UK maths teacher banned for ‘sexual assault’ begins appeal

A Christian maths teacher banned by the UK Education Secretary for refusing to use the preferred pronoun of a schoolgirl who identifies as a boy has launched an appeal at the High Court in London.

Joshua Sutcliffe, 32, is seeking a judicial review of the indefinite ban following his suspension and dismissal from Oxford’s Cherwell School for refusing to use his preferred pronoun. The lawyers from the Christian Legal Center filed the appeal on May 1.

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

Sutcliffe took legal action against the school, which was settled out of court. The professional conduct group’s Teaching Regulatory Authority (TRA) however banned him from teaching for at least two years in May 2023 for “bringing the profession into disrepute”.

In a press release, Christian Concern cited undisclosed “sinister documents” which apparently reveal that Sutcliffe had originally been sent to TRA from an unnamed school. He previously worked at this school and requested a work reference, which was denied.

The school alerted the TRA under the auspices of the UK’s Prevent Strategy, which alerts authorities to people suspected of being involved in terrorism, Sutcliffe allegedly criticized Islam and quoted 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 later backed the TRA’s recommendation to ban Sutcliffe, saying “it is necessary to impose a banning order to maintain public confidence in the profession”.

Keegan’s opinion contradicts the ruling Conservative Party’s draft guidance for transgender schools, published in December, according to advocacy group Christian Concern.

Official UK Government guidance (Section 6:3), which is not yet in force, states: “No teacher or pupil should be forced to use these preferred pronouns… and should not prevent teachers from refers to children collectively as “girls” or “boys,” even in the presence of a child who has been allowed to change his pronouns.

Christian Concern declared the ban against Sutcliffe 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 demonstrated exceptionally high standards in his personal life.”

Sutcliffe’s lawyers will argue in the High Court that the decisions made by Keegan and the TRA are “perverse” and without any legal authority. In particular, Sutcliffe’s persuasion to use the pupil’s preferred pronouns conflicted with the European Convention on Human Rights and the common laws of the United Kingdom.

They will also challenge other TRA decisions in the High Court. These include Sutcliffe being found guilty of professional misconduct for showing a “PragerU” video by American conservatives about masculinity during non-debate classes.

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

Father-of-one Sutcliffe said fighting for his legal rights as a practicing Christian turned his life upside down.

“I have been a marked man since I dared to express my Christian beliefs in a school and tell the media about how I was punished for it,” he said. “I feel vindicated by the draft government guidance and the Cass Review (an independent review of gender identity services) and it is time for my ban to be lifted.”

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 the schools sought guidance from the controversial gay rights charity Stonewall, rather than the UK government or experts.

“If the ruling is upheld, then every teacher is at risk if they share their beliefs and opinions in the classroom,” Sutcliffe added. “I think affirming kids in a transgender identity in the classroom is psychologically harmful to them.”

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

“I refuse to apologize for this. I don’t think it’s in any child’s best interest to affirm them in something that is untrue,” Sutcliffe said. “TRA wanted me to capitulate and say I was wrong. I was severely punished for refusing to do so. I think it’s time for the courts to do the right thing and make sure that no other teacher experiences what I have.”

Andrea Williams, executive director of the Christian Legal Centre, said the TRA’s decision had a “chilling effect”.

“Teachers are being bullied into silence for fear of losing their jobs if they say something the regulator doesn’t agree with,” she said. “The teaching profession is no longer an easy place for Christian teachers to navigate. Expressing long-held Christian beliefs about marriage and gender can get you suspended, investigated and banned.”

Sutcliffe was targeted because he refused to use preferred pronouns and expressed his Christian beliefs about marriage in response to students’ questions, Williams said.

“From that point on, everything he did in and out of the classroom came under intense scrutiny,” she said, adding that Sutcliffe had faced “point of view discrimination” from schools since the beginning of the matter. “For loving Jesus and expressing his beliefs in response to questions, Joshua was severely punished by the TRA and the Secretary of State. If the draft government guidance had been in place six years ago, none of what Joshua went through would have happened. Now is the time for justice for Joshua. The ban must be lifted.”