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Students rally behind principal

Successful college boss resigns after disciplinary action for sharing his concerns about his proposed deputy.

Internet-savvy former students of a sixth form college in Greater Manchester are using the social networking site Facebook to speak up for a principal who has resigned in a row with the chair of the college board.

More than a thousand students and former students as well as current staff are protesting after Mike O'Hare, 63, one of England's most successful principals, resigned from Holy Cross Sixth Form College in Bury.

He had been given a written warning after being accused of a breach of confidence, having told nine senior staff that he opposed the proposed candidate for deputy principal.

Two staff governors, a teacher and a member of the support staff have also resigned in protest.

The college has the second highest exam success rates in the country, based on numbers of students who qualify after starting their courses. It is rated as outstanding by Ofsted and was named as one of the UK's best small companies to work for by The Sunday Times.

The Facebook group supporting Mr O'Hare was started by former student Nick Andrews, who left the college in 2003 with five A-levels.

"We all knew he was going at some point, but we wanted him to go out in the right way," he said.

"He's a very, very well-respected man. He's always there in the common room saying hello. He's not the type of principal who just sits in the office and you only see him on open days."

A letter to the governors objecting to the treatment of Mr O'Hare has been signed by 187 staff at the Lancashire college.

Mr O'Hare, who has worked at the college for 28 years, insists he could not have been expected to do his job without discussing things with his senior management team.

"I feel that I have been unfairly treated," he said. "The idea that this was a breach of confidence - I just can't accept that.

"In this day and age, when colleges are managed by teams of people, not by individuals, the idea of not communicating with my team is absolutely inconceivable. That's how we've always worked."

Mr O'Hare worked at the college as an A-level economics teacher before becoming principal 15 years ago. His resignation came at the end of a seven-month dispute, which started when he was overruled on the selection panel to choose his deputy.

He wrote to the governors to outline his concerns, but was accused of a breach of confidence when he shared them with his senior management team. His appeal before a panel of five governors against the written warning was unsuccessful and he resigned.

He said the original disciplinary hearing was held by the chair of governors, Anne Fox, alone.

A statement from the governors said: "The chair of governors followed the college policies and procedures throughout the disciplinary process."

Mr O'Hare intends to remain at the college until his notice expires in August. The deputy's post remains unfilled.

Another former student, Jason Switzer, said: "Without the help of Holy Cross I would have no qualifications. I felt misunderstood in my high school and the teachers didn't care. Holy Cross saved me. Thank you, Mr O'Hare."

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