A PASSIONATE headteacher has been forced to stand down for the foreseeable future after being diagnosed with blood cancer.

James Howarth, who was appointed as headteacher of the Hathaway Academy in Grays last year, will be taking a leave of absence.

He was recently diagnosed with lymphoma.

The school's Vice Principal Fatima Rodrigues will take up the post of Acting Principal until the end of the school year and in Spetember, Alan Osborne, who is currently Senior Vice Prinicpal at Mark Hall Academy in Harlow, will take up the position of Interim Principal.

Mark Hall Academy is part of Academy Transformation Trust, which also maintains the Hathaway Academy.

Joyce Hodgetts, Managing Director at the trust, said: "Following his recent diagnosis with lymphoma, Principal James Howarth will be taking a leave of absence from The Hathaway Academy.

"James is a highly respected leader with a clear, shared vision for the academy that will continue in his absence.

"We are working together with the Chair of Governors and senior staff at the academy to look at how we will continue to deliver this vision and ensure there is no disruption to our pupil’s education over the coming months."

Peter Bishop from the ATT, who has extensive headship and school improvement experience, will also work alongside the leadership team at The Hathaway Academy.

In an interview with the Gazette in Janaury, Mr Howarth spoke of his ambitious plans for the school. He discussed hopes of raising aspirations at the school, formerly known as The Grays School Media Arts College - which had produced the borough's worst exam results in recent years - and establishing a sixth form.

He had already worked to make the school more inviting by bringing the reception office to the front of the building.

After one term, he worked to increase attendance, with pupils now at school 95 per cent of the time, 2.5 per cent higher than in September.

Mr Howarth had also introduced a house system at the school since taking up the reigns in September.

More recently, Mr Howarth befriended former pupil and Hollywood star Russell Brand, who visited the school in April - with plans in the pipeline for the comedian to return.

Ms Hodgetts said: "We offer James and his family our full support at this time and we look forward to once again working with him to lead the academy to outstanding."