THE headteacher at one of the region's top private schools has taken early retirement because of ill health.

Helen Hamilton has been at all-girls Polam Hall School, in Darlington, for 20 years and has been headteacher for the past 16.

Parents were told last night that Mrs Hamilton would be leaving the school with immediate effect.

Bill Goyder, chairman of governors, said: "Parents, pupils, staff and governors are very sorry that Mrs Hamilton is having to take early retirement on the grounds of ill health.

"Mrs Hamilton has been the leading light in the development of the school, during which time we have seen the school grow and flourish in respect of results, pupil numbers and facilities.

"Girls who have been through the school have come to know Mrs Hamilton as a mentor. Her leadership of the school and contribution to its significant events, such as the Jubilee Appeal, has led to major successes, giving girls of all ages and backgrounds the chance to develop a wide range of cultural, sporting and academic skills.

"We are sure that Mrs Hamilton will continue to show an interest in the development of the school."

Susanne Davison, the deputy headteacher, will be acting head-teacher until a new appointment has been made.