Furious Old Etonians have forced ‘biased’ school provost Lord Waldegrave to step down from the appeal panel of a sacked teacher at the centre of a freedom of speech row.
Eton chiefs had called for the school’s top governor to step aside from the conduct hearing after he ‘publicly’ aired his views defending the sacking of teacher Will Knowland.
The English teacher was let go by the £42,000-a-year Berkshire school over a lecture in which he tackled radical feminism and its use of the term ‘toxic masculinity’ to drive down male qualities.
But Lord Waldegrave, who is chairman of the school’s governing committee, said in a comment that such accusations were a ‘false narrative’.
He said decision to part company with Mr Knowland had nothing to do with the lecture and instead related to his refusal to accept ‘internal discipline’.
However Eton chiefs were reportedly left ‘astonished’ at the contents of the letter.
Members of the Old Etonian Association had raised concern that Lord Waldegrave had ‘so publicly made his bias known ahead of the hearing’, according to the Telegraph.
Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the college told the paper that the part of the letter which had sparked the accusation of bias was the result of a ‘drafting error’.
Eton chiefs had called for provost Lord William Waldegrave (pictured left) to step aside from the conduct hearing after he wrote a letter defending Will Knowland’s sacking
The English teacher was sacked from the £42,000-a-year Berkshire school over a lecture in which he tackled radical feminism and its use of the term ‘toxic masculinity’ to drive down male qualities
How ‘Trendy Hendy’ is overseeing a woke revolution at Eton
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 Daily Telegraph that Mr Henderson ‘feels strongly’ about changing perceptions of Eton as an ‘old fashioned pillar of social and male elitism’.
It comes as Eton faces a growing backlash over its headmaster’s ‘aggressively woke’ revolution after the sacking of Mr Knowland.
The freedom of speech row erupted at the elite school after pupils revolted following the sacking of the English teacher.
More than 1,000 pupils have so far signed a petition calling for his reinstatement amid claims he was subject to the ultimate censorship over the planned lecture in which he was due to question ‘current radical feminist orthodoxy’.
The lecture was posted on Mr Knowland’s personal YouTube channel, but not delivered to pupils as he intended.
Headmaster Simon Henderson, nicknamed ‘Trendy Hendy’, is said to have lost the confidence of some staff with his ideas for cultural changes at Eton.
Mr Henderson, who is said to wear chino trousers and open-necked shirts, has previously suggested getting rid of Eton’s traditional tailcoats and is said to want to change perceptions of it as an ‘old fashioned pillar of social and male elitism’.
Also today, a spokesman for Eton College said it was ‘not an issue of free speech’ and that ‘there was simply no other choice than to ask for it to be taken down’.
Lord Waldegrave said matters had been distorted, insisting: ‘Eton will never cancel debate.’
The former Tory Cabinet minister defended the 580-year-old school’s record on free speech.
He said two barristers had found that the lecture on Mr Knowland’s YouTube channel broke equality law and regulations governing independent schools.
The peer said Eton was left with no choice after Mr Knowland allegedly refused six times to remove it while a solution was found, and he was dismissed for gross misconduct – a decision that is now under appeal.
How ‘Wet’ William Waldegrave become provost at Eton where he attended as a boy
William Waldegrave, officially titled Lord Waldegrave of North Hill, has been the provost of Eton since 2009.
Born in London in 1946, he attended Eton, Oxford and Harvard before entering Parliament and worked in the Cabinet Office as political secretary to prime minister Edward Heath.
Lord Waldegrave then served as a Conservative MP from 1979 to 1997 for the Bristol West constituency, including 16 years as a Minister.
His positions included agriculture minister, health secretary, Chief Secretary of the Treasury and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster.
He became known as one of the ‘wet’ Tories during the 1980s, which was a term used for members of the party who opposed some of Margaret Thatcher’s more hard-line policies.
After leaving politics Lord Waldegrave worked in the City for Deutsche Kleinwort Benson and UBS, before becoming chairman of Coutts in 2014.
He took over as provost of Eton in 2009 and was appointed as University of Reading chancellor in 2016.
The provost said: ‘Eton now, as in the past, is a school which prides itself on encouraging open-minded, independent and critical thinking.
‘Boys are encouraged to think about and discuss challenging topics. Eton will never cancel debate. Everyone accepts, including the teacher concerned, that such freedom cannot be absolute.’
