The sacking of an Eton tutor over a controversial lecture on ‘gender roles’ could jeopardise the school’s legal status as a charity, the Free Speech Union has warned.
English teacher Will Knowland was dismissed for refusing to remove a video published on his YouTube channel that denounced ‘radical feminist orthodoxy’ – which was intended for the £42,500-a-year school’s older pupils.
He appealed the decision and a disciplinary panel will consider his fate on Tuesday, though the ruling is not expected to be announced for several days.
The sacking has sparked a free-speech storm which has seen headmaster Simon Henderson accused of pushing a ‘woke agenda’, and of presiding over a ‘progressive’ atmosphere akin to ‘religious fundamentalism’ by College staff.
Eton, which was founded in 1440 and has educated 20 prime ministers, has now been told that Mr Knowland’s sacking ‘promote[s] one particular political ideology over another’ – and puts its legal status as a charity in jeopardy.
In a letter seen by MailOnline, the Free Speech Union has disputed the College’s claim that a failure to dismiss Mr Knowland for not removing his 30-minute YouTube video could expose Eton to potential liability under the Equality Act.
Director-general Toby Young accuses the school of ‘overstating its legal risk in relation to the Equality Act’ to the exclusion of it primary duty as a charity to ‘provide a broad, open-minded, challenging education’.
He questions if Eton’s trustees are properly carrying out their legal duties and warns that the dismissal ‘promote[s] one particular political ideology over another’.
The sacking of an Eton tutor over a controversial lecture on ‘gender roles’ could jeopardise the school’s legal status as a charity, the Free Speech Union has warned
English teacher Will Knowland was dismissed for refusing to remove a video published on his YouTube channel that denounced ‘radical feminist orthodoxy’
‘Promoting a specific point of view may be a way of furthering another charitable aim, but it would not be education,’ Mr Young writes.
‘This would be highly troubling in any school, but for one with such a storied history and pre-eminent international reputation, it is potentially catastrophic.’
The letter states that the Free Speech Union will make a complaint to the Charity Commission requesting a statutory inquiry into the College, ‘in the event of Mr Knowland’s dismissal being affirmed on appeal’.
They also threaten to write to the Attorney General to make a reference to the Charity Tribunal ‘regarding the meaning of the advancement of education for the public benefit in relation to matters of political and cultural controversy’.
Mr Knowland’s lecture was never actually delivered at Eton, but a video of the ‘Patriarchy Paradox’ was uploaded to his own YouTube page.
Some figures who initially backed Mr Knowland – including Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker – have now distanced themselves after learning more about the lecture, which included incorrect statistics about rape.
Eton headmaster Simon Henderson (pictured) was accused of implementing a progressive ‘woke’ agenda and suppressing free speech after sacking English teacher Will Knowland
Mr Knowland also approvingly quoted an article saying women wanted to be ‘overwhelmed by the sheer power of masculinity’.
In a letter to parents, the headmaster insisted that the importance of ‘independent thinking and intellectual freedom’ was ‘non-negotiable’ at Eton – but added that he wanted boys and staff to treat other’s differences with ‘mutual respect’.
He refused to comment in detail on the sacking of Mr Knowland, who has attracted tens of thousands of pounds in donations towards a tribunal.
Mr Henderson did, however, stress that the initial disciplinary process following the controversial ‘Patriarchy Paradox’ lecture was conducted by ‘three of our most senior teachers’ and not the Head Master himself.
In a statement to MailOnline, Mr Young said: ‘I am concerned that Eton’s Fellows haven’t been as on top of this as they should have been.
‘Lots of current and former pupils have leapt to the defence of Eton’s ethos, championing its tradition of introducing pupils to a wide range of views and encouraging them to make up their own minds, but that’s really the Fellows’ job.
‘They are the custodians of Eton’s reputation. They should be protecting its long and distinguished history of free speech and independent-mindedness.’
A spokesperson for Eton College said: ‘We considered our obligations and have kept the Charity Commission informed throughout.’
They added that Mr Knowland’s video lecture could have breached a number of the school’s policies, as well as Eton’s legal and regulatory obligations.
How ‘Trendy Hendy’ is overseeing a woke revolution at Eton
Headmaster Simon Henderson transformed Britain’s most famous school into a place which reflects right-on preoccupations befitting his nickname ‘Trendy Hendy’
Simon Henderson took over his role as Eton College headmaster five years ago and was nicknamed ‘Trendy Hendy’ by pupils.
He is said to have a habit of wearing chino trousers and open-necked shirts, overseeing what has been viewed as a cultural change at the famous school.
Mr Henderson once suggested he might get rid of Eton’s traditional tailcoats and is known to be interested by modern management techniques.
In 2016, he announced plans to split Eton’s deputy head-master role into two, creating one deputy head for ‘academic’ affairs and another for ‘pastoral’ matters.
He has also created a new role of ‘director of inclusion education’ to oversee diversity at Eton, and made a woman the Lower Master, or deputy head, for the first time.
A source has told the Telegraph that Mr Henderson ‘feels strongly’ about changing perceptions of Eton as an ‘old fashioned pillar of social and male elitism’.
The school has pointed out that the decision to sack Mr Knowland was taken by a disciplinary panel that the headmaster doesn’t sit on.