Hackney headteacher unfairly dismissed after tapping her son’s hand, judge rules

Northwold Primary School. Image: Google

An employment tribunal has ruled that a former Clapton headteacher was “unfairly dismissed” for tapping her own son’s hand.

Shelley-Ann Malabver-Goulbourne was working late at Northwold Primary School in January 2022 when she tried to stop her son playing with a bottle of hand sanitiser.

Samantha Bhagwandas, a teacher and the school’s designated safeguarding lead, reportedly witnessed the incident and filed an official complaint saying she had seen Malabver-Goulbourne “smack” her son.

The complaint resulted in the headteacher’s suspension and a police investigation.

Officials at the Arbor Academy Trust, which runs the school, fired Malabver-Goulbourne for “gross misconduct”.

This was despite the police investigation concluding that her actions were “reasonable chastisement” by a parent and amounted to a “minor incident”.

Malabver-Goulbourne told the employment tribunal that, two weeks earlier, her son had got hand sanitiser in his eye.

She therefore tapped his hand with two fingers to get his attention and try to prevent him from hurting himself again.

“It was with the knowledge of that earlier experience,” said the judge, Julia Jones, that Malabver-Goulbourne “wanted to speak to him again to ensure that he understood that hand sanitiser was not a toy that he should be playing with”.

Agreeing with the former headteacher’s version of events and upholding her claim of unfair dismissal, Jones ruled her actions could not be considered “unnecessary physical contact”.

Her son was “engaging in an activity that could have caused him harm” and there was “no evidence that she had committed physical chastisement or an assault”, Jones added.

Malabver-Goulbourne joined Arbor Academy Trust in 2005 and had been head of Northwold Primary since 2017.

A spokesperson from the trust said external reviews of this incident were a “fair and transparent process” and “educationalists recommended that this was a disciplinary matter”.

“That being said, we also have to respect the decision that the judge in the employment tribunal reached when looking at this incident from a different legal perspective,” they continued.

“The school continues to make sound progress under its current leadership in raising standards.

“The schools have made provision to meet the full cost of the settlement and there will not be any detrimental effect upon resources available for teaching and learning at the school.”

Malabver-Goulbourne is yet to receive damages from the academy trust.

The spokesperson also confirmed that Bhagwandas is “no longer under their employment” but said that bears no link to the tribunal.