when the popular head of English at a Staffordshire independent grammar school was sacked on the last day of term the town suspected the worst.
But the reason for Peter Cash's dismissal, after 22 years at the Pounds 7,000-a-year Newcastle-under-Lyme school, was nothing to do with his behaviour or any sinister personal activities.
Instead, it is thought to be the first occasion on which a school has publicly cited exam results as their motive for firing a senior teacher.
Mr Cash, 57, who is preparing an employment tribunal case against the school, has won the backing of parents, pupils and fellow teachers.
Pupils signed a petition, pasted posters around the school and wore black armbands to classes. At a staff common room meeting, 75 of the 83 staff present voted for Mr Cash's immediate reinstatement.
And parents have set up an action group, holding a public meeting attended by 60 people to condemn the sacking.
"The results that he had achieved do not merit his dismissal," said Peter Scragg, the parents' spokesman. "I am very concerned about what is happening to the teaching of A-level English in his absence." Pupils, dissatisfied with the quality of supply teachers, were phoning and visiting Mr Cash at home for tuition, Dr Scragg said.
A letter from the board of governors states the termination of Mr Cash's contract was related to his department's performance. "The English department is the only department within the school with a negative value-added score over the last three years," wrote Leonard Bassett, chairman of governors.
However, the school's English GCSE results seem good. More than half of pupils got an A-grade in English language, and nearly half got an A in English literature. But the results were not as good as those in other subjects at the selective school.
Next week, members of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers and the NASUWT teachers' union are expected to vote for strike action in support of Mr Cash.
The ATL was nervous about discussing his case in advance of the tribunal.
But Dr Mary Bousted, the union's general secretary, said teachers were especially vulnerable to dismissal in independent schools. The union's annual conference next month will discuss a motion calling for minimum employment standards in the private sector. "In the independent sector employment issues can become personal and the governors and heads have the power to summarily determine the fate of their staff," Dr Bousted said.
"We are deeply concerned by the way in which Mr Cash has been treated by his school where he has had a long and distinguished career."
Parents said that the governors' actions had made the school vulnerable to pound;100,000 or more in damages and legal fees.
They and pupils have praised Mr Cash on websites for his extra-curricular work, which included coaching the 1st XI cricket team and directing the school's annual drama production.
Andrew Jeffreys, the acting principal at Newcastle-under-Lyme school, said Mr Cash's contract had been terminated for performance reasons, though the English department's exam results were not the only aspect.
"This case is an issue for staff, which is understandable," said Mr Jeffreys. "We are hoping to resolve that.
"The school is very much looking forward to the arrival of the new principal, which will be an opportunity to move on and develop."