A long-serving head teacher who helped transform a “failing sink school" into one of High Wycombe’s most popular academies is to take early retirement.

Following the announcement, Shena Moynihan has been praised by MP Steve Baker and school governors for turning the fortunes of The Highcrest Academy around and ‘improving the life chances of thousands of young people’.

The head teacher joined the school in 2001 following the closure of the Hatters Lane School, which was on the same site.

She will now take early retirement to look after her 91-year-old mother, for whom she is sole carer.

In a letter to parents this week, she paid tribute to students and staff, saying: “We have taken Highcrest from one of the worst schools in the country to where we are today, a very successful and heavily over-subscribed comprehensive.”

She added: “I believe that Highcrest is now in a better state than it has ever been and is in a position where it can continue to develop whilst maintaining its excellent reputation."

She joined Highcrest when the upper school was opened as part of the government’s Fresh Start scheme and later led its successful bid to become an academy and in 2011 introduced a new admissions test at the school to ensure children of all abilities had the chance to go there.

She said: “The pupils of the school are wonderful and I will really miss them. Highcrest has a very special place in my heart and always will have.

“I am extremely sorry to be leaving. I certainly hope that although I will cease to be the principal of Highcrest at the end of this academic year, I will not lose contact with the school as I look forward to hearing that Highcrest continues to go from strength to strength and that the pupils continue to excel.”

Wycombe MP Steve Baker said: "Many congratulations to Shena Moynihan on her highly effective and courageous work, often against active resistance, to improve the life chances of thousands of young people.

“I am most thankful Shena has been one of our key local leaders and I wish her all the very best on her early retirement."

Highcrest’s chair of governors, who is set to conduct interviews for a successor in the first week of next term, added to the tributes, saying the community was “not only losing an exceptional head, but also a real friend”.

Chris Turner said: “Shena often said that Highcrest is in her DNA, she has led her team turning a failing sink school into one that is over-subscribed with pupils who truly believe they belong.

“As chair of governors, it has been a real privilege to work alongside and get to know the real Shena Moynihan, to share the laughter and the tears, with the single goal of wanting the young people of our community to succeed.

“Shena leaves shoes that will be almost impossible to fill."