Tomorrow should be a good day for Marjorie Evans. At half past eight in the morning, she will turn out of her cul de sac in the Monmouthshire town of Usk and start a 30-mile drive to Cardiff and the Welsh Assembly building.
After 18 months of misery, the 57-year-old known as "the slap-case head teacher" can expect public vindication and, who knows, maybe an official apology. Twice she was accused of hitting and abusing the children in her care, and twice she was cleared in a process so confused, tortured and obviously unjust that it stirred national indignation.
Tomorrow morning the Welsh Assembly will publish the results of its investigation into Mrs Evans's case and no one expects less than an official acknowledgement that she has been treated scandalously. Her presence in Cardiff has been specially requested by the Welsh Education Minister Jane Davidson.
"I hope the outcome is that no one should ever suffer to the same degree that I did," she said last week, soon after getting the summons to attend. "I'm not saying there shouldn't be investigations in cases like mine, but no one else should endure the same stress and humiliation."
She is back at St Mary's Junior School in Caldicot and, she says, loving it now that the "so-called colleagues" who tried to get her sacked have left. There have been compensations for the past two years, including hundreds of letters, bouquets, private meetings with Prince Charles and Estelle Morris, now Education Secretary, and an appearance on Radio 4's On the Ropes with John Humphrys. She is planning a book and, although she won't confirm it, there are rumours of a film.
But it could easily have been different. By now, she could have been a 57-year-old ex-teacher looking back on a short spell in jail.
Marjorie Evans has given much of her life to teaching and says it was the only job she ever wanted to do. But that was taken away from her when, in September 1999, she was suspended from work, accused of slapping a disturbed 10-year-old boy who had kicked out and tried to push her down the stairs. She has vigorously denied the allegation from the outset.
After a long police investigation she was convicted of assault by the Abergavenny stipendiary magistrate and sentenced to a three-month suspended jail term. She is convinced it was suspended only because she cares for her mother. Her union, the National Union of Teachers, said the case would "send a shudder through the profession".
Only two months later, she was cleared at the High Court in Cardiff; yet almost immediately the drama took on the air of a modern-day Crucible. She was suspended from school for a further month amid claims there had been "inappropriate physical and emotional handling of pupils". This time the accusers were her own colleagues.
Her final release came not from the courts but from a marathon 19-hour sitting of the school governing body last March. After listening to 22 witnesses they concluded there was "no credible evidence" to suggest she mistreated the children.
"I get more and more astonished about it all as time goes by," she said. "It's still very difficult to realise what exactly happened and why it happened. Professional jealousy is a phrase I have used, and I think it's part of the explanation. But I'm still piecing together the jigsaw.
"Obviously in the first place it was because of the original allegations by the child. But then colleagues jumped on the bandwagon. I haven't been able to get to the bottom of that. It's sufficient to say they have all left the school now.
"I have varying shades of anger about them because some of them I feel were led. Others just got involved because I just think they wanted to be nasty. They were just being very vindictive. Eventually we'll have to be more precise and get down to the nitty-gritty."
Through the NUT, which has backed her from the beginning, Mrs Evans is now in the process of suing the local education authority for the distress. "The worst thing was the uncertainty of not knowing what would happen; and, of course, the really bad day was when the stipendiary magistrate found me guilty. That was the lowest point. It was the slur on my name after 35 years of teaching."
She admits that the glare of attention has changed her in some ways, forcing her to be more relaxed and less reticent in public. "I think possibly I have become more laid-back. I'm more likely to say 'well worse things could happen'. Normally speaking I like to work on a tank full of adrenaline. Perhaps in the past I would have been one of the backroom people. Now I will speak out about things. I'm perhaps not as shy. Initially I found the attention very difficult but now I take it in my stride – because people have been so supportive and I've found it helpful.
"I'm loving it now I'm back at school. It's absolutely tremendous. The children are fantastic. Now the others have gone we're really enjoying ourselves."
Friday was the last day of term, but Mrs Evans will keep on working another week, "reclaiming" St Mary's. "I have been giving the school a good tidying-up. I've still got some paperwork to do: some things from the previous acting head to go through. I want to make sure the budget is right. It's the things I haven't been doing for the past 18 months.
"What kept me going? Sheer determination. I know that I was totally innocent. I never ever thought of walking away from it. It never entered my head to walk away. I don't think I'd have been allowed to walk away by my colleagues, friends or family because they all believed in my innocence."Reuse content