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Peter Smith talks to Radio 5 Live
Peter Smith says teachers need to be sensitive to the impact of their words
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Tuesday, 18 April, 2000, 16:14 GMT 17:14 UK
Pupil found dead after goldfish taunt
Court generic
The coroner said the boy probably did not intend to kill himself
A 12-year-old boy hanged himself after one of his teachers wrote that he had "the attention span of a goldfish", an inquest heard.

The boy, Daniel Overfield, was found by his mother Theresa last November hanging from his bunk bed by his dressing gown cord.

Recording a verdict of misadventure at the inquest in Leeds, coroner David Hinchcliffe said the youngster probably had not meant to kill himself.

The hearing was told that Daniel, a pupil at Corpus Christi Roman Catholic School in Leeds, had been in trouble and was on daily report.

Mrs Overfield, of Osmondthorpe, Leeds, said: "He showed me his report card and I said I would go and see the teacher about it.

Not his favourite subject

"When we got home Dan went to his room. I went to the bathroom and called for Dan but got no answer.

"I went to his room and I could see him suspended from the bunk bed by a cord."

Daniel died in hospital three days later.

His mother said: "Art was not Daniel's favourite subject at school and the comment made by his art teacher was totally inappropriate and may have some bearing on his death."

The coroner said: "The comment went something along the lines of 'he had the attention span of a goldfish'.

"It might have been in the back of his mind that he might get into more trouble because of the remark on the card.

"I think what Daniel probably did was to draw attention to himself. He probably expected to be found."

'Need to reflect carefully'

After the inquest Keith Burton, director of education at Leeds City Council, said: "Our deepest sympathies are with Daniel's family.

The death had shaken the whole school.

"Any incident of this type clearly illustrates the fact that we all need to reflect carefully on the impact our words might have on people listening to them," he said.

The head of one of the big teachers' unions, ATL general secretary Peter Smith, said the case exposed a dilemma for teachers: how to tell the truth about a pupil's performance without being overly blunt or sarcastic.

"There is a genuine issue, speaking as a former teacher and as a parent, of the extent to which sarcasm, however friendly it is, has a place in dealing with children," he said.

"On the other hand teachers are open to criticism if, in an attempt to move away from sarcasm, their comments are judged as overly 'cuddly'."

The education authority says the teacher is "devastated" by Daniel's death.

It has investigated the circumstances but is not taking any disciplinary action.

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18 Apr 00 | Unions 2000
'Suicide risk' in pressure on pupils
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