Researchers at Cambridge University found that cultural and political expectations of inspectors and politicians had conflicted with "the holistic and humanist values" of teachers.
But inspections also had a positive side. They inspired solidarity and support between colleagues. And one successful head suggested her school would not have clawed its way up from the bottom of the league tables without them.
The study into quality assurance by Peter Cunningham and Philip Raymont, as part of the Primary Review, examined the procedures for monitoring, assuring and maintaining quality in primary education. It noted that inspection of schools has been going in some form since 1839, and there were cases dating back more than 100 years of teacher suicides as a result of inspectors' judgements.
More recently, however, there was greater impact on the curriculum and teaching methods. The study found that the use of inspections to achieve accountability was linked to educational expenditure, which had been used "to control teachers as well as schools". Inspections had led to teachers doubting their abilities and competence.
But some teachers welcome them. Deans Primary in Salford was bottom of the league tables when it opened in 1994. Last year it achieved an outstanding Ofsted report. Headteacher Frances Hartley said: "The main aim of primary schools is to ensure pupils begin their secondary education being able to read and write. Inspections are stressful but they help us to focus. I would not want things to become all cosy again."
The study concluded that greater use of self-evaluation should be examined. It said: "Monitoring of standards has to be credible and transparent, to provide reliable data and to be supportive of values that reflect a wide variety of aspirations".
The report comes after the TES revealed that the new "light touch" inspection regime has led to almost every school visited last year finding its overall verdict matched the verdict on pupils' standards.