But Mr Henderson, nicknamed ‘Trendy Hendy’, is said to have lost the confidence of staff by pursuing an ‘aggressively woke’ agenda.
‘It has very much come from the top with the new head. A lot of the teaching staff do not like it,’ a source told The Daily Telegraph last night.
‘What sort of person wants to teach at Eton? It is not your typical comprehensive school. They tend to be pretty highly qualified and they tend to have a strong belief in institutions.’
Another source told the paper that Mr Henderson is intent on changing the impression of an ‘old-fashioned pillar of social and male elitism.’
Mr Knowland’s lecture, entitled The Patriarchy Paradox, would have been delivered as part of a course taken by older pupils to encourage critical thinking.
The English master, who has taught at Eton for nine years, suggested that science and history offer evidence that masculine virtues, such as strength and courage, can be beneficial to women, families and society.
In a detailed letter to the Eton community last week, Mr Knowland said: ‘The Head Master [Henderson] felt that some of the ideas put forward in my lecture – such as the view that men and women differ psychologically and not all of those differences are socially constructed – were too dangerous for the boys to be exposed to.
But Lord Waldegrave, who is chairman of the school’s (pictured) governing committee, said such accusations were a ‘false narrative’
‘I explained to the Head Master that I wasn’t endorsing all the ideas in my lecture, but I wanted the boys to be made aware of a different point of view to the current radical feminist orthodoxy.’
Teacher who claims he was fired in defence of free speech wrongly stated that 40-60% of sex attack accusations are false
An Eton master claiming to have been sacked in defence of free speech wrongly asserted that half of rape claims are fictitious and that sex attacks against men ‘dwarf’ those on women.
Will Knowland, an English teacher at the elite school, says he was fired following a dispute about a lecture in which he invited pupils to question ‘current radical feminist orthodoxy’.
Called the Patriarchy Paradox, it was posted on Mr Knowland’s personal YouTube channel and not delivered to pupils because of the pandemic.
The teacher has already raised over £30,000 for a potential legal challenge to his dismissal, and attracted supportive comments from MPs and academics.
Mr Knowland, who yesterday declined to comment, has stated that his ideas were relatively anodyne, like the notion that ‘men and women differ psychologically’.
Yet in the lecture he appeared to argue sex attacks were overstated by feminists for political reasons, saying ‘rape, is not a unique claim for male oppression of women because male-on-male rape in jails dwarfs male-on-female rapes outside them’.
When challenged on his comment in remarks beneath the video, he stated ‘that the only serious scientific studies ever done on the subject estimate that … 40-60 per cent of rape accusations are false’.
Most experts believe that the proportion of false rape allegations in the UK is no more than 3 to 4 per cent. The FBI puts the level of unfounded reports in the US at 8 per cent.
Sarah Green, director of the End Violence Against Women Coalition, said Mr Knowland was guilty of ‘extremely selective and incorrect use of rape statistics’.
She said: ‘How that is supposed to encourage critical thinking and model an independent, truth-seeking mind I do not know. And you would think any teacher, an adult in a position of authority over young people, might think twice about rape as ‘any old subject’ for a bit of provocation.’
The school, whose old boys include princes William and Harry, PM Boris Johnson and author George Orwell, was accused of being ‘heartless and merciless’ in its treatment of Mr Knowland and of ‘prioritising emotional safety over intellectual challenge’.
But Lord Waldegrave told the Mail that such suggestions were pushing a ‘false narrative’ and the decision to part company related to Mr Knowland’s refusal to accept ‘internal discipline’.
He stressed: ‘When the Head Master received complaints about this particular video, there were suggestions that it broke the Equality Act and the Education (Independent Schools Standards) Regulations.
‘An independent barrister was consulted who said, in a written opinion, that this was indeed so.’
Lord Waldegrave said Mr Knowland was asked to remove the video – which was ‘clearly identified with Eton’ – from his YouTube channel.
He added: ‘The Head Master proposed a temporary removal while a way forward could be explored. The master, on six occasions, refused to do this.’
The peer said Mr Knowland was dismissed for a ‘persistent refusal to accept a reasonable – indeed inevitable – instruction’ following an internal investigation.
Lord Waldegrave insisted: ‘I think it right to make clear what the issue is. It is not about free speech within the law, behind which Eton stands four-square.
