Christian teacher banned over stance on pronouns seeks judicial review

Joshua Sutcliffe.(Photo: Christian Legal Centre)

A Christian maths teacher who was banned indefinitely from the profession after refusing to use a student's preferred pronouns is seeking a judicial review.

Joshua Sutcliffe was banned for a minimum of two years by the Teaching Regulation Authority (TRA) for allegedly "bringing the profession into disrepute".

It followed his 2017 dismissal from Cherwell School in Oxford after allegedly using the wrong pronouns and "misgendering" a biologically female pupil who had started identifying as male.

At a High Court hearing in London on Wednesday, lawyers for Mr Sutcliffe said "there is no legal requirement to use preferred pronouns" and that he has a right "not to believe gender identity belief".

The 32 year old is being supported by the Christian Legal Centre (CLC) who said he should be vindicated by the government's draft transgender guidance for schools, published last December.

The draft guidance says that teachers should not be compelled to go against their conscience and use preferred pronouns that are contrary to a pupil's biological sex.

"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.

Mr Sutcliffe is pursuing a judicial review into the Secretary of State For Education's decision to accept the TRA's recommendation that he be banned indefinitely from teaching.

The Department for Education (DfE) claims that his application for a judicial review has "no merit".

DfE lawyer Iain Steele told the hearing, "[Mr Sutcliffe] seeks to make this a case about freedom of religion and freedom of expression, but in truth it is a case about a serious failure to treat pupils with dignity and respect and to safeguard their wellbeing."

Following Wednesday's hearing, the judge will hand down his written judgment at a later date.

Speaking ahead of the hearing, Mr Sutcliffe said he had 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," he said. 

"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."

CLC chief executive Andrea Williams 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."