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When stress disrupts menstrual cycle

The finding that women suffer more stress than men because of school inspections will come as no surprise to one all-women Hertfordshire primary school.

In the month leading up to the four-day inspection the headteacher lost a stone in weight and she and her seven female colleagues all experienced irregular menstrual cycles during the term that they were under scrutiny.

"I missed two periods and two of my colleagues didn't have their periods from half term - the end of October - until the middle of January," the head explained. "I believe that stress was to blame. The other five teachers also said that their cycles had been disrupted but it was some time after the inspection that we discovered that we had all been in the same boat."

She added that her staff were still reeling from the effects of the inspection the term afterwards even though the inspectors had been complimentary about the school.

"It wasn't particularly easy for me either, of course. I have no complaints about the way the inspectors, who were all Hertfordshire advisers, did their job but they were in the school from 8am until 7pm every night. It was impossible to relax during that week and it was almost as difficult during the weeks leading up to the event because of all the paperwork.

"Inspections obviously make you tighten up but they don't tell you much that you didn't already know about your school. I really don't think they are worth all the trouble."

The inspection was carried out two years ago as one of the pilots for the OFSTED primary programme but the problems it caused for the staff have only just come to light as a result of research undertaken by another of the county's primary heads, Sue Sanderson.

Mrs Sanderson, an MEd student who is examining the links between inspection and school improvement, said that she had visited five primary schools and found that none of them felt that OFSTED was having a positive effect.

"Most of them went through a period of demotivation after the inspection, " said Mrs Sanderson, who is head of St Andrew's School, Hitchin. "I just wonder about the expense of the OFSTED exercise."

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