Attack on Ofsted's 'climate of fear'

Headteachers have delivered a stinging personal attack on the new Chief Inspector of Schools, Sir Michael Wilshaw, accusing him of introducing a "climate of fear" in schools.

Delegates at the National Association of Head Teachers' annual conference in Harrogate declared they were "saddened" and "dismayed" by his use of "negative rhetoric" and bullying tactics to improve standards.

Since taking office, Sir Michael, the head of Ofsted and formerly a highly successful headteacher at Mossbourne Academy in Hackney, east London, has said he intends to ditch the term "satisfactory" to describe schools and replace it with "requires improvement". If a school fails to improve after three inspections, it will then be declared to be failing – with the likelihood that its headteacher will be sacked. Sir Michael has said one in four heads are not good enough.

Mike Curtis, head of Carterton Primary School in Oxfordshire, said: "Fear reigns and confidence wanes as Ofsted waves its stick. We must stand up to the bully-boy tactics of Michael Wilshaw. We deplore his negative rhetoric which is demoralising our members and creating a climate of fear in our schools." He added: "He suggests we should be 'lone heroes' who beat everyone in our school into submission. The suggestion that we get the best out of people by bullying them is outrageous. Michael Wilshaw argues for a model of school leadership where the headteacher is right and where other opinions are worthless."

Eugene Symonds, another headteacher from Oxfordshire, added: "I'm watching good people leaving this profession because of the way we have been treated."

Delegates overwhelmingly passed the motion critical of Sir Michael and called on the union's executive to start an e-petition to force a debate on the issue.

Earlier, heads were offered an olive branch by Education Secretary Michael Gove, who hinted that Ofsted would ditch its plans for "no notice" inspections after complaints from heads.