TEACHERS at a Whitehaven school have moved a step closer to strike action after carrying out a formal ballot.

National Education Union (NEU) members at St Benedict's Catholic High School returned an "overwhelming" vote in favour of a walk-out, with 93 per cent of members, from a 92 per cent turnout, backing the proposal.

The staff had previously took part in an indicative ballot amid concerns over a "toxic atmosphere" in the school and a "a culture of fear and intimidation".

NEU regional officer Paul Noble said: "This result was never in any doubt, members at St Benedict's have had enough.

"Membership of the union has increased since the start of the dispute as staff are keen to stand up.

"We hope it is clear to the headteacher and governing body that the members are united and want action to be taken to end the culture of 'fear and intimidation' the members have raised in our stress and bullying audit.

"We think it is obvious what needs to takes place for the management style to change."

Members previously called for the suspension of headteacher Ian Smith while an investigation, which the union believes is now under way, is completed.

"We welcome the investigation that is currently under way," said Mr Noble. "We would encourage any ex-staff to contact the northern region office if they would like details about how to contribute to the investigation.

"We do not take strike action lightly and will only use it as a last resort. We hope a resolution can be found swiftly for the benefit of the community.

"We would also like to congratulate staff on the excellent outcomes they have supported the students to achieve this year despite the toxic working environment they have been forced to suffer."

Out of 57 returned ballot papers, 53 members voted in favour of strike action.

A Cumbria County Council spokesman said the authority cannot comment on the issue as it is an ongoing process.

The Whitehaven News has contacted all parties involved but did not receive a response before going to print.

To contact the NEU's northern region office, email northern@neu.org.uk