Dismissed Eton teacher seeks Act of Parliament to reinstate him to his post

Will Knowland who taught English at Eton College
Will Knowland who taught English at Eton College

A dismissed Eton teacher is seeking an Act of Parliament to reinstate him to his post, as he encourages his supporters to lobby MPs and peers to rally behind his cause.

Will Knowland was sacked for gross misconduct after recording a lecture which questioned "current radical feminist orthodoxy” and then refusing to remove it from his YouTube channel.

If his dismissal is upheld by the school’s appeal panel, which met on Tuesday and is due to deliver its verdict early next week, he intends to invoke an obscure branch of legislation in a last-ditch attempt to win back his job.

Writing to his supporters, he explained his strategy: “Another way in which I might hope to secure the support of members of both Houses of Parliament is by lodging a petition for a Personal Bill.

“My petition would be to try and secure a Personal Act of Parliament reinstating me as a Master at Eton College. Like any Bill that goes through Parliament, there would be scrutiny by a Select Committee of my case, and any petition opposing the Bill by the College. Parliament would hear evidence and submissions from counsel.”

Personal Bills are a form of Private Bills which relate to the “estate, property, status or style, or otherwise relating to the personal affairs, of an individual”.

They have traditionally been used for divorce or to permit otherwise forbidden marriages and were popular in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

But they have fallen out of use in recent years and the last Act resulting from a Private Bill was passed in 1987 to enable the marriage of George Donald Evans and Deborah Jane Evans.

Mr Knowland explained to his supporters that the benefits of a Parliamentary procedure are that “it would allow Masters, and other members of the Eton Community, to be able to speak freely about these issues under the protection of Parliamentary privilege”.

But he said that the possibility of bringing about the Personal Bill will “ultimately rest” on support he could muster from MPs and peers.

“Therefore, if you do have contact with Honourable Members of either House, I would be forever grateful if you would convey your views on my case, and the need for freedom of expression to be protected while delivering a balanced curriculum of diverse viewpoints to the wonderful students at the College,” he said.

Eton College - Manfred Gottschalk/Alamy Stock Photo 
Eton College - Manfred Gottschalk/Alamy Stock Photo

Toby Young, general secretary of the Free Speech Union which has been supporting Mr Knowland, said they will petition Parliament to pass a Personal Bill to intervene in his case if Eton does not reinstate him.

“There’s so much at stake here, Parliament must be given an opportunity to make its feelings known,” Mr Young said.

He warned that if Eton’s appeal panel upholds the decision to dismiss Mr Knowland, it could have a “chilling effect” in schools and make it “impossible” for teachers to talk about controversial ideas in the classroom.

Eton College has been engulfed in a free speech row following Mr Knowland’s dismissal. His controversial lecture, titled “The Patriarchy Paradox” was part of the Perspectives course taken by sixth form students to encourage them to think critically about subjects of public debate.

Mr Knowland alleged that he was banned from delivering the lecture to pupils and then dismissed after he refused to remove a video of it from his personal YouTube channel.

Eton has said the dismissal was "not a matter of free speech" but one of "internal discipline".

The £42,500-a-year school has said it was left with "no choice" but to ask Mr Knowland to remove the video from the internet as it fell foul of equality laws.

An Eton College spokesman said: “The appeal hearing has concluded and, as laid down by school procedure, a decision is normally delivered within seven calendar days."