Teaching assistant Kristie Higgs’s devotion to her Christian faith was matched only by her dedication to her job.
She is no evangelist, but believed one complemented the other – her role, after all, was to provide emotional support and care for the most needy and troubled students in a 1,000-pupil secondary school.
It was a job the mother-of-two cherished and carried out for seven unblemished years – until she was sacked recently for an ‘offence’ that, in these politically correct times, is becoming all too familiar.
Kristie Higg lost job at Farmor’s School in Fairford, Gloucestershire, in January after sharing on her personal Facebook account a protest against transgender teaching at her son’s primary school
Kristie’s ‘crime’ was to share on her personal Facebook site what she thought was an innocent expression of her Christian point of view – an online protest against transgender teaching at her son’s primary school.
A single anonymous complaint that accused her of offending gay and transgender pupils led to her immediate suspension and eventually ended her career.
Today in an exclusive interview with The Mail on Sunday, Kristie reveals how:
- During a six-hour disciplinary hearing, a school governor likened her posts to those of a pro-Nazi, far-Right extremist;
- School chiefs snooped on her emails and questioned why she had used her school email to receive ‘inspirational’ quotations from the Bible;
- A school governor told her she had no ‘absolute right’ to freedom of speech.
Kristie was devastated when she lost her job at Farmor’s School, a mixed-sex academy in Fairford, Gloucestershire, in January.
As well as being an essential source of family income, her role was a vocation that allowed Kristie to put her Christian values – those that taught her to care for others no matter what – into practice. Many of the students the 43-year-old encountered were, she says, ‘outsiders’.
Kristie’s post on Facebook. One anonymous complaint accused her of offending gay and transgender pupils and led to her immediate suspension and eventually ended the mother-of-two’s career
They included gay and transgender teenagers who turned to her for emotional and practical support when they felt the world was against them – the accusation that she would discriminate against such pupils she finds deeply offensive.
‘I loved my job and I loved the children that I cared for,’ she says. ‘It wasn’t just kids who were in trouble, I also helped children who were gay or changing gender. When they came to my office I opened my arms to them and treated them like any other young people. I never discriminated against them and never would.’
Kristie’s ordeal began in October when the Church of England primary school attended by her youngest son adopted ‘No Outsiders’ teaching about sexual minorities.
She posted on her Facebook page a petition, which did not originate from her, against Government plans to make ‘relationships education’ compulsory in schools adding: ‘They are brainwashing our children!’
The same programme has generated a row between schools and Muslim parents in Birmingham. Books given to children as young as four include stories about a boy who wants to wear a dress and one about a red crayon that discovers it is really blue.
Kristie felt that her son was too young to understand the issues so, with the agreement of teachers, excluded the nine-year-old from the lessons.
The assertion in the books that people can change gender at will jarred with her firmly held Christian beliefs.
Trans book alarmed Muslims too
The controversial teaching programme ‘No Outsiders’ was created by gay assistant head teacher Andrew Moffat in 2014 to promote tolerance of sexual minorities.
It is now taught at primary schools across England and Wales but has sparked protests among Muslims in Birmingham where parents have withdrawn pupils from lessons. Children as young as four are taught about same-sex relationships and transgender people using brightly illustrated books.
They include a story about a boy who wants to wear a dress and a red crayon who discovers it is really blue (pictured right).
The ‘No Outsiders’ programme is not officially part of the Government plans to make relationships education compulsory in primary schools next year but last month schools watchdog Ofsted gave it its backing.
In a recent interview, Tory MP Andrea Leadsom said it was ‘absolutely right’ for parents to be allowed to choose what age their children should be taught about LGBT issues.
Never anticipating the catastrophic consequences, she posted on her Facebook page a petition, which did not originate from her, against Government plans to make ‘relationships education’ compulsory in schools adding: ‘They are brainwashing our children!’
While some may not agree with the petition’s sentiments, it’s hard to understand why it caused so much offence.
It alerts parents to the plans, pointing out: ‘Children will be taught… gender is a matter of choice, not biology, so that it’s up to them what sex they are.
At the same time it means that expressing and teaching fundamental Christian beliefs, relating to the creation of men and women and marriage, will in practice become forbidden – because they conflict with the new morality and are seen as indoctrination into unacceptable religious bigotry.’
It continues: ‘Freedom of belief will be destroyed, with freedom of speech permitted only for those who toe the party line!’
The online petition then warned: ‘We say again, this is a vicious form of totalitarianism aimed at suppressing Christianity.’
Kristie then put up a second Facebook post linking to an American blog criticising schools for using children’s books to teach youngsters about changing sex.
The blogger, who argues that someone’s sex can only be biologically determined, branded the stories a ‘perversion of the truth’ and ‘a form of child abuse’.
Kristie says: ‘My only crime was to share information about what was happening in schools with other parents and I can’t see what was so terrible about that.
‘I was raising concerns about my son being educated in matters that are not aligned with my religious beliefs and people could choose to agree or disagree. I would never tell others what to think.
‘My bigger worry was that they were introducing the confusing idea of changing gender to children at such a young age.’
Kristie’s accuser, one of her Facebook friends, complained to her headteacher in an email on October 26 last year and asked the school to keep their identity secret.
Kristie has never been given the opportunity to challenge them and still doesn’t know the identity of her accuser.
In the message, the unnamed parent, whose child attends Farmor’s School, alleged that Kristie had been ‘posting homophobic and prejudiced views against the LGBT community on Facebook’.
And in light of her ‘offensive’ views, they were worried that the softly spoken pastoral assistant ‘may exert influence over the vulnerable pupils who may end up in isolation’ – the very pupils she had been helping for seven years.
Days later Kristie was called into the headmaster’s office without warning and told she was suspended pending an investigation into whether she had broken the school’s code of conduct.
