PHIL Laycock, headteacher at St Barnabas Primary School in Market Lavington, has taken ill-health retirement due to the stress of the job.

Mr Laycock, 54, said goodbye to the school which he has led for 18 years last Friday. He has been working mornings only for the last two weeks to break in his acting head David Joplin, previously deputy head at Southbroom Junior School in Devizes.

He is now on sick leave until his pension comes through, but is resigned to bidding farewell to the profession to which he has dedicated himself for more than 30 years.

He said: "It's sad for it to end like this but if I continued I would not be giving the quality of service I would want to."

Mr Laycock has spent all his teaching life in Wiltshire, starting in Calne in 1968 before becoming deputy head at Potterne School and then headteacher at Walter Powell School in Great Somerford.

He took over as head at St Barnabas in 1983, developing its reputation as a school catering for children with special educational needs. A third of the 190 pupils now benefit from such provision.

But he is bitter that, because of this, his school will never do well in league tables based on the results of standard attainment tests, or SATs.

He said: "League tables are pointless and do not give a true picture of a school.

"Some of my special needs children achieve amazing things for them which would not register on league tables."

The pressure of these expectations adds to the already unbearable burden of administration that heads have to cope with, says Mr Laycock.

He added: "The job has become very difficult in recent years. When I come in at 8am I don't know what's going to happen that day.

"We haven't any money in the budget for a caretaker so the head has to be the caretaker. If the boiler fails or a tap jams, I have to roll up my sleeves and take care of it."

Although he admits the present Government is putting more money into schools, it is barely keeping up with inflation and the 'ring-fencing' of funds for specific purposes makes little sense.

He said: "We are given money which can only be spent on buildings, but we have a relatively modern building that has been well looked after.

"We need money for books and computers, which Friends of the St Barnabas School supply from fundraising."

He added: "When I made my decision to retire last September a wave of relief came over me. It shouldn't be like that. There are 20 schools in Wiltshire without a permanent headteacher and it's not because of the salary."

Mr Laycock has not decided what he is going to do next, though he intends to keep playing cricket with Devizes Cricket Club. He was a member of Corsham Cricket Club for 37 years and played for his county as a pace bowler for many years.

He is married with four grown-up children and his son Daniel Walker, a professional actor, is currently assistant director of fashion shows for designer Vivienne Westwood.

Mr Laycock said: "The arts are so important in giving an all-round education but there is little room for them in the curriculum. What are we trying to produce? Well-rounded individuals or people who can do subordinate clauses?"