Headteacher Sacked Unfairly For Tapping Son’s Hand; ET Calls it Unfair Dismissal and a “Reasonable Chastisement” by Parent

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Photo Credits - Debby Hudson via Unsplash

Headteacher Shelly-Ann Malabver-Goulbourne found herself at the centre of a controversy that resulted in her unfair dismissal. The incident, which occurred at Northwold Primary School in East London, involved her tapping her own son’s hand with two fingers.

This begins when Ms Malabver-Goulbourne is working late at Northwold Primary School. This is not uncommon for educators dedicated to their roles. Her three-year-old son and 11-year-old daughter, both students at the school, were in her office, awaiting their departure. The fateful moment transpired when the younger child began playing with a bottle of hand sanitiser. This act prompts the headteacher to intervene.

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Headteacher’s Controversial Act: A Tap on the Hand

Witnessed by Samantha Bhagwandas, a fellow teacher responsible for child safety, the incident took a contentious turn. Ms Malabver-Goulbourne, in an attempt to redirect her son’s attention from the hand sanitiser, used two fingers to tap the back of his hand. This seemingly innocuous action, aimed at preventing further mishaps with the hand sanitiser, later escalated into a serious accusation.

Ms Bhagwandas, feeling disturbed by the incident, filed an official complaint accusing the headteacher of assaulting her son. The complaint triggered a chain of events that led to Ms Malabver-Goulbourne’s suspension and a subsequent police investigation.

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To the relief of Ms. Malabver-Goulbourne, the police investigation concluded that her actions constituted “reasonable chastisement” within the purview of a parent. Despite this favourable verdict, the Arbor Academy Trust, overseeing Northwold Primary School, took a different stance. They allege gross misconduct on the part of the headteacher.

The employment tribunal weighed the evidence meticulously. Employment Judge Julia Jones, in her ruling, underscored the absence of evidence supporting claims of physical chastisement or assault. The tribunal deemed Ms Malabver-Goulbourne’s actions as a parent attempting to prevent harm to her child and address his behaviour. Consequently, the tribunal concluded that her dismissal was unfair, marking a pivotal moment in the protracted legal battle.

Legal Victory of the Headteacher

Shelly-Ann Malabver-Goulbourne’s victory in the unfair dismissal case signifies a triumph for justice. The tribunal recognised the nuances of the situation. They highlight that the school’s code of conduct did not outright prohibit all physical contact between pupils and teachers.

The Headteacher’s Perspective

In her defence, Ms Malabver-Goulbourne clarified that the tap on her son’s hand was a measured response. This is especially true considering an earlier incident where the toddler had accidentally gotten hand sanitiser in his eye. The headteacher asserted that her intention was solely to communicate with her son, steering him away from playing with the potentially harmful substance.

The fallout from the incident had profound consequences for Ms. Malabver-Goulbourne’s career. Despite her long-standing service to education and her commitment to Northwold Primary School, the shadow of an unfair dismissal dismissal tarnished her professional record.

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Implications for the Headteacher and Arbor Academy Trust

The tribunal’s ruling raises questions about the decision-making processes within the Arbor Academy Trust. The disparity between the police verdict and the trust’s actions suggests a potential misalignment with legal standards and a lack of due diligence in evaluating the incident.

With the tribunal deeming her dismissal unfair, Ms Malabver-Goulbourne is poised to receive compensation for the damage caused to her professional reputation and career. This legal victory, while a vindication, also underscores the arduous journey educators may face when unjustly accused, necessitating legal recourse for restoration.

The saga of Shelly-Ann Malabver-Goulbourne, the headteacher unfairly sacked for tapping her son’s hand, sheds light on the intricate challenges educators may encounter in their professional journeys. The disparity between the police ruling and the school’s actions serves as a stark reminder of the complexities inherent in navigating the delicate balance between parental responsibility and professional conduct. As Ms Malabver-Goulbourne seeks redress, her case stands as a testament to the importance of fair and thorough evaluations in the realm of education.

Redmans Solicitors and their team of expert employment lawyers can offer advice and guidance on employment law matters, including unfair dismissals. Contact their employment law specialists today!

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