TRIBUTES have been paid to Bedford High School head teacher Stephen Preston, who died over the Christmas holiday after a long battle with cancer.

Mr Preston, 62, was a leading light in the educational community in Wigan Borough and had served as headteacher at Bedford since 1999. Before this he had been the head teacher at Westleigh High School for five years.

He was an enigmatic and inspirational leader and both schools thrived under his headship. At Bedford, he was committed to inspiring both students and staff to fulfil their potential as well as placing the school right at the heart of the community it serves.

During his time at Bedford, Mr Preston spearheaded the drive to raise examination standards. So successful were his efforts that Bedford has enjoyed consistent 'best ever' GCSE results and has been classed in the top 10 per cent of most improved schools nationally.

Bedford High School's Acting Head Jim Killeen said: “Stephen Preston was extremely kind and generous to both students and staff alike. He always had time to listen and advise, as well as celebrate our many and varied successes.”

“He particularly enjoyed the music performances and drama productions, to which he often brought his family.”

Mr Killeen added: “He was always immensely proud of all the students’ achievements and progress and regularly met with them to praise their efforts. He was a real leader, colleague, mentor and friend to all and he will be sadly missed by our school community.”

Whilst Bedford's Chair of Governors David Whitehead said: “Student’s staff and governors are united in their sense of loss following the passing of Stephen Preston. He was an inspirational leader, a caring family man who led by example.

“Under his leadership the school has continued to enjoy record results. I have been chair of governors for seven years and have been privileged to have worked closely with him to achieve a shared vision for this school. First and foremost he was proud to be a teacher, and everything he did was for the benefit of our young people. He will be sadly missed by all those who were fortunate enough to have known him.

Our thoughts and prayers are with his family at this desperately sad time.”

Mr Preston was an avid Manchester United fan and through his vision the school has developed an innovative educational partnership with the Manchester United Foundation. Bedford is the first school outside Manchester to do this.

During his long illness, students often enquired about his well-being and he kept in regular touch with school business via his email.

The school has held a number of special assemblies to celebrate the life and work of Mr Preston and the students continue to be inspired by his mottos: 'try your best' and 'if you're not sure, ask!'

Leigh MP and former Shadow Secretary of State for Education, Andy Burnham said: “Steve was completely committed to improving the lives of young people in Leigh and raising their aspirations. We all owe him a huge debt of thanks.

“Under Steve’s leadership, Bedford High made great progress and saw steady improvement in its results. I will miss his good humour and good advice, but will forever be grateful for his outstanding contributions to education in Leigh and our borough.”

Leader of Wigan Council and former governor at Bedford High School, Lord Peter Smith said: “Steve Preston was a formidable head teacher whose drive led to improvement both at Bedford and his previous school, Westleigh. He had a forceful personality and a great insight into children which were an effective combination for a head.”

“I was one of the panel that interviewed Steve for the position at Bedford and it was clear from the start he was the one we needed. His work at Bedford has shown what a good choice he was as the school and its students are now performing to their full potential. He was also a bit of a wheeler-dealer and used this skill to improve school facilities. I was privileged when he asked me to open the new school bistro.”

Lord Smith added: “Outside school Steve and I shared our support for the Reds of Manchester United although he was more fanatical than me. He will be a great loss not just to Bedford but to education in Wigan.”

Leigh Centurions Chief Executive and former Bedford governor Trevor Barton, MBE, said: “I have known Steve Preston for a long time both in his role at Westleigh High School and latterly at Bedford High School. It was a privilege for me to serve, for many years, as a Governor and I saw Steve Preston in that role but also in the guise of a caring individual who had a passion for teaching young people but moreover in trying to influence them to become good citizens who would look after one another. This ethos probably emanated from being an excellent family man. “I have no doubt that the way he faced up to dealing with his illness had him thinking about how it would affect his family and that shows that the man had both love and courage in equal abundance.”

Mr Barton added: “In Bedford’s case the song is over but the melody lingers on.”