Teachers are often used to correcting their charges’ mistakes; it’s typically part and parcel of the job, after all. In November 2017 math teacher Joshua Sutcliffe made an error of his own, however, as he referred to a pupil, who identifies as a boy, as a girl. Then, a month and a half later, Sutcliffe was suspended from his role as a result of the incident.
Before he had become a teacher, though, Sutcliffe had been raised in a Mennonite Bible camp in Canada; he and his family later relocated to the U.K. when Sutcliffe was ten. Subsequently, the math graduate earned the qualifications necessary to become a teacher from the University of Exeter. In 2015 Sutcliffe then made the switch to Oxford, England, as he had been hired by the city’s The Cherwell School.
The math teacher also found time to become an associate pastor at Oxford’s Christ Revelation church – a role that reflected his strong Christian beliefs. However, on November 2, 2017, Sutcliffe’s life took an unexpected turn during one of his classes at school. It all started with what appeared to be some simple words of encouragement to his students.
Sutcliffe claimed that, on that day, he had said “Well done, girls” to two of his pupils – even though one of the individuals in question identified as a boy. Then, after the transgender student had become irate with his teacher, Sutcliffe said that he had immediately apologized.
The 27-year-old would subsequently admit that both he and his colleagues normally addressed the pupil by his chosen first name, as they apparently didn’t have other specific instructions from The Cherwell School. Due to his Christian beliefs, though, Sutcliffe didn’t use male pronouns when talking about the student, and he would allege that he hadn’t faced any issues as a result of that stance.
However, while the teacher continued on as normal following the incident in his classroom, there would be consequences. Following a parent-teacher conference, Sutcliffe was summoned to the principal’s office. There, he was informed that the student’s mother had lodged a complaint against him.
And as a result of the grievance, Sutcliffe was suspended by the school while it conducted an investigation into the matter. He would go on to tell the Daily Mail in 2017, “I was absolutely shocked to be told by the [principal] that I was under investigation.”
Of the matter, Sutcliffe continued to the newspaper, “I didn’t know what was happening. It was surreal, Kafkaesque. I said it was only one incident for which I had apologized, but [the principal] insisted [that] the investigation would go ahead.”
With that being said, the math teacher believed that there was another factor at play. “I had always tried to respect the pupil and keep a professional attitude as well as my integrity. But it seemed to me that the school was trying to force me to adhere to its liberal, leftish agenda,” Sutcliffe added.
Meanwhile, during the investigation, the 27-year-old was still required to attend the school and work in the teachers’ lounge. Even so, Sutcliffe couldn’t talk about what was happening with his co-workers. Still, some time after that, he found out a bit more information about the complaint against him.
In particular, the student’s family claimed that Sutcliffe was singling out their child unfairly during his lessons. However, their assertion that the math teacher had given the boy an unreasonable number of detentions for bad behavior wasn’t confirmed as part of the school’s investigation.
Regardless, Sutcliffe still found himself under the school’s microscope. The associate pastor faced two 60-minute grillings in the aftermath of his suspension; these then led to a formal disciplinary meeting in December 2017. And, unsurprisingly, the severity of the situation left Sutcliffe very concerned.
“I have never been trained to deal with this sort of thing,” Sutcliffe said to the Daily Mail of the investigation. “I felt completely out of my depth and intimidated.” Sutcliffe also faced allegations that he had referred to the student as a “girl” on a number of other occasions as well as accusations that he had brought up religion during his classes.
But while the 27-year-old refuted those assertions, the investigation found that he had indeed misgendered the student. Sutcliffe had also “[contravened] the school’s code of conduct” with his refusal to use male pronouns. His alleged remarks to do with religion were also seen to be in violation of the institution’s official policy.
Despite those findings, though, the teacher hit back at his employers. “I have been shocked and saddened by the actions of the school, which, in my opinion, reflect an increasing trend of Christians being marginalised in the public square and unpopular beliefs silenced,” Sutcliffe told the Daily Mail.
Sutcliffe continued to the newspaper, “While the suggestion that gender is fluid conflicts sharply with my Christian beliefs, I recognize my responsibility as a teacher and Christian to treat each of my pupils with respect. I have balanced these factors by using the pupil’s chosen name, and although I did not intentionally refer to the pupil as a ‘girl,’ I do not believe it is unreasonable to call someone a girl if they were born a girl.”
Then the story then took another turn, as Sutcliffe looked to bring a lawsuit against The Cherwell School for religious discrimination and constructive dismissal. As of late 2017, Sutcliffe had also resigned from his job and was bringing the institution to an employment tribunal, with backing from U.K. organization the Christian Legal Centre.
Furthermore, the former teacher had penned a letter to the principal of the school, in which he had summed up his thoughts on the situation. That letter said, “As a Christian, I do not share your belief in the ideology of transgenderism. I do not believe that young children should be encouraged to self-select a ‘gender’ which may be different from their biological sex; or that everyone at school should adjust their behavior to accommodate such a ‘transition’; or that people should be punished for lack of enthusiasm about it.”
The math teacher then switched his focus to the results of the school’s investigation against him. “I am more than willing to answer all the unjustified allegations you are now advancing against me and detail my own grievances about your totalitarian ‘equality’ policies and practices,” Sutcliffe added.
Sutcliffe concluded, “I regret that our relations have reached this point, but I feel I have no choice but to bring legal proceedings against you without further notice.” And while the principal refused to comment on the situation to the media, the school itself did claim that the 27-year-old’s resignation had yet to be confirmed – despite the legal action. Whatever the outcome for Sutcliffe, though, his case proves that issues of gender can still fiercely divide opinion.