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Floral tributes to overworked staff

Researchers have always had to tread warily when working in schools. But never more so than now when teachers' performance is under intense public scrutiny.

As Daniels, Hey, Leonard and Smith admit in their report on special needs education in 28 London primaries, they felt so guilty about adding to teachers' workload that they went out and bought flowers for some of the staff who filled in their questionnaires and granted them interviews.

"The schools involved in our study were short of staff and funds and under pressure to supply increasingly detailed data for other people besides ourselves - for the Department for Education and Employment, for other researchers, the local education authority and parents," the researchers said. "We were occasionally mistaken for those who were coming the same week who were interested in asthma or in twins."

Understandably, the schools felt that they were under surveillance, particularly the two primaries that had to undergo inspections during the period of the special needs study.

And although the flowers were no doubt appreciated, they could not remedy the teachers' problems.

"There was still a chronic sense of stress," the researchers admitted. "Combined with the speed and complexity of change in education, this made it seem particularly difficult to pin down the subtle processes that we wished to study."

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