Plaid Cymru education spokesman Cynog Dafis said the strain imposed by the overprescriptive inspection system, together with increasing workloads in a competitive atmosphere, is causing unprecedented levels of stress related illnesses and breakdowns among teachers. Levels of early retirement were also escalating, he said.
'What good can this be doing to educational standards?' asks Mr Dafis, who also points to a looming problem of teacher supply.
Mr Dafis' draft proposals for consideration of the party's Cabinet offer a radical alternative method for monitoring and raising standards. The party advocate the creation of a national body which would combine the functions of the WJEC, the Curriculum and Assessment Authority (ACAC), the inspectorate (SPAEM) and also the schools' advice service provided in part by Local Education Authorities (LEAs).
The council would have the power to intervene in underperforming schools, to analyse the causes of failure and provide advice and training. LEAs would target extra resources where appropriate. Successful schools would by and large be left alone.
However all schools would have ten-yearly inspections in order to evaluate the quality of educational experience, provide advice, and gather and disseminate examples of good practice. Mr Dafis said:
'We would thus create a process of raising standards through partnership and support while respecting the expertise of teachers as professional people. A Welsh parliament with legislative powers could create such a system.
'The Tory emphasis on competition and privatisation seen in the current Education Bill offers us nothing. This means that Wales currently lacks the means to support teachers and ensure constantly rising educational standards'
According to figures obtained by Plaid Cymru, the number of teachers retiring because of sickness has risen from 241 in 1988-89 to 514 in 1994-95, with a consistent growth both for the whole of Wales and for each of the old Welsh counties.
Welsh secretary William Hague has admitted to Mr Wigley that the government shared his concern about the number of teachers leaving because of sickness (in a letter dated 8 September 1996). Education secretary Gillian Shephard had arranged a study of early retirement and severance arrangements in response to these anxieties, Mr Hague said.
Mr Dafis has now tabled questions to government ministers demanding information on the numbers of teachers obliged to retire or take extended leave because of sickness or nervous stress between 1985 and 1995 (due for answer on 20 November).