The head teacher who has overseen Ilkley Grammar School’s transformation to an academy is to retire after 12 years in the role.

Gillian James, 60, has announced she is to retire as head of the successful school on Cowpasture Road, following a 38-year teaching career – 19 years of which she has been a headteacher.

Through her tenure at the Ilkley school, she has overseen improved standards, the drive for a new school building, conversion to academy status, the implementation of digital learning, and numerous Ofsted inspections.

The school’s maths department was rated ‘outstanding’ at its most recent inspection.

She leaves at the end of this school year, and the school has already begun its search for a new head.

Mrs James celebrated her 60th birthday over the Christmas holiday and has decided that the time is now right to retire.

She said: “It has not been an easy decision to make: it has been a huge privilege and a great pleasure to have been the headteacher of Ilkley Grammar School for (almost) the last 12 years, but I suppose there always comes a time. I have very much valued the support and challenge of parents and governors, and our involvement in the local community.”

Born in Helensburgh, Scotland, and brought up in Teesside and Tyneside, Mrs James was educated at Dame Allan’s Girls’ School, Newcastle, before reading English at Birmingham University and taking a PGCE at Hughes Hall, Cambridge University.

Teaching first in the Midlands, Mrs James was then Deputy Head at Calder High School, Mytholmroyd, from 1989 to 1995, before taking up the headship of 11-16 Church of England High School, Archbishop Temple in Preston and moving on to Ilkley Grammar School in 2002.

She is married and has a son, Thomas, who is now working in London. A lifelong Newcastle United supporter, Mrs James also enjoys rustling up curries, skiing and jogging.

In her time as a teacher she has also seen many changes in the education system, including the transition from O levels to GCSEs.

She added: “Despite all the challenges of our site, too, I have always known it is people that make a place and I have particularly loved my time amongst some outstanding young people and a talented, hardworking staff. It may sound trite, but Ilkley Grammar School is a very special place and it will be a wrench to leave. This will be, however, a great opportunity for the school – parents, children, staff and governors – as well as for whoever is fortunate enough to follow in my footsteps. A new pair of eyes, a new energy, a new future.”