News of the dramatic developments at the college – which has sites at Henley-in-Arden, Moreton Morrell, Warwick, Leamington, Rugby and Pershore – came in an email to staff today.

Last month the college announced that it would have to cut its budget by £3 million after losing government funding of £10.5 million and Ms Cavalli said job losses were “inevitable and unavoidable”.

After hearing of Ms Cavalli’s sudden “temporary leave of absence” Anne O’Sullivan, of the University and College Union, told the Herald this afternoon that she was seeking an urgent meeting with the college to find out what was going on. She expected a clearer picture to emerge over the weekend.

Ms Cavalli joined the college in 2010 after being principal of Croydon College since 2001. Two years before her appointment Warwickshire College was rated as outstanding by Ofsted.

Today a college spokesperson said: “The board of governors of Warwickshire College can confirm that the principal Mariane Cavalli has taken a temporary leave of absence from the college with immediate effect.

“The governing body has appointed Sue Georgious, the college’s former chair of governors, as interim principal to lead the college during this time.

“Sue knows the college well and is deeply committed to it having previously been chair of the governing body and a governor since September 2011. Steve Wood, previously vice chair, has been elected as the new chair.

“Sue has extensive experience in the FE sector in a variety of senior management roles including FE and open college networks and latterly as director at the Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency.”

For fuller reports and reaction see next week’s papers.