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I have a criminal conviction. Am I unsuitable to teach?

I do talks to trainee-teachers on 'The Teacher & the Law' all over the country.

Sometimes students and trainees ask me if having a criminal record is a bar to becoming a teacher. The answer - you may be surprised to learn - is usually no.

But it depends what the conviction is.

A lot of people get worried that something as trivial as speeding points on your driving licence might be a problem - which of course it isn't. If we barred every teacher who had a driving ban, let alone 3 points on their licence, we'd have a major crisis in teacher recruitment and retention.

However, teaching is exempt from the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 (which allows in some circumstances for convictions to be 'spent') and as a teacher, you will be subject to 'enhanced’ checks at the Disclosure & Barring Service (DBS). 

As most people already on teacher training courses have declared their previous criminal convictions and cautions (or should have..!) and have already had a DBS check (formerly a CRB check) by the university or SCITT training provider - this should mean that they have been deemed 'suitable to teach' in accordance with DfE guidance.

Of course, candidates with very serious convictions - such as murder, robbery with violence, sexual assault, dealing in Class A drugs and any at all involving violence against children or vulnerable adults - would normally have been weeded out as 'unsuitable' at an initial DBS check.

Some though, even as serious as 'manslaughter in self-defence' - given the circumstances - might not necessarily be a reason for barring someone from acceptance on a teacher training course.

However, if you have a conviction or caution of any kind, what will be worrying you right now is how employers (schools) that you are currently applying to will view your application.

Minor convictions are almost always not considered serious enough to deem a person unsuitable for teaching. If someone has been silly in their youth and has been convicted of drug possession, theft of a car or from a store, a minor affray at a football match or political demonstration - they probably have no need to worry about it affecting their chances of becoming a teacher.

Of course, any convictions that included serious violence against the person are taken very much more seriously - but still the circumstances and history of the offence would be the issue.

A trainee asked me recently whether a conviction for a domestic violence incident would count against him. It involved threatening his former wife with a knife when he was drunk and distraught more than a decade ago.

He had declared it to the university and was accepted to train but was worried, now that he was applying for jobs at schools to be a teacher, whether he would be 'weeded out'. I suggested to him that most people have a very forgiving nature - given the circumstances that he explained. What I couldn't guarantee was that every member, of every selection panel, of every school that he might apply to, will react so forgivingly to such an incident.

It is always difficult to know how people on interview panels will react to a given issue, especially where parent-governors are present, as they invariably will be. It won't help that currently, schools are likely to receive scores of applications for every post they advertise - so they can pick and choose in a ‘buyers’ market.

But do not completely despair - many people including head teachers and parent governors - do not view ‘a mis-spent youth’ or mistakes made in the heat of a moment as necessarily a bad thing.

In my experience, some governors even think a little bit of ‘life experience’ equips someone to be a teacher in ways that help them relate more empathetically to pupils and students, particularly those demonstrating challenging behavior or alienation from mainstream schooling.

Depending on what the issue is, you may even be wise to bring it out in to the open at interview. Explaining to the panel how you mended the error of your ways and used the experience as a catalyst to make you a more reflective and mature person. This is likely to be seen as very positive. In my view, that approach is far better than leaving it as ‘the elephant in the room'.

As an ex-primary head teacher, I employed a teacher on my staff that had an historic conviction for a drunken assault at a football match. He went on to become the most popular teacher in the school with both pupils and parents.

The point is - whatever the conviction or caution - declare it.  If you don't - that in itself is reason for summary dismissal.

If you want to know more about what might or might not be a conviction or caution deemed 'unsuitable to be a teacher', you can go to:

Alternatively, if you have joined a union as a trainee - and my advice is you should - then consult them.

If you have a delicate question you want keep confidential, you can direct message me through my Twitter handle @newteacherstalk or email through this website. If you wish, I’ll keep your comment private and help with advice if I can.

Alan Newland worked as a teacher, teacher-trainer and head teacher in London for over 20 years and then for over a decade with the DfE and the GTC. He now lectures and writes on professional values in teaching and runs the award-winning social media network newteacherstalk. You can follow him on Twitter at @newteacherstalk.

His new book: ‘Becoming a teacher – the legal, ethical and moral implications of entering society’s most fundamental profession’ will be published by Crown House Publishing this summer and can be ordered here.

You may be interested in his course in ‘The Foundations of Professionalism in Teaching’ – a 3-module course with over 4.5 hours of HD quality video presentations, additional course reading and materials, self assessment exercises and completion certificates - that deals extensively with legal issues in teaching.


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