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Slap verdict puts teachers at risk

Warwick Mansell reports on union fears of a fresh wave of claims after shock conviction

HEADTEACHER Marjorie Evans's conviction for slapping an unruly child could provoke a wave of malicious allegations against teachers, a union warned this week.

The National Union of Teachers, which represented Evans, fears last week's judgement could spur pupils and their parents to add to the torrent of unfounded claims it says it has dealt with in recent months.

Meanwhile, the NUT announced that it is to issue new guidance advising teachers and heads to press for exclusion when a pupil's behaviour has potential to put a teacher's career at risk.

Earlier this week, the Government announced its support for heads who permanenly exclude very violent children.

Mrs Evans was sentenced to three months in jail, suspended for a year, after being found guilty of slapping the 10-year-old's face after he attacked her when she barred him from an excursion.

Mrs Evans, a 56-year-old divorcee and head of a village primary school in Gwent, south Wales, was also ordered to pay the pound;2,250 costs of the six-day case. The sentence received a mixed response from union officials and Mrs Evans's supporters, after the magistrate in charge said she could get an immediate jail term.

But stipendiary magistrate Vivian Manning-Davies decided against this in recognition of the "sustained and extreme provocation" Evans received from the boy, who admitted trying to psh, punch and butt her.

The magistrate said he had also borne in mind Mrs Evans's previously unblemished 35-year career and the fact that her elderly mother relied on her for care.

The NUT, which says that Evans did not slap the boy, immediately announced it was funding an appeal against the conviction.

The union has dealt with an allegation a week against members in Wales since the start of the year. Each claim, many of which led to suspensions, was false. In England, the union has been told of 150 such allegations, compared to 120 for the whole of 1999.

Gethin Lewis, chairman of NUT Cyrmu, said he was concerned the figures could now rise.

He said: "Although the majority of people who will have read the story will have been supportive of Mrs Evans, I am concerned that a minority might have seen it and had an idea."

Margaret Nicol, president of the Educational Institute of Scotland, said that the Welsh verdict underlined the "vulnerable" position all teachers can find themselves in when they had to restrain a pupil.

There was only anecdotal evidence of an increase in malicious complaints in Scotland, but last year's EIS conference expressed concern about the problems facing teachers. Ms Nicol said it was difficult to agree appropriate policies with local authorities.

Meanwhile, teacher Janet Bowen, remains suspended after staff at her school made new claims to Gwent police that pupils had been mistreated.

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