• A recent employment tribunal case of S Malabver-Goulburne v Arbor Academy Trust has highlighted the importance of reasonableness, when considering whether a dismissal is legally fair.

    S Malabver-Goulburne v Arbor Academy Trust: the case

    Ms Malabver-Goulbourne was Headteacher at a school within the Arbor Academy Trust since 2017 and had worked for the Trust since 2005. In January 2022, outside of school hours, an incident occurred in the claimant’s office involving her three-year old son. The child had been playing with hand sanitiser, which the Headteacher removed from his hand and, whilst talking to him, allegedly tapped him on the back of the hand to gain his attention.

    A colleague, who was the School’s Designated Safeguarding Lead, was present and reported the incident as a “cause for concern” and a “safeguarding incident”. The Headteacher was suspended, and subsequently invited to a disciplinary hearing. The allegation against the headteacher was that she had committed gross misconduct by assaulting a child, while in a position of trust, and that the Trust believed she had failed to demonstrate her ability to follow safeguarding guidance as a role model within the Trust. She was dismissed by the Trust in April 2022 and this decision was upheld by the Trust’s appeal panel in May 2022.

    Tribunal findings

    Ms Malabver-Goulbourne brought a claim of unfair dismissal in the Employment Tribunal. The tribunal upheld her claim, finding that the dismissal was outside of the band of reasonable responses available to the employer. The tribunal’s findings emphasised the need for employers to carefully assess the circumstances surrounding alleged misconduct and to ensure that disciplinary actions are proportionate. In this case, the tribunal assessed whether the headteacher’s actions constituted a justifiable reason for dismissal and whether the disciplinary process followed by the Trust was fair and reasonable. It found that the Trust had failed to look into the Head’s reasonings for her actions, which it concluded were to try to prevent her son from injury. The Tribunal also found that the Trust did not have a reasonable grounds to conclude that the claimant had assaulted a child. As a result, the Tribunal found that the Trust could not have held a reasonable belief that she had committed gross misconduct.

    Central to the tribunal’s findings was the principle of reasonableness in employment decisions. Employers were reminded of their obligation to conduct thorough investigations, provide fair opportunities for employees to respond to allegations, and weigh the severity of misconduct against the appropriateness of disciplinary measures imposed.


    Although a first instance decision, this case highlights the sensitivity required when addressing disciplinary matters within the education sector. Whilst it is accepted that schools must maintain high standards of professional conduct, disciplinary actions must be justified and proportionate.

    The case highlights the potential repercussions of failing to adhere to the principles of fairness and reasonableness in employment decisions. When considering dismissals, schools must consider whether the dismissal falls within the “range of reasonable responses”. In this case, it was found that the Trust did not give enough weight to the Headteacher’s perspective and the reasons for her actions.

    Further guidance and support

    If you need help navigating any employment issues within the education setting, Brachers Employment team can assist you with employee relations issues, through to helping with Employment Tribunal claims.

    Our employment law solicitors are based in Maidstone and Canterbury and are ready to help with any legal advice you may require so please get in touch today.


    This content is correct at time of publication

    Can we help?

    Take a look at our Education page for useful information, resources, guidance, details of our team and how we may be able to help you

  • Key contact:

    Get in touch

    Please fill out the below form or alternatively you can call us on 01622 690691

      By submitting an enquiry through 'get in touch' your data will only be used to contact you regarding your enquiry. If you subscribe to any of our newsletters, you can unsubscribe any time using the link in the email. Please view our privacy statement for more information