The schools inspection system should be abolished and the Chief Inspector of Schools should listen to his critics or resign, teachers said yesterday.
The call from the normally-moderate Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) for the scrapping of Ofsted is likely to be followed by stronger demands for boycotts of inspections from other unions meeting over the Easter weekend.
Teachers have become increasingly vocal in their protests over inspections as a four-year programme designed to cover all schools by 1998 continues. The chief inspector, Chris Woodhead, has been heavily criticised for what the profession sees as political bias. His comment that 15,000 bad teachers should be sacked caused outrage, as did a pamphlet he wrote for a right- wing think tank, Politeia, in which he questioned the future of local education authorities.
Andrew Mitchell, director of music at Mr. Woodhead's old school, Wallington Grammar in Sutton, Surrey, said inspections caused teachers great anguish.
"If there has been a bigger instrument devised in the history of education to unnecessarily stress teachers I don't know what it is," he said.
The conference in Torquay voted almost unanimously for Ofsted to be abolished if the Government could not re- establish its independent reputation.
Peter Smith, general secretary of the union, said no one was against independent inspection, but Ofsted had lost the confidence of the teaching profession.
"I can't envisage Ofsted gaining the professional credibility and confidence that it needs if Mr Woodhead remains as Her Majesty's Chief Inspector - unless he is prepared, against all recent evidence, to listen to the criticisms that are being made and take them seriously," he said.
The Schools Minister, Robin Squire, who addressed the conference yesterday, tried to defend the inspection system but received a cool reception. Ofsted was the key to raising standards, he said, but poor schools could not be allowed to continue.
"Any suggestion that Ofsted should be abolished has to be set against what was in place prior to its creation, which would take us back to a time when primary schools in particular would not be inspected more than once every 200 years.
"I don't see any need to pull Chris Woodhead back into line," he said.
t About 1,000 small primary schools could be exempted from next year's league tables of test results for 11-year-olds, Mr Squire said yesterday.
Responding to criticism that figures from schools with only five or ten 11-year-olds could identify individual pupils, he promised to consult teachers and other education professionals on the move.