Kristie had worked at Farmor’s School in Fairford (pictured) for seven years, attended it as a child and had recently enrolled her son
After hearing the allegations against her, Kristie told the headmaster that millions of Christians around the world shared her view.
He insisted the suspension had nothing to do with her religion but she suspects he had been warned to say that to avoid accusations of religious discrimination against her.
‘It had everything to do with my Christianity. To suggest otherwise is ridiculous’, she says.
In the weeks after her suspension, which she was banned from discussing with anyone, Kristie was ordered to attend two further ‘investigation’ meetings with the school’s human resources officer.
Kristie was banned from discussing her suspension with anyone
In the second of these sessions it emerged that the school had been trawling through her work emails in search of any wrongdoing.
Bizarrely, one school official demanded to know if she had used her professional email address to subscribe to a Christian broadcast service that sent out daily inspirational Bible readings.
‘I could not believe they had gone into my email messages looking for evidence that I was a Christian. It felt as if I was being persecuted for my faith,’ Kristie says.
She is a member of Fairford Christian Fellowship, a prayer group that interprets the Bible literally.
She and about 20 other followers hold weekly meetings at a community centre in the leafy Cotswolds town and do work for local charities.
She and her 45-year-old electrician husband, Darren, grew up in Fairford and both attended the school from which Kristie has been sacked. Her father worked at the local RAF base for almost a decade before retiring.
The investigation into her conduct culminated in Kristie being asked to attend a disciplinary hearing at a hotel just days before Christmas.
With only her pastor for support, she was grilled for a total of six hours by a five-strong panel of three school governors and two human resources officers.
She says she felt intimidated by the panel’s chairman, employment lawyer Stephen Conlan.
Just listening to his voice on a recording of the hearing was enough to bring Kristie to tears. ‘I just felt so intimidated by the way he questioned me.
He was clearly well practised in this type of situation and I felt out of my depth – it didn’t seem right that it was me against all of them,’ she says.
In the hearing she denied that she had illegally discriminated against anyone or brought the school into disrepute, pointing out that the language used in the posts she shared were not her words.
Her aim, she argues, had been merely to raise awareness among parents of the Government’s education plans and the transgender literature being taught in primary schools.
She was grilled for a total of six hours by a five-strong panel of three school governors and two human resources officers. She says she felt intimidated by the panel’s chairman, employment lawyer Stephen Conlan
But she believes her words fell on deaf ears because the panel had already made its mind up about her.
‘They basically kept saying what I did was wrong and that a parent had complained,’ she says.
‘But I’m a parent too. The parent who complained had their beliefs and these are my beliefs, yet that wasn’t taken into consideration.’
In one exchange she described how one of the governors compared her Facebook posts to offending comments that might be made by a ‘far-Right’ extremist – a person which Mr Conlan helpfully clarified was ‘something that was pro-Nazi’.
‘I didn’t understand what they meant at first because I wasn’t familiar with the far-Right,’ Kristie says.
‘But when Mr Conlan explained, I was shocked that they put my posts about Christianity in the same category as political extremists.’
Following the hearing she was forced to wait three weeks over Christmas before she was dealt the devastating news by email that she had been dismissed for ‘gross misconduct’.
The ruling by the disciplinary panel found her guilty of a ‘serious inappropriate use of social media’ that could bring the school into disrepute, although it acknowledged there was ‘no evidence’ the school’s reputation had been damaged to date.
The panel also concluded that her online posts had amounted to ‘illegal discrimination’.
The ruling by the disciplinary panel found her guilty of a ‘serious inappropriate use of social media’
It ruled that there was ‘clear evidence of discrimination against the complainant in the form of harassment on the grounds of sexual orientation and/or gender reassignment’.
To read in black and white that she had been fired from the school she had devoted seven years of her life to, attended as a child and recently enrolled her son at was crushing for Kristie and her family.
Along with the emotional toll came the financial reality of losing her £10,000-a-year salary.
‘I just couldn’t believe that sharing something with my friends could lead to this,’ Kristie says.
‘I’d worked at the school happily for all those years, but now I felt like it was persecuting me for my beliefs. I just couldn’t stop crying.
‘My husband was upset because he believed I was in the right and the decision to sack me placed him under a lot of pressure to work more hours to support us.
When I told my older son he actually cried because he was so confused about why the school would sack me for standing up for my beliefs.’
In February, Kristie launched an appeal against her dismissal but described the subsequent hearing as a ‘kangaroo court’.
‘They’d made up their minds that I was guilty before I even walked I to the room,’ she says.
It was during this hearing that Mr Conlan, who attended to defend his original ruling, made the extraordinary statement that Kristie had no absolute rights to freedom of expression or to manifest her religious views.
He argued that these ‘rights’ could be infringed ‘if justified as necessary in democratic society’.
Kristie’s appeal was later rejected. Despite this, she remains determined to clear her name and prove that she is not homophobic.
Kristie has enlisted the help of the Christian Legal Centre, a campaign group that defends Christians’ rights.
She has launched a claim for wrongful dismissal for illegal discrimination on the grounds of her religious beliefs.
She still goes to the school to collect her 12-year-old son and feels the pain of losing her job every day. Parents and teachers, she says, look upon her with suspicion.
‘Friends still say hello to me, but it has been hard to go into the playground. I feel my right to express my religious beliefs has been completely taken away from me .
‘As a Christian, it seems that I’m not allowed to have an opinion about what is going on in the world or even my own son’s school.
‘My freedom of speech has been sacrificed for a politically correct agenda that no one now dare disagree with. People have an opinion of me now that is a million miles from the truth.’
Last night Farmor’s School chairman of governors, Tony Joslyn, said the school was unable to make any comment ahead of Kristie’s legal claim against them.