside down as a result of the ruling, said:

“I have been a marked man ever since I dared to express my Christian beliefs in a school and tell the media about how I was punished for doing so.

“I feel vindicated by the draft government guidance and the Cass Review, and it is time for my ban to be overturned.

“In 2017 there was no training and no guidance on these issues for teachers. I was a young teacher building my career in the profession at a time when schools were taking guidance from Stonewall, not the government or any experts on these issues.

“If the ruling is upheld then every teacher is at risk if they share their beliefs and views in the classroom.

I believe affirming children in a transgender identity in the classroom is psychologically damaging for them.

“I refused to go against my Christian faith and conscience and cause a child harm. I refuse to apologise for that. I do not believe it is any child’s best interests to affirm them in something that is untrue.

“The TRA wanted me to capitulate and say that I was wrong. I have been severely punished for refusing to do so. I believe it is time for the courts to do the right thing and ensure that no other teacher experiences what I have.”

Andrea Williams, chief executive of the Christian Legal Centre, said:

“We can’t underestimate the chilling impact that the ruling in Joshua Sutcliffe’s case has. Teachers are intimidated into silence for fear of losing their jobs if they say something with which the regulator disagrees.

“The teaching profession is no longer an easy place to navigate for Christian teachers. Expressing long held Christian beliefs on marriage and gender can get you suspended, investigated and barred.

“For refusing to use preferred pronouns and expressing his Christian belief on marriage in response to questions from pupils, Joshua became a marked man. From that moment, everything he did in and out of the classroom came under intense scrutiny.

“From the beginning, Joshua has faced viewpoint discrimination from the schools. For loving Jesus and expressing his beliefs in response to questions Joshua has been punished severely by the TRA and the Secretary of State.

“If the draft government guidance had been in place six years ago, none of what Joshua has been through would have happened. It’s now time for justice for Joshua. The ban must be overturned.”

Find out more about Joshua Sutcliffe
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