Teacher to appeal professional ban for not using preferred pronouns

22 January 2024

A Christian maths teacher who was found guilty of ‘misgendering’ a female student who identified as a boy and was subsequently banned indefinitely by the Secretary of State for Education, is set to appeal the ruling.

In May 2023, Mr Joshua Sutcliffe, 32, who is being supported by the Christian Legal Centre, was banned by the Teaching Regulation Authority (TRA) following an investigation and disciplinary hearing for allegedly “bringing the profession into disrepute”.

In 2017, Mr Sutcliffe made headlines after taking legal action against Cherwell School in Oxford after he was suspended and eventually dismissed for allegedly ‘misgendering’ a female student, referred to as Pupil A, that self-identified as a boy.

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, culminating in him being forced out of the profession.

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 refusing to use preferred pronouns.

News of Mr Sutcliffe’s appeal now comes, however, after the government announced its draft transgender guidance for schools in December.

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Section 6.3 of the draft guidance says: “No teacher or pupil should be compelled to use these preferred pronouns and it should not prevent teachers from referring to children collectively as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 says 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’.

Mr Sutcliffe’s lawyers have appealed the TRA’s ruling to the High Court and are pursuing a Judicial Review of the decision to ban him.

Lawyers will argue that the decision, believed to have been signed off by Education Secretary, Gillian Keegan, was ‘perverse’ and was made in the absence of any authority – legal, psychological or otherwise.

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

‘I feel vindicated, but I am still banned’

Mr Sutcliffe, who has lost significant earning capacity as a result of the ruling, said:

“I feel vindicated by the government guidance but this means nothing if my ban is not now overturned.

“To continue to be barred from the profession I love in light of the draft guidance would be another of the many cruel injustices I have had to face for expressing my Christian beliefs.

“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.

“After the pronouns debacle, I was a marked man in the education system and was pursued for any expression of my Christian belief until I was forced out of the profession indefinitely.

“Based on this ruling, every teacher is at risk if they share their beliefs and views in the classroom.

“I believe affirming children in gender confusion in the classroom is psychologically damaging for them. I refused to go against my conscience and cause a child harm and refused to apologise for that.

“The TRA wanted me to capitulate and say that I was wrong. I have been mercilessly punished for refusing to do so.

“I have been bullied and pursued and have had every part of my life scrutinised for expressing my beliefs and biological truth.

“This decision has put me and my family at risk. I have a young son and everything that is happening is affecting him.

“In light of the new guidance, I believe it is time for the TRA and the government to do the right thing.”

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

“It’s now high time for justice for Joshua. The teaching ban must be lifted. He has been vindicated by the government guidance.

“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 he 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 for Education.

“This ruling cannot stand in light of the new guidance which states that a teacher in Joshua’s position in the classroom should not have to act against their conscience and affirm a child in gender confusion. This signifies a shift in the government’s thinking.

“The language in the draft guidance moves away from ‘gender ideology’ that has permeated every aspect of existing guidance for schools. It also demonstrates an understanding by the government of the difficulty faced by Joshua Sutcliffe, ‘Hannah’, and others we cannot name, in navigating the regulations and sensitivities of a child questioning their gender.

“If the 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.

Joshua’s six-year journey

In 2017 during a maths lesson at Cherwell School in Oxford, Joshua said “well done girls” in Pupil A’s presence. 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 in 2023.

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 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, is now at odds with the draft transgender guidance for schools.

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, and Dr Parsons (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.”

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