‘It is about a matter of internal discipline, quite properly now subject to appeal.’ Mr Knowland, whose wife Rachel is a former singer who made it to the semi-finals of Britain’s Got Talent, has set up a fundraising page to help bring a case to an employment tribunal.
He has raised more than £14,600 from over 360 well-wishers. On his fundraising website, the father-of-five wrote: ‘I have been dismissed from my employment. My wife and I will be made homeless along with our children.’
Explaining his refusal to remove the video from YouTube, he said: ‘Because I believe passionately in free speech, I said I would only take it down if given a clear reason, which is how I ended up being dismissed.’
Last night, the video – uploaded in September – was still on YouTube and had been viewed more than 28,000 times.
The petition against his sacking said: ‘There is a sense that by dismissing Mr Knowland the school is seeking to protect its new image as politically progressive at the expense of one of its own.’
Tory MP Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown warned of the danger ‘of telling people what they should think rather than allowing them to make up their own opinions’.
Professor Steven Pinker, a psychology expert at Harvard in the US, said: ‘For a teacher to be fired for discussing findings backed by scientific evidence – even if they are controversial and some may prove to be mistaken – is an assault on the values that every educational institution should hold dear.’
Hear the Eton lecture that dared question radical feminism: Video lesson about death of ‘chivalry and honour’ that got English teacher sacked and sparked freedom of speech row is posted on YouTube
A video of the lecture made by an Eton College teacher at the centre of a freedom of speech row has been posted on Youtube.
Sacked English teacher Will Knowland hit out at radical feminism and the idea of ‘toxic masculinity’, which he said had been used to attack men and male qualities.
In the lecture, named ‘The Patriarchy Paradox’, he claimed the male role as a ‘protector’ benefits society as a whole – including women.
And he warned that ‘shaping men and women to be more similar actually exaggerates their differences’ – which he described as the Patriarchy Paradox.
He says that a world without men would be ‘awful’ for women and complains that chivalry and honour – which he labelled as good male qualities – are being driven down by terms such as ‘toxic masculinity’.
The virtual lecture, which was never actually shown to students at the £42,500-a-year- school in Berkshire, resulted in Mr Knowland being sacked from his job.
Hundreds of pupils and members of the wider Eton community have now accused the school of hypocrisy, cruelty and a ‘complete lack of backbone’, and asked if Eton was ‘protecting its new image as politically progressive at the expense of one of its own’.
Mr Knowland’s lecture The Patriarchy Paradox explores the conflict between the concepts of sex and gender.
He argues that the ‘shaping of men and women to be more similar actually exaggerates their differences’.
Mr Knowland argues that the idea of patriarchy – a social system in which men hold primary power and predominate in roles of political leadership – could be equally grounded in biology, rather than something that is constructed socially.
And he says some women may actually chose the traditional gender roles because it benefits them.
Mr Knowland points out that male roles in the animal kingdom, including those of the lion, are primarily to provide protection.
As a result, he says men have traditionally been the sex to fight wars – pointing to the difference in the development of male and female bodies in adolescence.
He points to a cage-fighting match-up involving transgender fighter Fallon Fox, who broke the skull of female opponent Tamika Brent when the pair fought in the Octagon.
He says: ‘If it is not fair to pit men and women in sports, then it is not fair to pit men against women on the battlefield.’
He says men’s lives are also more expendable because women are the ones who are able to give birth. However he says that a world without men would be ‘awful’ for women.
Mr Knowland adds that ‘women have always been spared the worst of work’ – pointing to the death of male slaves in the building of historical monuments such as the Pyramids of Giza and the Great Wall of China.
In a point to arguing the good that men have achieved, he also says that men have also invented ’90 per cent of inventions that have improved women’s life expectancy’.
Following Mr Knowland’s sacking, a petition has been launched supporting him – and has been signed by 800 people.
The petition says: ‘Young men and their views are formed in the meeting and conflict of ideas… which necessarily entails controversy and spirited discussion.’
Mr Knowland, they add, ‘is loved by all who have encountered him’ and the students ‘feel morally bound not to be bystanders in what appears to be an instance of institutional bullying’.
Mr Knowland and his wife Rachel (pictured) live in a grace-and-favour detached four-bedroom house owned by Eton. If he fails to win back his job on appeal next month, they will be homeless
‘Eton has been here for almost 600 years,’ said one source close to the conflict.
