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Student strike piles pressure on beleaguered head

A head at a Sunderland school has been suspended after his staff passed a no-confidence vote and pupils staged a strike.

Hundreds of students at Monkwearmouth secondary refused to return to lessons after lunch last Friday. During their protest the pupils chanted "Machin Out", referring to the head Alex Machin.

Earlier this year, teachers at the school held an informal ballot,in which a no-confidence vote was supported by 92 per cent.

Matters came to a head in April when Mr Machin allowed a nightclub promoter on to the grounds to distribute flyers for a foam party. Sunderland council defended his actions saying he had done it to prevent litter. However, the authority sent in a team to inspect the school. It drew up a list of recommendations, which included a timetable for school self-evaluation, audit and a review of all departments. The team said the key stage 3 strategy, truancy and performance management needed to be addressed.

But the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers said this would increase teachers' workload. It was threatening to ballot for industrial action.

But on Tuesday night the LEA and the school's governing body decided to suspend Mr Machin without prejudice while an inquiry is carried out. The authority decided to appoint a further two governors to the governing body.

Dr Barbara Comiskey, Sunderland's director of education, said:

"Monkwearmouth school has excellent young people as its students and they are our chief concern. We share the concerns of their parents and we are now looking for everyone involved to put the pupils' needs first."

Jerry Bartlett, acting deputy general secretary of NASUWT, said the union was suspending the industrial action for 21 days to allow the authority a proper opportunity to introduce measures for the proper management of the school.

The TES was unable to contact Mr Machin.

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