INSPECTION stress has been linked to the death of at least four teachers in less than two years, inquest reports have revealed.
The TES's findings come as the National Association of Head Teachers reports increased anxiety on the part of headteachers about new inspection rules.
The union has received about 100 calls since the new inspection framework came into force in January, complaining that it may put teachers under even more stress.
Jeff Holman, NAHT assistant secretary, said: "The impression we are getting from headteachers is that the new inspection process may be even harder on teachers than it has been in the past. Now any school which has not been inspected for a while knows an inspection could be only six weeks away."
This week Chris Woodhead, the chief inspector, came under fire from teacher unions following the inquest into the suicide of primary teacher Pamela Relf two months after inspectors visited her school.
The chief inspector said the Office for Standards in Education was doing all it could to keep the inspection pressure on schools to a minimum, but acknowledged he had not written to Miss Relf's family to express his organisation's condolences.
Miss Relf, 57, a teacher at Middlefield primary in Eynesbury, Cambridgeshire, threw herself into a freezing river in January after inspectors said her lessons "lacked pace".
Last month, an inquest heard that James Patton, a 29-year-old primary teacher from Birmingham, hanged himself before an OFSTED visit because h felt his best was not good enough for his pupils.
Last September, a coroner recorded a verdict of suicide on 33-year-old Janet Watson, a primary teacher at Rudheath primary in Northwich, Cheshire, who hanged herself after becoming terrified of getting a bad report from OFSTED.
And in December, 1998, an inquest heard how deputy head, Jenny Knibb, 47, of St Nicholas combined school, Exeter, turned to drink as an OFSTED inspection loomed - it was the start of her slow decline towards alcoholism and death.
Mr Holman said heads had complained that the new framework placed too much emphasis on statistics collected before the inspectors arrive.
The head of a recently-
inspected Lancashire secondary said: "The inspection team, despite being incredibly courteous and professional, arrived at the school with a view of our performance which proved very difficult to shift."
A motion to be discussed at the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers' annual conference next week describes inspections as intimidating and demoralising, and urges a boycott of inspections next term, pending "fundamental reform" of the system.
This week, delegates at the Assocation of Teachers and Lecturers' annual conference called on Mr Woodhead to carry out urgent consultation on how inspection-
related stress could be reduced.
The Teacher Support Network operates a free 24-hour helpline for teachers, offering confidential counselling, support and advice.
The telephone number is 08000 562561.
The Samaritans' number is 0345 909090.