UK math teacher banned for ‘misgendering’ appeals to High Court

By Chris Eyte |
Joshua Suttcliffe seeks to overturn ban on teaching.
Joshua Suttcliffe seeks to overturn ban on teaching. | (Christian Daily International screenshot from Christian Concern YouTube video)

A math teacher banned from teaching by the U.K. Education Secretary for saying, “Well done, girls,” to a group of students that included one who identified as a boy is appealing the ruling at the High Court. 

The Teaching Regulatory Authority (TRA) imposed an indefinite ban on Joshua Sutcliffe, 32, last May, claiming he was “bringing the profession into disrepute.” 

The Christian teacher took legal action in 2017 against Cherwell School in Oxford and settled out of court, according to advocacy group Christian Concern, but he still faces the indefinite ban from teaching for “misgendering” a biological girl who identified as a boy.

The original seven-day TRA hearing saw a panel deem Sutcliffe “guilty of unacceptable conduct.” Alan Meyrick, chief executive of the TRA, concluded that the ban was “proportionate and in the public interest” in part because Sutcliffe showed insufficient remorse about calling the student a girl. 

“This means that Mr. Joshua Sutcliffe is prohibited from teaching indefinitely,” Education Secretary Gillian Keegan said in the prohibition statement, adding that the teacher could not apply for an end to the ban until 2025 “and cannot teach in any school, sixth-form college, relevant youth accommodation or children’s home in England.”

Christian Concern said the education secretary’s decision was “at odds” with Keegan’s defense of another teacher accused of misgendering pupils at an all-girls school by saying, “good afternoon, girls.”

Sutcliffe remains banned even though the U.K. government’s draft guidance on transgender issues, announced in December, states that teachers should not be forced to use a pupil’s preferred pronoun. The draft guidance would not come into effect until consultations are finished.

“No teacher or pupil should be compelled to use these preferred pronouns,” noted Section 6.3 of the government guidance, “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The draft guidance states that colleges and schools have specific legal responsibilities framed by a child’s biological sex, and that there is no general duty to support a student to “social transition.”

further note on the government’s website reinforces this view. Answering the question, “What if a school supports a child to change their name or pronoun?” The response is, “These are significant decisions that impact both the child and those around them. As a result, particularly for pronouns, we expect changes to be rare. And even in these rare occasions, children and teachers shouldn’t be made to use ‘preferred pronouns.’”

Instead, it states, people should use alternatives such as using first names, adding, “bullying mustn’t be tolerated.”

Sutcliffe’s lawyers are expected to argue that Keegan’s decision lacked authority, and that asking him to use the pupil’s preferred pronouns interfered with his human rights. 

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

There was no training and guidance on such issues for teachers when he was fired in 2017, he said.

“I was a young teacher building my career in the profession at a time when schools were taking guidance from Stonewall [an influential U.K. gay rights group], not the government or any experts on these issues,” Sutcliffe told Christian Concern. “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.”

Sutcliffe said the TRA ruling puts every teacher is at risk if they share gender views in the classroom. 

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

The TRA wanted him to capitulate and say that he was wrong, he said.

“I have been mercilessly punished for refusing to do so,” Sutcliffe said. “I have been bullied and pursued and have had every part of my life scrutinized for expressing my beliefs and biological truth.”

Sutcliffe said he feared repercussions for his young family following the TRA’s ruling. 

“This decision has put me and my family at risk. I have a young son and everything that is happening is affecting him,” he said. “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, which is supporting him, expressed concern that Christian teachers faced intimidation for having biblical viewpoints. 

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

The ruling in Sutcliffe’s case has had a chilling effect that must not be underestimated, she said, as teachers are intimidated into silence for fear of losing their jobs if they say something with which a 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,” she said.

Williams agreed with Sutcliffe that he became a “marked man” from the moment he expressed his Christian beliefs on marriage in response to questions from pupils. 

“From that moment, everything he did in and out of the classroom came under intense scrutiny,” she said. “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.”

The ruling should not stand in light of the new draft guidance, which states that teachers should not have to act against their conscience and affirm a child in gender confusion, Williams said. 

“This signifies a shift in the government’s thinking,” she said. “The language in the government guidance moves away from the gender ideology that has permeated existing guidance for schools.” 

It also demonstrates that the government understands the difficulties Sutcliffe faces, she said.

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