Suspended jail term for head who hit pupil

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A headteacher convicted of slapping a 10-year-old pupil narrowly avoided being imprisoned yesterday when a magistrate gave her a three-month suspended sentence.

A headteacher convicted of slapping a 10-year-old pupil narrowly avoided being imprisoned yesterday when a magistrate gave her a three-month suspended sentence.

Marjorie Evans, from Usk, south Wales, drove away from Abergavenny magistrates' court in tears after the stipendiary magistrate, VivianManning-Davies, accused her of failing the child, the school and the teaching profession.

The sentence was greeted with anger by about 50 of Mrs Evans' supporters, who had protested with placards outside the court. The National Union of Teachers Wales announced she would launch an immediateappeal against her conviction.

Deidre Davies, a supporter of Mrs Evans from King Henry VIII comprehensive in Abergavenny, said the result was "horrifying." She added: "This judgment will send horror shockwaves throughout the teaching profession. We will support Marjorie Evans throughout."

Her fears were supported by union leaders. Doug McAvoy, general secretary of the NUT, said Mrs Evans's sentence would "send a shudder through the teaching profession".

David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, warned the "harsh" sentence would drive headteachers to exclude even greater numbers of disruptive pupils, undermining attempts to reduce exclusions. "Many heads and teachers will say that what she did was wrong but they will also say to themselves, 'There but for the grace of God go I'," he said.

Mrs Evans, a 56-year-old with 35 years of teaching experience, was prosecuted for assault after the boy, who has behavioural problems and learning difficulties, became unruly when he and three friends were told they would not be allowed on a swimming trip last September.

She admitted restraining the boy by crossing his arms across his chest, but denied assaulting him. However, the boy and three of his friends told the court she had struck him. A teacher at the school, Sandra Cutler, said Mrs Evans had confessed to staff later that day she had indeed hit him.

As he passed sentence yesterday, Mr Manning-Davies said: "You failed the complainant, you failed the school, you failed your honourable profession and the community." Her actions, he added, had been a "total dereliction" of her duties and a "breach of trust."

After he warned Mrs Evans she would be jailed if she committed any other offence in the next year, she was also told to pay £2,250 in prosecution costs.

The school, which cannot be named for legal reasons, is the focus of a separate police investigation into alleged mistreatment of children which is unrelated to Mrs Evans' case.

Monmouthshire County Council said none of the allegations involved sexual misbehaviour. Chief Inspector Nigel Russell, of Gwent police, said the claims "have come from adults not children and refer to other adults' inappropriate physical and emotional handling of pupils at the school".

Meanwhile, Mrs Evans' colleagues and supporters were indignant about her conviction. Graham Powell, chairman of the school's board of governors, said he was "astounded" by the sentence.

"She has not failed the school, the pupils or the community. Mrs Evans is an excellent teacher and a first-class headteacher," he said.

Despite Mr Powell's support, it is likely that Mrs Evans' conviction means she will now lose her job, unless her appeal succeeds. She has been suspended on full pay since September.

Dyfan Jones, an NUT Wales spokesman, said the union was "relieved no immediate custodial sentence was passed but we will be appealing against the conviction".