Ex-Cambridge college chaplain on how his new job to guide young people became an Orwellian nightmare

A Monday morning, just before the start of term, and the teaching staff of Trent College are in the dining hall, chanting two-word slogans. 

It occurs to the school chaplain, the Reverend Dr Bernard Randall, sitting near the front, that the woman on whose every word they hang, Elly Barnes, possesses the fervour of a revivalist preacher. To others, the event might also seem redolent of a rally in a totalitarian state.

Dr Barnes runs an organisation called Educate & Celebrate. Standing at a lectern, she demonstrates with growing zeal how to ‘embed gender, gender identity and sexual orientation into the fabric’ of the school.

The next slogan, the syllable-crammed exhortation SMASH HETERONORMATIVITY flashes up on a giant screen and the teachers dutifully repeat it. Usually applied negatively, the term refers to the attitude that opposite sex attraction is the norm.

Today, in an interview with The Mail on Sunday, Dr Randall recalls that as others chanted he remained silent, deeply troubled by what he felt was the ‘revolutionary Marxist’ flavour of the language and the sentiments expressed.

Reported: The Reverend Dr Bernard Randall, pictured above, who was previously chaplain at Christ’s College, Cambridge, says Christians cannot speak their mind

Reported: The Reverend Dr Bernard Randall, pictured above, who was previously chaplain at Christ’s College, Cambridge, says Christians cannot speak their mind

Reported: The Reverend Dr Bernard Randall, pictured above, who was previously chaplain at Christ’s College, Cambridge, says Christians cannot speak their mind

‘The chanting was frankly bizarre and I felt uncomfortable,’ he says. ‘It was all very cleverly put together though – her rhetorical skills were impressive.

‘She started off slowly with general things about anti bullying and diversity, which no one could object to. But then the focus moved to gender identity and an introduction to the language of trans.

‘And there seemed to be an emphasis on instruction rather than suggestion.’

He found it embarrassing that Dr Barnes was giving teachers stickers bearing her group’s rainbow logo when they answered questions correctly.

When she overheard Dr Randall explaining the meaning of ‘cis-gender’ to an unenlightened colleague (it refers to someone who identifies with the sex into which they were born), he was offered a sticker. He declined.

Today Dr Randall is without a job, his career in jeopardy. He pinpoints that day in September 2018 as the start of his troubles, although at the time he had no idea of the dark way in which events would unfold.

Certainly he could never have foreseen that his opposition to some, by no means all, of Educate & Celebrate’s creed would put him on a collision course with the school leadership team, in particular the deputy head, Jeremy Hallows, who is responsible for ‘pastoral’ matters in the school, and ‘designated safeguarding lead’ Justine Rimington.

Or that Ms Rimington would secretly report him to the Government’s anti-terrorism programme, Prevent, after he delivered a sermon that, he says, moderately and carefully presented the Christian viewpoint on identity questions.

‘I was terrified when I found out,’ recalls Dr Randall. ‘I had visions of being investigated by MI5, of men coming to my house at dawn and knocking down the front door. What was I supposed to tell my family? It was crazy.

‘I had gone to such lengths in the sermon to stress we must respect one another no matter what, even people we disagree with. I am not ashamed to say I cried with relief when I was told that the report to Prevent was not going to be taken further.’

Sitting in his clerical garb, Dr Randall doesn’t betray obvious signs of being a terrorist, extremist or radicalising firebrand.

The bespectacled 48-year-old Oxford graduate does fit the popular notion of a school chaplain however. Tolerant, kind, patient, he projects the right mixture of authority and benevolence.

Ordained in the Church of England, he is welcoming of people from all faiths and none. When in 2015, having answered an advert in the Church Times, he joined Trent College, an independent boarding school near Nottingham with a Christian ethos, he brought intellectual vigour to the role.

