A “DEDICATED” headteacher who led a string of improvements to a special needs school has retired.

Chris Hughes left Bardwell School, Hendon Place, Bicester, after working there for 36 years.

She started in 1976 as deputy head, and in the 1980s took a two-year secondment working on motor impairment education for children and advisory work in schools across the county.

Then in 1988 she returned to the school to take on the headteacher role “to see what happens” and stayed on for a further 24 years.

Mrs Hughes, 58, who finished work on Friday, said one of her highlights was the school achieving Specialist Status in Communication and Interaction in 2010.

She also oversaw a £1.3m extension – persevering for eight years to make it a reality in 2002. Six new classrooms were built and outdoor play facilities extended, and the extra room enabled the school to have a sixth form.

Mrs Hughes said: “All along there have been so many highlights. But it’s more about the children’s achievements, watching them getting places on courses, or getting one GCSE, or beginning to walk.

“It’s the things that seem quite small, that are absolutely massive. The parents have been brilliant and are a big part of the school, and all the time I have been here we’ve had amazing governors.

“It’s a lovely team here and I will miss them, but the school is in good shape.”

The school’s latest fund raising project has a £130,000 target to build a specialist communication and interaction classroom to make the school into a centre of excellence.

So far, £98,000 has been raised. Plans have been drawn up and the school is waiting for a decision on its planning application.

Mrs Hughes said the role of the school had also changed over the past four decades.

It now takes children aged between two and 19, with more complex needs, and has an outreach service which supports disabled youngsters in mainstream schools.

Chairman of the governors Jane Waine said: “No one can think of Bardwell School without immediately thinking of Chris.

“She has dedicated the whole of her professional life to the school and has touched so many children and their families with her expertise, love and care.”

Mrs Hughes plans to spend more time with her husband Geraint and painting.

Deputy head Jan Burley said Mrs Hughes would be a hard act to follow. She added: “She has worked tirelessly for the benefit of all the pupils.”