MICHAEL Carding, headteacher of the flagship Bishop Heber High school in Malpas since 1986, is stepping down next summer.
He announced his decision to staff on Wednesday morning and then to a meeting of students and their parents later that day.
Mr Carding has led the high-performing school through a period of growth and improvement and it is now recognised as an outstanding seat of learning and academic excellence.
When he became head aged 37, the Sixth Form was under threat and nearly a quarter of lessons were taught in temporary classrooms. A building programme in the early 1990s brought specialist accommodation and laid the foundation for a blossoming of the arts.
In 1996 Heber became one of the first specialist languages schools in the country and has led the way in developing language teaching and education with an international dimension. Last year it was host to the national conference for language colleges.
Mr Carding decided to retire because he believes the school is 'on the brink of a new era'.
He said: 'I've enjoyed my time and will be sad to leave. Nothing lasts for ever and the time has come for me to do something else and for the school to embrace new leadership.
'The oldest student here was born after I became head! It is time for a new generation to take this wonderful school to new heights.'
Mr Carding chose a meeting of year 11 students and parents considering what to do after their GCSEs to break the news.
'You're a special year group to me,' he told them. 'I've taught many of you and I hope you will give me some great parting memories by doing really well in your exams, especially in maths, this summer.
'When I look at the alternatives, I can honestly say that here we combine the best teaching and guidance with a great social life and sporting programme. The proof of this has been in our exam results and a lot of happy successful students.'
In 2002, Bishop Heber recorded the best A-level results in Cheshire and in 2003 had its best ever GCSE results with 73% of students achieving at least five passes at A* to C.
Mr Carding has no clear plans for the future. 'I've become very tired. It's a demanding and stressful job and I'm looking to slow down a bit... but there are several aspects of educational change which interest me' he said.
'Building communities around high schools and developing an international dimension are two themes of national policy in which we have been trail-blazers. Watch this space!'
The governing body has until August to find a suitable successor.
The school is full in every year and expecting another bumper crop of applications for September 2004.