Previously, he was chaplain at Christ’s College, Cambridge, and the college’s director of studies for theology. What appealed about the new role – a ‘parish priest for the school community’ – was that it involved working with pupils of all ages.

Activist: Dr Elly Barnes, above, who runs the Educate & Celebrate inclusion programme

Activist: Dr Elly Barnes, above, who runs the Educate & Celebrate inclusion programme

Activist: Dr Elly Barnes, above, who runs the Educate & Celebrate inclusion programme

‘I thought that if I could see a whole cohort through from preschool to sixth form, that would be a lovely thing to do,’ he says.

With some justification, head teacher Bill Penty remarked that the pastoral and spiritual care of the pupils was in safe hands.

Given what happened later, it is worth noting what Dr Randall claims his agreed role entailed. He would ‘share the Christian faith, and raise awareness of the spiritual dimension to life, and of spiritual and moral values which remain important whether we subscribe to a particular faith or not’.

The new chaplain settled in well. He taught classics and religious studies and ran an extra-curricular philosophy group.

In 2018, the school invited Educate & Celebrate – a group that goes into primary and secondary schools to give lessons on ‘gender diversity’ – to help staff navigate a changing world in which a kaleidoscope of alternative terms are used to describe gender and sexuality.

Dr Barnes does not favour, for instance, the terms ‘boys’ and ‘girls’ lest they discriminate against transgender pupils. Not that they got down to such specifics on the 2018 training day.

‘I had concerns beforehand but reserved judgment because I believe in freedom of speech,’ recalls Dr Randall.

Above all it was the focus on gender identity that bothered him, ‘the blurring of the biological distinctions between men and women’.

He says: ‘They were importing this identity politics kind of way of approaching things which comes from Marxist and postmodern roots which is fundamentally atheist.

‘They were bringing in this atheist worldview into a Christian school and my job as I saw it was to speak up a little bit about some of the difficulties that might raise.’

Dr Randall claims he was particularly aggrieved to hear Dr Barnes claim that ‘gender identity’ – an individual’s sense of having a particular gender – was a ‘protected characteristic’ under the Equality Act so at a suitable juncture he discreetly took her aside and pointed out this wasn’t the case.

He also took issue with what he says was her claim that as many people are born ‘intersex’ – in which a person may have genitalia or chromosomes from both sexes – as are born with ginger hair. He says after a short discussion she conceded that the data on the subject wasn’t reliable.

Dr Barnes did not respond to requests for comment.

Afterwards, Dr Randall raised concerns about how some of the ideas clashed with certain Christian beliefs and values.

He says he was assured by the school that he would be involved in any decision-making on whether the school would implement the programme.

This, he said, allayed his fears.

During another training session in January 2019, Dr Randall claims that he learned a decision had been made to pursue the Educate & Celebrate programme in full.

This involved trying to meet 30 targets to achieve ‘gold’ standard status. Dr Randall claims that one was the instruction for ‘all departments and faculties to ‘embed LGBT+ Inclusive lessons’.

Others included ‘holding a fundraiser for Educate & Celebrate’ and putting up an LGBT display in key areas of the school, ‘including reception, hall, theatre, corridors and library’. Despite previous assurances, he says that he was told that he had not been included in discussions ‘because he might disagree with it’.

Unsurprisingly Dr Randall was angry that he had been sidelined.

The school pressed ahead with the LGBT programme but Dr Randall says he was never consulted on how, for instance, it might be tailored to fit with the school’s stated position in support of ‘the Protestant and Evangelical principles of the Church of England’.

Around June 2019, Dr Randall says he was approached by a pupil who asked him: ‘How come we are told we have to accept all of this LGBT stuff in a Christian school?’

Others he talked to were similarly ‘upset, concerned or confused’ by the issues, he claims.

‘It was a school tradition that during the summer term pupils give me ideas for sermons,’ he says.

‘So I decided to address the school on some of the issues raised by pupils about Educate & Celebrate. Normally I speak off the cuff, but I decided to write this sermon – Competing Ideologies – beforehand because of the sensitivity of the subject matter.’