‘And this is a battle for its very soul. Cancel culture has arrived with cult groupthink reaching right into the heart of the school. It’s meant to be a bastion of learning and free speech.
‘George Orwell went to Eton. What would he think? 1984 was meant to be satire, not a how-to manual.’
Mr Knowland has appealed his sacking. His appeal will be heard on Founder’s Day, December 8.
Mr Knowland and his wife Rachel live in a grace-and-favour detached four-bedroom house owned by Eton. If he fails to win back his job on appeal next month, they will be homeless
Mr Knowland will have the support of the Free Speech Union, whose founder Toby Young said: ‘This is a landmark case.
‘Schools must be places where children are taught all sides of these big questions and allowed to make up their own minds, not indoctrinated with the latest political orthodoxy.’
Whatever happens, the aftermath is going to be tricky for Simon Henderson who was yesterday obliged to reassure parents about this ‘difficult and emotive issue’.
‘We are limited in what we can say at the moment, given that a disciplinary process is ongoing,’ he wrote in a message.
‘Mr Knowland has chosen to publicise his version of events in advance of the disciplinary panel to which he has appealed.
‘So as to be fair to all parties, the school cannot provide substantive comment before a final decision is reached.
‘I appreciate that a lack of information is frustrating and leads to increased speculation, however the school needs to respect the integrity of the process.’
Mr Knowland, meanwhile, is longing to return to Eton and doesn’t see why he can’t.
He writes: ‘Respect for Eton – its past present and future – means upholding its traditions of discussion, argument and persuasion and eschewing the culture of intolerance that has swept through other institutions.
‘As Hailz Osborne [the school’s head of inclusion education] has said, in promoting diversity, which includes intellectual diversity, ‘the challenge is to enable people to say uncomfortable things’.’
Lord Waldegrave: We will never cancel debate at this school
ByLord Waldegrave, Provost Of Eton College
Recently, a false narrative has been circulating in the national – and even international – media about Eton. Someone might even say it was fake news.
The narrative is that a teacher has been sacked for preparing a video lecture about radical feminist doctrines on gender which put forward an alternative viewpoint for discussion by boys.
It is alleged that he was sacked for having the temerity to articulate such views. This is false.
Eton now, as in the past, is a school which prides itself on encouraging open-minded, independent and critical thinking.
Boys are encouraged to think about and discuss challenging topics. This happens in the classroom every day and in a wide variety of lectures given both by Eton’s own teachers, and by outside visitors.
In the last few years visiting speakers have ranged from the Secretary of the Communist Party of GB to my late friend Sir Roger Scruton; from, indeed, radical feminists to far different voices.
Eton provost Lord Waldegrave, (pictured) who is chairman of the school’s governing body, said matters had been distorted, insisting: ‘Eton will never cancel debate’
After one spirited and argumentative meeting a distinguished professor visiting from California told me that he doubted such debate could have taken place there without complaint.
I am proud of that, as are we all at Eton, and we do not intend to put that tradition at risk. Eton will never cancel debate.
But everyone accepts, including the teacher concerned, that such freedom cannot be absolute. Eton has exactly the same duties under the law as any other school.
When the Head Master received complaints about this particular video, there were suggestions that it broke the Equality Act and the Education (Independent Schools Standards) Regulations.
An independent barrister was consulted who said, in a written opinion, that this was indeed so.
At this point the Head Master had absolutely no option other than to relay the legal advice received and ask, and then instruct, the master to take down the YouTube video, which was (with permission from the school) clearly identified with Eton.
The Head Master proposed a temporary removal while a way forward could be explored.
The master, on six occasions, refused to do this.
A disciplinary investigation by another barrister (who took the same view as the first about the law and the regulations) led to a panel hearing by three very experienced and senior teachers, at which the Head Master appeared as a witness.
They heard the evidence and determined that the master’s persistent refusal to accept a reasonable – indeed inevitable – instruction from the Head Master in such an important matter amounted to gross misconduct which should result in dismissal.
Whether or not that decision was correct is now subject to appeal. In the normal course of events, I would not comment before such an appeal was heard.
In this case, because a false and potentially damaging narrative has reached the media, I think it right to make clear what the issue is.
It is not about free speech within the law, behind which Eton stands four-square. It is about a matter of internal discipline, quite properly now subject to appeal.