Ofsted inspection stress led to teacher's suicide

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The Independent Online
A PRIMARY school teacher hanged herself after worrying about a government inspection of her school, an inquest heard yesterday.

Janet Watson, 33, was responsible for religious education at Rudheath Primary School at Northwich in Cheshire.

North East Wales Coroner, John Hughes, reading from statements presented to the coroner's office, said Ms Watson had suffered from a depressive illness and the Ofsted inspection had put her under increased pressure. Ofsted visited the school in May 1998 and Ms Watson's worry over the event took its toll on her health. The coroner said it was an "absolute tragedy" that such inspections should cause such a degree of stress.

The inquest at Mold, Clwyd, heard that Ms Watson had endured a traumatic childhood and rejection by her father. When she was eight her parents divorced and she and her older sisters and brother went to live with their father, who later remarried. Ms Watson did not get on in the new family.

The school was praised in the Ofsted report but Ms Watson was unable to shake off deep depression, aggravated by worry over the inspection.

On 11 April she hanged herself at the home she shared in Sychdyn, near Mold, with her partner, engineering technician Martin Hughes.

The coroner said Ms Watson had been a dedicated teacher. "She worked frantically hard into the early hours of the morning in order to get a good assessment." The Ofsted inspection gave the school a good report and her condition eased.

However, her relationship with her partner had gone through difficulties. The continued rejection by her father plagued her mind and she had received counselling, and was monitored carefully because she had expressed thoughts about suicide.

Despite "profound emotional difficulties" she left school at 16, trained to be a nurse and worked abroad before returning to the UK to retrain as a teacher. In 1998 she began suffering from a depressive illness and had found travelling more than 20 miles to work each day tiring, said the coroner.

"There was no evidence to suggest she was an inadequate teacher. The inspection proved she was an excellent teacher, but she suffered from low self-esteem and this preyed on her mind, along with the emotional turmoil of her early life and stormy relationship with her partner," he said.

A spokesman for Cheshire County Council said: "Janet was a much loved and very talented teacher. Tragically she had other problems that had been with her for some time. The Ofsted report was only one of her worries.

"She had mentioned her fears about the report to her close colleagues and the school head. They had done their best to continually reassure her that fears surrounding her teaching abilities were unfounded." A memorial garden is to be established in the school grounds.

Geraint Davies, spokesman for the teaching union NASUWT, said: "Teachers more than ever feel pressure from all quarters, including school inspections... This tragic death painfully illuminates what is happening in the profession."

The coroner recorded a verdict of suicide.