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Eton headmaster ‘will not apologise’ over dismissing teacher in freedom of speech row as donors pull out

Bethany Dawson
·2-min read
Boys run across the school yard of Eton College (Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
Boys run across the school yard of Eton College (Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

The headmaster of Eton College has told parents he will not apologise for dismissing an English teacher at the centre of a free speech row.

The 580-year-old private school has faced backlash from donors and former pupils after it was made public that Will Knowland - an English teacher at the school since 2011 - was sacked after publishing a video lecture which criticised feminist thinking and teaches that that women would not be able to survive without men.

While the school’s actions have been met with support by some, other high-paying donors have said they will stop funding the institution if the disciplinary measures continue.

Nigel McNair Scott, former Etonian and former chairman of Helical Bar told The Telegraph that the actions of the school may lead to him writing the institution out of his will, stating: “What happens here will determine my testamentary decisions”.

Pupils and staff have also published a petition, which has attracted more than 2,500 signatures, accusing Eton of “institutional bullying” and claiming the dismissal of Mr Knowland was a “gross abuse of the duty of the school to protect the freedoms of the individual”.

But the school’s headmaster, Simon Henderson, has written to parents defending his actions, saying: “I went into teaching because I believe in the values of a liberal education and the importance of independent thinking and intellectual freedom.

“Eton’s same belief in these values inspired me during my eight years as a teacher here from 2001 and were a key reason why I was so proud to return as Head Master in 2015.”

Mr Henderson said these values are “non-negotiable”, stating that he “believe[s] passionately that our pupils must learn to think for themselves rather than waiting to be told what to think”.

The school said Mr Knowland has not been fired on the grounds of free speech, but rather as a matter of “internal discipline” after he refused to take the video down, despite being asked to do so six times.

Lawyers told The Times the school made the right decision, as allowing Mr Knowland to continue after expressing “views that society found unacceptable” could have left Eton open to scrutiny from the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

Mr Knowland has raised over £50,000 thus far, stating that these funds will support him through a potential employment tribunal.

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