Eton College should admit girls, the Education Secretary has said, adding that this would be a “good step forward”. Gavin Williamson said he would be “very much in favour” of the 580-year-old institution admitting female students, after being asked whether this would “sort out their problems”. His remarks came amid a free speech row at the school where a Master has been dismissed for gross misconduct after recording a lecture which questioned "current radical feminist orthodoxy". The controversial lecture was part of the Perspectives course taken by older 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 the lecture from his personal YouTube channel. But Eton College has said that the dismissal was “not a matter of free speech” and instead one of “internal discipline”. A spokesman for the school said the Head Master was left with "no choice" but to fire Mr Knowland after he "persistently refused" to remove a video of his lecture from the internet. Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Mr Williamson said that he is a “great believer in freedom of speech” but added that he did not want to comment on a school’s ongoing disciplinary procedure. On Thursday Downing Street distanced itself from the claim that Eton College should admit girls, stating that single sex schools were an "important part of our education system." A spokesman for the Prime Minister, who is a former pupil at the school, said: "It is a matter for Eton as an independent school, responsible for its own admissions policy. "What is important is that we have more good schools for children across the whole country, regardless of gender, background of where they live. "Broadly, on single sex education, we have said consistently that single sex schools are an important part of our diverse education system and it's right that parents have the opportunity to make decisions about the type of school that their children attend." Mr Johnson’s spokesman added that Eton chose to become a mixed sex school the Government would support it. Pupils have launched a petition calling on the Head Master to reinstate Mr Knowland, and accusing the school of "institutional bullying". Earlier this week, an Eton College Master broke ranks to attack the school’s “indoctrination” of students. Dr Luke Martin, who teaches Divinity at the £42,500-year-old institution, recently stood down from his role as the Master in Charge of Perspectives. In a letter to the school's vice-provost, he said he is beginning to “lose faith” in Eton’s ability to promote independent thinking among its pupils. Mr Knowland's appeal against his dismissal will be considered by an internal panel next week. Eton College's provost has recused himself from the panel after publicly backing the school’s headmaster. Baron Waldegrave of North Hill, has written to parents to explain: “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 “Eton now, as in the past, is a school which prides itself on encouraging open-minded, independent and critical thinking.” A spokesman for Eton College said the school has no plans to admit girls. They said that since the vice-provost is chairing Mr Knowland’s appeal panel he cannot comment on the contents of Dr Martin's letter.