HEADTEACHER Marjorie Evans's conviction for slapping an unruly child could provoke a wave of malicious allegations against teachers, a union has warned.
The National Union of Teachers, which represented Mrs Evans, fears that last week's judgment 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 schools 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 permanently exclude very violent children, overturning previous guidelines (see opposite page).
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, the 56-year-old 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 at Abergavenny Magistrates' Court.
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 push, punh 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 maintains that Mrs Evans did not slap the boy, immediately announced it would fund an appeal.
The school's governing body this week decided to defer a decision on her future until after the appeal.
The union said it had 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 already been told of 150 such allegations this year, compared to 120 for the whole of 1999.
Gethin Lewis, chairman of NUT Cymru, said he was concerned the figures could now rise.
He said: "Although the majority of people will be supportive of Mrs Evans, I am concerned that a minority might have seen the story and had a different idea.
"Parents who may be critical of a teacher's authority will see this as another way of making a complaint against a teacher and potentially getting them suspended or even sacked. It is all part of the current climate that the child, when making an allegation, is not only listened to but also believed."
Doug McAvoy, NUT general secretary, said the union would be advising members to press for exclusion if threatened by a pupil.
Meanwhile, Janet Bowen, an-other teacher at the school, remains suspended after colleagues made new claims to police that pupils had been mistreated.