A head teacher who turned one of Bradford's oldest schools into one of the best in the country has died - shortly after being diagnosed with cancer.

John Patterson, head of Bingley Grammar School from 1997 to Easter 2006, passed away on Sunday in a Kent hospital.

The 56-year-old father-of-two fell ill shortly before Easter and was later diagnosed with cancer by doctors - believed to be just before he died.

Mr Patterson left Bingley Grammar to lead the £34 million Folkestone Academy in Kent.

Dr Jean Holdgate, chairman of governors at Bingley Grammar, said: "John held a well-deserved place as a distinguished head teacher at Bingley Grammar School and it was typical of him to take on his challenge in Kent.

"The accolades which inevitably awaited him there will now sadly never be, and I, along with the governing body, staff and students who knew him, am struggling to come to terms with the tragic loss of such a distinguished and wonderful man."

Mr Patterson was held in high-esteem by staff and pupils at Bingley Grammar. In 2005, while under Mr Patterson's leadership, the Keighley Road school was named by Ofsted in its "Best of the Best" list of top 300 secondary schools in the country.

Under his stewardship, the school saw a significant rise in exam results with A* to C GCSE grades rising from 57 per cent in 1997 to 74 per cent in 2005. Before leaving for Kent, Mr Patterson expressed his sadness at leaving Bradford but said he was highly-motivated by his new challenge.

Speaking to the Telegraph & Argus he said: "We are always looking for a new challenge and some of the greatest challenges are the new academies. They are an attempt to create excellence in areas where standards have been far from excellent.

"My father was the head teacher of three schools, two of which were secondary moderns, and he believed very strongly in getting the highest standards from people from not the most advantaged backgrounds."

Mr Patterson's successor, current Bingley Grammar head teacher Chris Taylor, said the school had been "devastated" to hear of his death, adding: "John Patterson was a great servant to the school for many years and he will be sadly missed. To mark his passing we held a minute's silence that was supported by everyone in the school."

David Winward was deputy head to Mr Patterson for nine years. He paid tribute to his former colleague's "great dedication, intellect and vision", particularly during reorganisation in 2000 which saw pupil numbers increase from 1,300 to almost 2,000.

Mr Winward said: "He served the school exceptionally well during those nine years and successfully saw the school through a period of great change. I shall personally miss his kindness, unfailing support and unique sense of humour."

Dave Johnston, Bradford Council's principal strategic education adviser, said: "We are deeply saddened to hear the tragic news and our thoughts are with John's family.

"As well as his work at Bingley Grammar as head teacher, John contributed significantly to the development of 14 to 19 education and training in the district after the post-16 Ofsted inspection in 2002."

Dr Holdgate added: "Those whose lives he touched are the richer for knowing him. Our thoughts are with John's wife Alex, their two young daughters and his mother Pat."

A funeral service will be held in Sandwich, Kent, on Tuesday, May 6, followed by burial in Somerset on Friday, May 9.