UK math teacher banned for ‘misgendering’ begins appeal

By Chris Eyte |

A Christian math teacher banned by the U.K. Education Secretary for refusing to use the preferred pronoun of a schoolgirl identifying as a boy has begun his appeal at the High Court in London. 

Joshua Sutcliffe, 32, is pursuing a Judicial Review of the indefinite ban, following his suspension and sacking from Cherwell School in Oxford for refusing to use the preferred pronoun. Lawyers from the Christian Legal Centre filed his appeal on May 1.

The controversy dates back to 2017, when Sutcliffe said, “Well done, girls,” to students, which included a girl identifying as a boy.

Sutcliffe took legal action against the school, which was settled out of court. The Professional Conduct Panel Teaching Regulation Authority (TRA), however, banned him from teaching for a minimum of two years in May 2023 for “bringing the profession into disrepute.”

In a press release, Christian Concern cited undisclosed “sinister documents” apparently revealing that Sutcliffe had originally been referred to the TRA from an unnamed school. He had previously worked at this school and asked for a job reference, which was refused. 

The school alerted the TRA under the auspices of the U.K. Prevent Strategy, which alerts authorities about people allegedly involved in terrorism, apparently because Sutcliffe criticized Islam and cited Biblical texts about homosexuality on a YouTube channel. 

Joshua Sutcliffe. (Screenshot from Christian Concern video)
Joshua Sutcliffe. | (Screenshot from Christian Concern video)

Education Secretary Gillian Keegan subsequently endorsed the TRA’s recommendation to ban Sutcliffe, saying it was “necessary to impose a prohibition order in order to maintain public confidence in the profession.”

Keegan’s view contradicts her governing Conservative Party’s draft transgender guidance for schools published in December, according to advocacy group Christian Concern.

The official U.K. Government guidance (Section 6:3), not yet in effect, states, “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.”

Christian Concern declared the ban against Sutcliffe as therefore illegal.

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

Attorneys for Sutcliffe will argue at the High Court that decisions made by Keegan and the TRA are “perverse” and without any legal authority. In particular, compelling Sutcliffe to use the pupil’s preferred pronouns conflicted with the European Convention of Human Rights and common U.K. laws. 

They will also challenge other TRA decisions at the High Court. These include Sutcliffe being found guilty of professional misconduct for showing a “PragerU” American Conservative video about masculinity in class time without a debate.

Christian Concern stated by comparison that the TRA refused to take action last year against a LGBTQI+ promoting teacher at a South London school. The rights watchdog alleged this unnamed teacher told pupils they would be “dealt with severely” for rejecting LGTBQI+ beliefs. The teacher gave “no choice” to pupils but to learn the subject. 

Sutcliffe, a father of one child, said the fight for his legal rights as a practicing Christian had turned his life upside down. 

“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,” he said. “I feel vindicated by the draft government guidance and the Cass Review [an independent review into gender identity services], and it is time for my ban to be overturned.”

Sutcliffe said teachers had no training or guidance on transgender issues in 2017, when he was a young teacher building his career. At the time, he said schools sought guidance from controversial gay rights charity Stonewall, rather than the U.K. government or experts. 

“If the ruling is upheld, then every teacher is at risk if they share their beliefs and views in the classroom,” Sutcliffe added. “I believe affirming children in a transgender identity in the classroom is psychologically damaging for them.”

He said he refused to go against his Christian faith and conscience and cause a child harm.

“I refuse to apologize for that. I do not believe it is in any child’s best interests to affirm them in something that is untrue,” Sutcliffe said. “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 the TRA ruling had a “chilling effect.”

“Teachers are intimidated into silence for fear of losing their jobs if they say something with which the regulator disagrees,” she said. “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.”

Sutcliffe was targeted for refusing to use preferred pronouns and expressing his Christian belief on marriage in response to questions from pupils, Williams said.

“From that moment, everything he did in and out of the classroom came under intense scrutiny,” she said, adding that Sutcliffe had faced “viewpoint discrimination” from schools since the start of the issue. “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.”