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Primary Education News
News Will convictions or cautions stop me getting a job in teaching?
Do you need to worry about points on your driving licence when applying for a job? Alan Newland offers some advice for teachers worried about past convictions
Sometimes student teachers and trainees ask me if having a criminal record is a bar to teaching. 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 such 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 three points on their licence, we'd have a major crisis in teacher recruitment.
However, teaching is exempt from the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 and as a teacher, you will be subject to enhanced checks by the Disclosure and 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 by the university or training provider, they have been deemed suitable to teach in accordance with the National College for Teaching and Leadership.
Of course, candidates with very serious convictions; such as murder, robbery with violence, serious 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 ones as serious as 'manslaughter in self-defence' 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 the 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, a minor burglary, 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 includes violence against the person are taken very much more seriously, but still the circumstances and history of the offense would be the issue.
A trainee asked me recently whether a conviction for a domestic violence incident would count against him. He had declared it to the university and explained the circumstances but was worried now that he was applying to schools be a teacher. I suggested to him that most people have a very forgiving nature; given the circumstances. 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 headteachers and parent governors do not view a misspent youth 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 behaviour.
Depending on what the issue is, you may even be wise to bring it out into 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, might be seen as very positive. In my view, that approach is far better than leaving it as the elephant in the room. The point is, whatever the conviction or caution, declare it. If you don't, that in itself is a 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, the DBS site has more information. Alternatively, if you have joined a union as a trainee, and my advice is you should, then consult them. The NUT has a very useful fact sheet which may help to answer some queries.
Alan Newland worked as a teacher and headteacher in Hackney and Tottenham for more than 20 years. He has also trained teachers, worked at the Department for Education and the General Teaching Council.