Anonymous questionnaires for teachers and parents to assess schools are being used to exact revenge against principals, a teaching union has claimed.
The National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) has said the schools' inspectorate is instiling a "culture of fear" through which heads are being "scapegoated" by nameless individuals or groups.
Questionnaires are circulated to a school's teachers, support staff and pupils' parents ahead of an inspection of that school.
"While we are committed to the concept that all teachers should have an input into the (inspection) process, questionnaires can be used as a means for vengeance or for payback," Fern Turner from the NAHT told the Assembly's education committee yesterday.
The education committee is hearing evidence as part of its ongoing inquiry into the effectiveness of Northern Ireland's schools' inspectorate, the Education and Training Inspectorate (ETI)
"We have evidence of these questionnaires being used on an individual or group basis to sort things out," Ms Turner said.
"School leaders have to manage redundancies or deal with unsatisfactory teachers. What these questionnaires are doing is they provide a 'get back' clause."
The union has called for more transparency from the the inspectorate – with evidence to corroborate inspectors' assessments of a school – if a "culture of fear" is to be tackled.
"Schools do not know what they have been marked against. The inspectorate marks against the Together Towards Improvement framework, which is very vague," Ms Turner said.
"NAHT believes that schools have to be accountable, but there has to be faith in the (inspections) system. At this present point in time there is no faith in the system."
The union is calling for the introduction of independent assessors to regulate the ETI.
Ms Turner cited teachers who experience "extreme physical and mental exhaustion" in the weeks around an inspectors' visit – with some who have been hospitalised following an inspection – which is offset by what she described as little support from the authorities in the wake of a damning report.
She pointed to Dr Annabel Scott, the principal of Crumlin Integrated College.
Dr Scott was temporarily removed from the Co Antrim school after a highly critical 2010 inspection report – which was published by the ETI – pointing to "unsatisfactory" leadership and "generally poor standards achieved by the pupils".
The Co Antrim head has received death threats and alleged intimidation in the bitter fallout following the damning report.
Dr Scott has yet to return to the school after parents protested at the school's gates against her tenure. She later received a death threat and threatening phone calls. Last month she was forced to flee her home after receiving more threats.
Dr Scott "has been destroyed as a consequence of how the Department of Education and ETI dealt with her school", said Ms Turner.
"Annabel had to leave her home. To leave any individual in a system where they are subjected to that kind of treatment is deplorable."
In three years the school has been "destroyed" as a result of the inspection process, she said.
"We have evidence of these questionnaires being used on an individual or group basis to sort things out. School leaders have to manage redundancies or deal with unsatisfactory teachers. What these questionnaires are doing is they provide a 'get back' clause."
Fern Turner (above) of the National Association of Head Teachers