Shelly-Ann Malabver-Goulbourne, an experienced primary school headteacher, has been awarded over £100,000 in compensation after an employment tribunal ruled her dismissal was unfair.

Malabver-Goulbourne was dismissed from her position at Northwold Primary School for allegedly assaulting her three-year-old son by tapping his hand.

The incident occurred on January 17, 2022, when Malabver-Goulbourne tapped her son’s hand to get his attention while he was playing with a bottle of hand sanitiser in her office.

This action was observed by the school’s child safety officer, who filed a complaint leading to Malabver-Goulbourne’s suspension and a police investigation.

Despite the police determining her actions to be “reasonable chastisement” by a parent, the Arbor Academy Trust found Malabver-Goulbourne guilty of gross misconduct and terminated her employment. The trust’s decision came despite a lack of evidence supporting claims of physical chastisement or assault, as noted by Employment Judge Julia Jones.

How did the unfair dismissal unfold?

Malabver-Goulbourne, 46, who had been head of the Hackney school since 2017 and employed by the trust since 2005, challenged her dismissal. The tribunal heard that on the day of the incident, she was preparing to leave work with her children when her son began playing with hand sanitiser. Concerned due to a previous incident where the toddler got sanitiser in his eye, Malabver-Goulbourne tapped his hand to ensure he understood the danger.

The school’s child safety officer, Ms. Bhagwandas, who witnessed the incident, reported that Malabver-Goulbourne had smacked her son and expressed disregard for her presence. This report led to a disciplinary investigation and involvement from the local authority and police. However, after interviewing Malabver-Goulbourne’s children, the police found no grounds for further action, deeming her response appropriate given the circumstances.

Despite this, the Arbor Academy Trust proceeded with their investigation and dismissed Malabver-Goulbourne in May 2022. The tribunal’s ruling in her favor highlighted that the trust had sufficient evidence showing she was acting to prevent injury to her child and addressing his behaviour appropriately.

Malabver-Goulbourne has been awarded £102,328 in compensation for her unfair dismissal, marking a significant victory in her case against the trust.






Amelia Brand is the Editor for HRreview, and host of the HR in Review podcast series. With a Master’s degree in Legal and Political Theory, her particular interests within HR include employment law, DE&I, and wellbeing within the workplace. Prior to working with HRreview, Amelia was Sub-Editor of a magazine, and Editor of the Environmental Justice Project at University College London, writing and overseeing articles into UCL’s weekly newsletter. Her previous academic work has focused on philosophy, politics and law, with a special focus on how artificial intelligence will feature in the future.