Can someone become a teacher with a criminal record? Like many legal questions, the short answer is: it depends.
Many of us have made mistakes over the years, but what if one mistake could mean you were now ineligible for your dream job?
The good news is that a criminal record does not automatic bar you from teaching.
The Department of Education and Training employs many people with minor criminal records. Offences which are not serious, do not relate to your ability to be a teacher and happened a long time ago are the least likely to impact upon your chances of getting a job.
This is especially true if you can provide evidence of good character.
Fortunately for those with a small blemish on their record, the Department is not as likely to be concerned about a drink driving or traffic conviction from years ago as they will be about more serious offences such as assaults or sexual offences, especially if they relate to children.
In fact, when it comes to driving offences, a “large percentage” of applicants had a criminal record, according to Deputy Director Peter Riordan.
Offences which are prohibitive of a career in teaching are those that involve children, for example assaulting a child, or sexually abusing a child. In addition, serious assaults, drug supply, fraud and animal cruelty offences may also mean a person will not be deemed fit to teach.
What are the rules?
Anyone who wants to become a teacher must agree to a national criminal record check for any charges or convictions for offences that carry a penalty of 12 months imprisonment or longer.
The check will include spent convictions – which are those that have been erased from your criminal record after a period of 10 years good behaviour.
The Department also requires you to disclose any “finding of guilt”, including section 10s, where you were guilty but a criminal conviction was not recorded against your name.
You must also undergo a Working with Children Check.
Working with Children Background Check
The Working with Children Check is a screening process which prevents some people from occupying positions in child-related work, such as teaching.
The main aim of the legislation which enforces this, Child Protection (Working with Children) Act 2012, is to promote the safety, welfare and well-being of children, and to protect them from abuse.
Under the legislation, a person cannot engage in child-related work unless they hold, or have applied for, a clearance. Failure to do so is a criminal offence, and the maximum penalty is a fine of $11,000 or imprisonment for 2 years, or both.
The check will include all proceedings against a person for a range of offences, regardless of whether or not they were found guilty. The list of those offences can be found in Schedule 1 of the Act..
However, the fact that a person fails the Working with Children Check does not necessarily mean that they will be refused employment as a teacher.
In 2007, 120 teachers with criminal records were allowed to teach – after undergoing rigorous background checks. More recent statistics presented a similar story.
The most common conviction was for drink driving, and many offences committed by those who went on to become teachers occurred when they were children or young adults.
Can I face discrimination because of my criminal record?
In NSW, there is no law against discrimination because of a criminal record (although there is in the Northern Territory), even if the offence is not at all relevant to your ability to perform the job.
But if you have been discriminated against and are unhappy about it, you can choose to lodge a complaint with the Human Rights Commission, which deals with thousands of complaints each year.
Such a complaint was lodged by one man who was refused a High School teaching job in 2006 because he committed a range of offences between 1983 and 1992. The offences included drug possession, driving dangerously, resisting arrest and attempting to break, enter and steal.
He requested a review and eventually took the case to the Human Rights Commission. In the intervening years between his offending and application, the would-be teacher had changed his life dramatically.
He was successful in his complaint to the Human Rights Commission Tribunal – but the decision of the Tribunal is not binding. This means that it can never force an employer to hire someone.
The Department of Education ultimately stood by its decision and refused to employ the man, despite the Tribunal’s finding.
What are your thoughts, should those with criminal records be refused teaching positions?
If you have an upcoming court case or are otherwise worried about the potential consequences of a criminal record on your life, speak to an experienced criminal lawyer.