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Teachers plead for head's return

Court clears Pamela Mitchelhill of slapping child. Helen Ward reports

Teachers at the Sandwell school whose head was this week cleared of slapping a child have urged her to return to work.

Pamela Mitchelhill, head of Crocketts Lane primary in Smethwick, walked free from court after being cleared of assaulting a six-year-old pupil with behaviour problems.

The 50-year-old was alleged to have slapped the child twice round the face she became out of control during a numeracy lesson.

The case rested on the testimony of a student nursery nurse and trainee teacher who claimed they saw what happened from 13 metres away through a partially- obscured window.

Scores of experienced teachers paid tribute in court to Mrs Mitchelhill's dedication and expertise.

She maintained she had turned the pupil's head around five times while talking to her to make her establish eye contact.

The child denied 11 times during a police video interview that anyone had ever hurt her while at school.

Darren Cooper, the school's chair of governors, said: "I have known Pam for 15 years. I originally appointed her as a classroom teacher, then as deputy head and as headteacher. She isa first-class headteacher, very dedicated and very child-orientated."

Mrs Mitchelhill was suspended under child protection guidelines after the allegations were made. The governing body is now looking to lift the suspension.

The National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers has called for a review of the way child protection cases are investigated following the two-day case. It backed Mrs Mitchelhill.

Pete Cole, NASUWT regional negotiator, said five Sandwell headteachers had been prosecuted over child allegations in the past three years, only one case was proved.

He said: "I want a review of child protection procedures and practices in Sandwell because it is apparent there are serious problems with the way child protection matters are investigated."

Ian Jones, Sandwell's cabinet member for education and lifelong learning, said he would work with the teaching unions over the issues they had raised.

He said the procedures were controlled, not by the local authority alone, but by the multi-agency area child protection committee which includes the police, social services, local health professionals and voluntary agencies.

"In this case there was no choice. Once an allegation is made to the police the member of staff must be suspended under child protection procedures."

Mark Jackson, acting head of Crocketts Lane primary, said: "I'm very pleased with the verdict. She is an outstanding teacher and a manager.

"The governors and I are now doing everything we can to encourage her to come back. But it will be her choice and she will need time to reflect."

The school won beacon status while an infant school. It became a primary in September 2002.

Two years ago its Office for Standards in Education report said it was "very good and effective" and that "the impact of the very good leadership is clear from the school's improvement in standards in the past few years."

A Crown Prosecution Service spokesman said: "We had two teachers who said they witnessed this incident. Once the police had their statements they came to us. The case went to a senior lawyer who made the decision that we should prosecute.

"We make a decision based on the evidence and whether it is in the public interest to prosecute."

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