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Saturday, 30 December, 2000, 01:44 GMT
Legal rows mar Welsh schools year
louise elliott
What hit the education headlines in Wales during the year.

GCSE and A-level results get better, we are way ahead of England in our scheme to provide nursery places for three year olds, and we have the UK's first children's commissioner, to protect and promote the rights of young people in all walks of life in Wales.

But education hit the headlines in 2000 with classroom controversy and court cases overshadowing much of the good work being done elsewhere.

Marjorie Evans, the 56-year-old head teacher alleged to have slapped a difficult pupil across the face, began the year 2000 suspended from her job at St Mary's School in Caldicot, Monmouthshire.

She always denied she had slapped the 10-year-old boy - saying instead she had restrained him because he was swearing and had become difficult.

After a five-day trial at Abergavenny Magistrates Court, Mrs Evans was found guilty of common assault. Two weeks later she was sentenced to a three-month suspended jail term.

Record payment

Mrs Evans took her case to appeal and at Cardiff Crown Court in September the judge, Mr Justice McKinnon, overturned her conviction, saying she should leave court with her good reputation and character entirely intact.

She had hoped to return to school immediately, but her school governors had other ideas, saying she must now face an internal disciplinary panel.

Although she is not officially suspended, the governors do not want her to return to school yet. Mrs Evans's trade union, the NUT, is preparing to challenge that decision in the courts. It will be the new year now before she knows when or if she can return.

Another teacher, Jan Howell, says she can never return to her classroom. After suffering two nervous breakdowns she won a record payout in this kind of case in Wales, of 250,000. The payment was made by Newport Council after the authority accepted liability in her case.

Mrs Howell said her workload had become intolerable and despite pleas for help, she claims she received little support from her bosses. Her union, the NASUWT, says others in similar positions may now follow suit.

Private school building

Just before the schools broke up for the Christmas holidays, Wales managed to squeeze in another first.

Ysgol Penweddig in Aberystwyth became the first in Wales to be built and maintained as part of a private finance initiative or PFI.

A consortium called NewSchools Ltd owns the building and its contents and supplies a range of services to the school, such as catering and cleaning.

Ceredigion local education authority will now pay a kind of "rent" for the school for the next 30 years. Only then will they actually own the building.

Teacher unions are sceptical about the school's long-term value for money - but the education authority predicts that Penweddig will be the first of many in Wales.

We will have to wait and see what 2001 brings.

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See also:

04 Dec 00 | Education
Stressed teacher wins 250,000
25 Apr 00 | UK Systems
Links to more Correspondents stories are at the foot of the page.

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