Review call after head is cleared of assault

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The Independent Online

An official investigation into the case of the headteacher Marjorie Evans has called for a radical review of the way allegations against teachers are handled.

Mrs Evans was suspended from a Welsh school for 18 months before being cleared on appeal of assaulting a pupil. The inquiry, set up by the Welsh education ministry, found the local education authority (LEA) had acted unreasonably by withholding information and it criticised "unacceptable delays" in the case.

Wales's Education Minister, Jane Davidson, urged schools to consider allowing teachers who had allegations made against them to stay in the classroom rather than being automatically suspended.

Mrs Evans said: "I hope no teacher will ever have to suffer what I have suffered. We have an ethos at the moment that when allegations are made against teachers that they are guilty and you have to prove yourself innocent."

The head of St Mary's Junior School in Caldicot, south Wales, was suspended in September 1999 after she was accused of slapping a 10-year-old boy. She denied the allegation but was convicted of assault and received a three-month suspended sentence. She was cleared on appeal two months later and returned to work in March.

Gwent Police then announced they were investigating further allegations of mistreating pupils but the Crown Prosecution Service refused to take further action.

The school governors lifted the suspension in October last year and said they planned to hold their own disciplinary hearing. Mrs Evans's union, the National Union of Teachers, launched a High Court action against Monmouthshire County Council and the school governors, accusing them of having failed to adopt proper disciplinary rules and procedures.

Mrs Justice Bracewell ruled in the union's favour and ordered governors to draw up new rules and procedures before the disciplinary hearing. Mrs Evans was finally cleared of all allegations at the three-day hearing.

The vindication of Mrs Evans prompted Ms Davidson to investigate the handling of her case.

The minister said Monmouthshire LEA had acted unreasonably in withholding information from the school's governors – including the allegations against Mrs Evans – and that this had contributed to the delay. The LEA had also been unreasonable in failing to give Mrs Evans access to documents until only a few weeks before the disciplinary hearing, she said.

Ms Davidson recommended that all LEAs in Wales should review their own disciplinary procedures in the wake of Mrs Evans' case. Monmouthshire LEA was also asked to issue governors with clear and up-to-date advice.

Ms Davidson said the governing body's decision to suspend Mrs Evans had been reasonable. But she warned other schools that disciplinary issues must be handled on a case-by-case basis.

"We do need to look very carefully at the way we support teachers who have allegations made against them," Ms Davidson said. "The local authority was very confused in the areas of its processes. We need proper time-scales for addressing any allegations."

Monmouthshire County Council said the inquiry report was a "vindication of its actions". The council rejected criticism that it had been wrong to withhold details of the allegations against Mrs Evans from the governing body.

A spokesman said: "This was to protect Mrs Evans by preventing the 'tainting' of the governors' deliberations. The LEA was following accepted practice in the interest of the person under investigation."

* National test results from Merstham Community Primary School in Redhill, Surrey, have been annulled after an investigation found evidence of cheating. Sixty 11-year-olds had their results in English, maths and science tests disallowed because some of their answers "did not represent the children's unaided work".