ET Awards 102K to Head Teacher Who Was Dismissed For Tapping Son’s Hand

In Ms Malabver-Goulbourne v. Arbor Academy Trust, a head teacher was awarded over £100,000 following her dismissal for tapping her son’s hand. Although the police found that her actions constituted “reasonable chastisement”, the trust disagreed and ended her employment. Below, we delve into the events and outline the tribunal’s judgment.

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The Facts in Ms Malabver-Goulbourne v Arbor Academy Trust


Ms Malabver-Goulbourne (“the Claimant”) began her teaching career at Northwold Primary School in 2005. Over the years, she earned several promotions: assistant head in 2009, deputy head some years later, and head teacher in 2017. In 2020, Northwold Primary School joined the Arbor Academy Trust (“the Respondent”).

While working late on 17 January 2022, the claimant noticed her three-year-old son playing with hand sanitiser. She took the bottle from him and explained why he shouldn’t play with it. When her son turned away during the explanation, she tapped the back of his hand with two fingers to get his attention.

Ms Bhagwandas, the school’s designated safeguarding lead (DSL), witnessed the incident. After the claimant finished speaking with her son, Ms Bhagwandas told her she shouldn’t have hurt him. The claimant, however, believed she hadn’t hurt her son, explaining that she was only trying to get his attention.

Dissatisfied with this response, Ms Bhagwandas reported the incident to the respondent’s CEO and filed a written complaint on 19 January, alleging that the claimant had smacked her son. She also reported the incident to the local authority designated officer (LADO), submitting a referral form on 20 January.

Respondent Investigates Head Teacher

Upon reviewing the form, the LADO determined the incident warranted a formal investigation. This was because the allegation involved a senior individual potentially harming a child in the presence of the DSL.

A subsequent meeting resulted in the claimant’s suspension pending investigation. The matter was also referred to the police, and the respondent appointed an investigator.

During this period, the claimant was not provided specific details about her suspension, only that it was to facilitate the investigation.

The police proceeded to conduct their investigation, meeting with the respondent and interviewing the head teacher and her children. They concluded that the claimant’s conduct amounted to a “reasonable chastisement”, requiring no further action on their part.

However, the LADO didn’t agree, finding the claimant’s conduct “cause for concern”. As such, on 4 February, they recommended the respondent initiate an investigation to determine appropriate disciplinary action.

That same day, the claimant was informed of the allegations against her. The respondent stated that she’d behaved in a manner that either harmed or potentially harmed a child. They claimed that the allegation had been substantiated, relying on Ms Bhagwandas’s witness evidence.

Head Teacher Faces Dismissal

On 7 February, the respondent appointed Mr Pratt to conduct the investigation, as recommended by the LADO. Mr Pratt interviewed the involved parties, reviewed relevant policies, and examined the claimant’s employment contract. On 10 March, he completed his report, concluding that there was a “disciplinary case for the claimant to answer”, citing a breach of the respondent’s staff code of conduct and child protection policy.

Consequently, a hearing was held on 27 April. The panel expressed concern over the claimant’s actions, particularly how she might respond to a parent behaving similarly. They concluded that her failure to adhere to safeguarding guidelines as a role model amounted to gross misconduct, leading to her immediate dismissal.

On 18 May, the head teacher appealed the decision, arguing that the disciplinary action was “grossly disproportionate” and constituted unfair dismissal. However, her appeal was unsuccessful, as she was informed on 7 July following the appeal hearing on 27 June. As a result, she pursued ACAS early conciliation before initiating employment tribunal proceedings on 11 October, alleging unfair dismissal.

The Employment Tribunal’s Judgment

Upon reviewing the facts, the original employment tribunal concluded that the respondent didn’t have a reasonable belief that the claimant’s conduct amounted to gross misconduct. Furthermore, they found no evidence to support the allegation of assault.

The tribunal determined that the head teacher had merely tapped her son’s hand to get his attention after taking away the bottle. This action was to advise him on the dangers of playing with it, especially since he had previously gotten some in his eyes.

Therefore, the tribunal held that the claimant’s dismissal fell outside the band of reasonable responses. On this basis, they ruled in her favour, allowing her unfair dismissal claim to succeed.

Following the tribunal’s verdict, a remedy hearing was held. It was determined that the head teacher would be awarded £102,328.80, comprising a basic award of £8,450.80 and a compensatory award of £93,878.00.

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