BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific
BBCi NEWS   SPORT   WEATHER   WORLD SERVICE   A-Z INDEX     

BBC News World Edition
 You are in: In Depth: Unions 2000  
News Front Page
Africa
Americas
Asia-Pacific
Europe
Middle East
South Asia
UK
Business
Entertainment
Science/Nature
Technology
Health
-------------
Talking Point
-------------
Country Profiles
In Depth
-------------
Programmes
-------------
BBC Sport
BBC Weather
SERVICES
-------------
EDITIONS
Unions 2000 Monday, 17 April, 2000, 16:26 GMT 17:26 UK
Ofsted accused over teacher stress
Peter Smith
Peter Smith says inspections need greater scrutiny
By Gary Eason at the ATL conference in Belfast

A teachers' union leader has said that the schools inspectorate should be more rigorously scrutinised, following the suicide of two teachers whose schools had been under inspection.

Peter Smith, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), called for research into the impact of inspections on schools from the Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted).

Mr Smith was speaking to journalists as delegates gathered for the ATL's annual conference, in Belfast, which is to consider an emergency resolution which "deeply regrets" the suicide of two teachers "as a result of Ofsted-induced stress".
Chris Woodhead
Chris Woodhead has accused the union leader of a "patronising assumption of moral superiority"

One of the teachers was an ATL member, Pamela Relf, who taught at Middlefield Primary School in Eynesbury, Cambridgeshire.

The inquest into her drowning earlier this year heard that she had been depressed for some time, but broke down in tears after criticism from inspectors.

Angry letters

She left a handwritten note which said: "I am now finding the stress of my job too much. The pace of work and the long days are more than I can do."

The school has lodged a formal complaint with Ofsted about how the inspection was carried out - with the inspections agency promising that a response is due "shortly".

We too are human beings and recognise the human tragedy of her suicide.

Ofsted statement
The case has led to an acrimonious written exchange between Mr Smith and the head of Oftsed, Chris Woodhead, whom he has accused of being insensitive and "gratuitously offensive".

In one letter Mr Woodhead accuses Mr Smith of an "unwarranted and patronising assumption of moral superiority".

Mr Smith told journalists on Monday that he thought Mr Woodhead's and Ofsted's reputations would have been enhanced had the chief inspector written to Miss Relf's brother and mother expressing his sympathy over her suicide.

But in a statement, Ofsted says: "We have expressed in our public statements our sadness and sympathy to her colleagues, friends and family. We too are human beings and recognise the human tragedy of her suicide."

'Demoralised'

But Mr Smith said it was striking that even in schools which did very well in their inspections teachers were left "demoralised - in a state of shock."

"I believe that Ofsted is too lightly accountable," he said.

Other bodies such as the Equal Opportunities Commission and the Commission for Racial Equality were subject to five-yearly reviews of their management and performance.

"Ofsted, as a non-ministerial government department, is not as amenable to that sort of scrutiny," he said.

This autonomy was "not good enough" in view of the large sums of public money it spent inspecting England's schools.

It would be wrong of him to slur the thousands of inspectors working for Ofsted, most of whom did their jobs conscientiously, he said. He had no reason to suppose they went into schools to see how much trouble they could foment.

But he was not persuaded that almost half a million teachers were somehow "uniquely wimpish" in regarding inspections with dread.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Mike Short, ATL
"It's a form of institutional bullying"
Schools Minister Estelle Morris
"It is crucial that we monitor standards"
Mike Tomllinson, Ofsted director of inspections
"Clearly inspection does bring associated stress and anxiety"
See also:

06 Apr 00 | UK Education
29 Feb 00 | UK Education
13 Apr 00 | UK Education
Links to more Unions 2000 stories are at the foot of the page.


E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Unions 2000 stories

© BBC ^^ Back to top

News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East |
South Asia | UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature |
Technology | Health | Talking Point | Country Profiles | In Depth |
Programmes