TEACHERS were this week advised to refuse to teach persistently disobedient pupils after a head was told she could be jailed for hitting a boy who was misbehaving.
Marjorie Evans was found guilty of slapping the 10-year-old across the face after he reportedly flew into a rage when she told him he could not go swimming.
The pupil, who cannot be named, had attempted to push and punch Mrs Evans, Abergavenny magistrates' court heard. She claimed she had tried merely to restrain him.
But she was convicted of common assault after a teacher at the village primary in Gwent told the court Mrs Evans had admitted to staff she had slapped the boy, who has special needs.
Adjourning the case until July 28 for sentencing, stipendiary magistrate Vivian Manning-Davies said: "It is a serious case and I have to consider custody."
Mrs Evans, 56, who has been suspended since the incident last September and was granted bail after the conviction, faces the ruin of her previously unblemished 35-year career - and a maximum sentence of six months.
Union leaders reacted to the news with astonishment. The National Union of Teachers, which supported Mrs Evans in the case and is now considering an appeal, said it would send a "shiver" through the profession.
David Hart, general secretary of the National Asociation of Head Teachers, said: "Ninety nine heads out of 100 under serious provocation would not do what Marjorie Evans did.
"But the fact is that teachers are under such enormous pressure that one could imagine it happening in a small number of cases. The idea that she should be sent to prison is totally abhorrent."
Nigel de Gruchy, general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, said the union would issue new advice to regional secretaries. Teachers will be reminded that they can refuse to teach persistently disruptive pupils.
Mr de Gruchy, whose union was not involved in Mrs Evans's case, said: "This emphasises that teachers should not get themselves in a position where they are having to deal with a pupil with a history of bad behaviour.
"They should come to us and we will support them before they reach the end of their tether."
However, a spokeswoman for the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, said: "All teachers are aware that ... they are breaking the law if they strike a child."
The boy's mother said she hoped Mrs Evans would not go to jail. But Monmouthshire County Council and Gwent police have been looking into fresh allegations by staff at the school, of "inappropriate physical handling and emotional responses to children". A senior teacher, Janet Bowen, has been suspended pending the outcome of the investigation.