Christian ethos: Trent College near Nottingham, which claimed that Dr Randall’s 2019 school sermon was ‘harmful to LGBT pupils’

Christian ethos: Trent College near Nottingham, which claimed that Dr Randall’s 2019 school sermon was ‘harmful to LGBT pupils’

Christian ethos: Trent College near Nottingham, which claimed that Dr Randall’s 2019 school sermon was ‘harmful to LGBT pupils’

In one contentious passage he said that it is ‘perfectly legitimate to think that marriage should only properly be understood as being a lifelong exclusive union of a man and a woman; indeed, that definition is written into English law’.

Though he neglected to say that same-sex marriage was made law in 2013, he would later point out that he was referring to Church of England Canon Law, which has the force of statute law.

Dr Randall claims that the following week, he was pulled into a meeting and told the sermon had hurt some people’s feelings and undermined the LGBT agenda.

He was also told that it was ‘offensive’ to describe Dr Barnes as an ‘LGBT activist’, despite her describing herself as a ‘DIVA Activist of the Year’ on her Twitter profile at the time.

At one point he was challenged about a conversation in the staff room some years earlier.

He says: ‘I was overheard having a conversation about the appropriateness of a boy transitioning and then being in a girls’ boarding house.

‘And I think I said something along the lines of how it might cause difficulties and parents not being totally happy. That this conversation was recalled four years later was staggering.’

From then on the chaplain says he was a ‘marked man’.

Dr Randall then discovered by accident that he had been reported to Prevent and claims he was only casually told it would not be taken any further.

‘I came to another disciplinary meeting with many questions – one of them being, “Do you think the Church of England is a terrorist organisation?”

‘When it came to this point I was told, “No, er, we probably should have told you that the Prevent referral didn’t meet the threshold.”’

Following an investigation and disciplinary hearing, Dr Randall was sacked for gross misconduct but reinstated on appeal.

However, he claims he was told that he must comply with 20 conditions regarding future sermons.

He was reportedly banned from broaching ‘any topic or expressing any opinion (in Chapel or more generally around School) that is likely to cause offence or distress to members of the school body’.

Another stipulation was that ‘you will not publicly express personal beliefs in ways which exploit our pupils’ vulnerability.’

Future sermons had to be approved in advance, with a staff member observing to ensure each stipulation was met, he claims.

‘I see what has happened to me in Orwellian terms,’ he says.

‘I was doing the job I was employed to do. I wasn’t saying anything that I should not have been able to say in any liberal secular institution.

‘Everyone should be free to accept or reject an ideology. Isn’t that what liberal democracy means?’

Dr Randall will claim in his legal proceedings that life was made intolerable for him and that the school refused to reinstate his teaching timetable. In December, he was made redundant.

He says: ‘My story sends a message to other Christians that you are not free to talk about your faith. It seems it is no longer enough to just “tolerate” LGBT ideology.

‘You must accept it without question and no debate is allowed without serious consequences.

‘Someone else will decide what is and what isn’t acceptable, and suddenly you can become an outcast, possibly for the rest of your life.’

Link hienalouca.com


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  1. Vanessa, how could you define Karl?
    Vanessa. He has three hundred million activities but he is never tired, always available. He always has interesting things to say and he is often right. What I admire most about him is the combination of genius and kindness, but I’m embarrassed to say that in front of you, Karl.
    Karl. I’ll cover my ears, go ahead.
    Vanessa. She is a beautiful person and it is very easy to check this by talking to her seamstresses. They have only words of love for him.

    Is it natural for you, Karl?
    Karl. With women, yes. I don’t like working with guys as much. I had many assistants who eventually believed they were ten times more awesome than me, but none of them succeeded. Apart from Hervé Léger, the others are all losers whose heads have suddenly swollen. I deflate mine every morning.

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