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Caretaker's long haul from the top

As caretakers go, Roger Butterfield can claim a better CV than most. He's worked in schools most of his adult life, been praised by inspectors and told he provided "very good value for money".

Mind you, that was two years ago, when he was a headteacher. He swapped the blackboard for a broom last summer when he realised the pressures of running a primary school had finally become too much.

Mr Butterfield had already resolved to put his health first and hand in his notice at Grindleford primary, a 63-pupil village school in north Derbyshire, when he heard that the site manager's job was going at Hope Valley College, the comprehensive school a five-minute bike ride from his home.

Mr Butterfield, 48, had been a teacher for 23 years and a head for seven. Like many heads, he found himself suddenly coping with the national curriculum, devolved budgets, tests and inspections.

But this was not a case of a failing head who couldn't cope. Grindleford had won a glowing report from the Office for Standards in Education with praise for its management and the head's "positive leadership". Test results were excellent.

Mr Butterfield was working 60-hour weeks, his Pounds 90,000 budget was being cut and he could only employ an extra teacher thanks to a donation. He was suffering the classic symptoms of stress and when the Government removed the safety net of early retirement, he took a long, hard look at his future.

"I looked to see if I could see myself working in the job for another 12 years and the answer was no. I was fairly sure in that time I would suffer a mental breakdown."

With up to 1,000 headships vacant in England, David Hart, the general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said Mr Butterfield's story was the starkest possible illustration of the pressure that heads were under.

"The education service will pay a high price for the loss of people like Roger Butterfield. You can't replace experience overnight," he said.

Mr Butterfield is coping well on his Pounds 12,000 salary - less than half the Pounds 27,000 he used to earn.

"It's been a revelation. I was previously working in excess of 60 hours a week. Now I'm working 37-hour weeks with bits of overtime when necessary - which I get paid for."

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