I have just been convicted of a minor offence. Do I need to tell the school?
You have been at your present school for a couple of years now, and generally things are going well. But in the holidays you committed a criminal offence, and have been convicted. Is this your personal business, nothing to do with the school, or do you need to tell them?
The first comment here is that if you have been sentenced to prison, even for a short time, then they will need to know sooner rather than later, so that they can cover your classes. But if we assume that it is not that serious, what then?
Let’s look first at the Teachers’ Standards. They say:
PART TWO: PERSONAL AND PROFESSIONAL CONDUCT
A teacher is expected to demonstrate consistently high standards of personal and professional conduct. The following statements define the behaviour and attitudes which set the required standard for conduct throughout a teacher’s career.
• Teachers uphold public trust in the profession and maintain high standards of ethics and behaviour, within and outside school
The above statement shows that things that you do outside school, your personal conduct, not just your professional conduct in school, are considered the business of the school and could be held against you if it is felt that you do not meet the required standard through a conviction, for example.
But I will say immediately that I do not expect this to be interpreted that disciplinary action will be taken against every teacher with a minor conviction, so unless it is a serious issue, or anything that impacts on Child Protection or Safeguarding, you should not be over concerned.
Anything that is serious means that you should contact the regional office of your union straight away for advice and support.
Staff Handbook, Employment Contract, Conditions of Service
However, although you should not worry too much over a minor conviction or a caution, your school may well have as part of its Conditions of Service, Staff Employment Contract, or in the Staff handbook, some statement similar to this:
Staff who are convicted or cautioned for any offence during their employment with the school are required to notify the school immediately, in writing, of the offence and the penalty.
That’s a pretty clear statement, and leaves no doubt about what you should do. So first of all you need to check all those documents to see what they say. This statement may be part of a School Policy on the Employment of ex-offenders, so find that and read it carefully too.
You may also find something similar to this
All school employees are required to disclose immediately any convictions or cautions that arise during the course of their employment. This is set out in the statement of written particulars which require any caution or conviction which arises during the course of employment to be declared.
Where it comes to light that an employee has failed to disclose a conviction or caution, (including spent convictions for posts where the Rehabilitation of Offenders Exemption Orders apply) then that will be treated as a very serious matter.
The ACAS code of practice on Disciplinary and Grievance Procedures advises that criminal charges or convictions outside employment “will not be treated as automatic reasons for dismissal. The main consideration is whether the offence is one that makes workers unsuitable for their type of work. In all cases employers, having considered the facts, will need to consider whether the conduct is sufficiently serious to warrant instituting the disciplinary procedure…”
Nevertheless, in view of the damage the failure to disclose the offence will inevitably have done to the spirit of trust and confidence between the school and employee, it will cause their continued employment to be questioned. It is school policy that this may be treated as gross misconduct and there may be a disciplinary investigation, possibly resulting in dismissal. This is particularly the case in respect of employment involving work with pupils.
In assessing the seriousness of failure to disclose an offence by an existing employee, consideration will be given firstly, to both the breakdown in trust and confidence caused by the failure to disclose an offence and, secondly, to the degree of risk the conviction carries in relation to the post with regard to the factors outlined below.
This again is pretty clear. If you receive a conviction or caution, it will not automatically cause you to be dismissed from your post. However, the failure to disclose it is so serious that this might warrant dismissal, even for a very minor issue.
So, yes, if there is something like this in documentation, you need to tell the school.
Book an appointment with the Head, tell him/her exactly what has happened, and have a written record of it too, to hand over.
You should be able to rely on confidentiality procedures for this information not to be spread around the school. If you fear that the School Secretary, or the Deputy (who will almost inevitably be involved in SLT or Governors discussions about the matter), might be a little loose-tongued, then make the point to the Head that you have told no-one but her/him about this, and you are relying on him/her to ensure that confidentiality is maintained by anyone to whom s/he reveals the information that you have provided. Send an e-mail immediately you leave the meeting, saying something along these lines.
Thank you for seeing me today about a confidential matter. I would reiterate that I have told only you about this, and am relying on you to ensure that this remains confidential and is not shared with colleagues either teaching or support staff, except as necessary, and these colleagues will be reminded of their obligation to keep this confidential.
That puts the ball squarely in her/his court.
Suppose there is nothing in the school documentation that says that you must disclose a conviction or caution? What do you do then?
My advice is the same: disclose it.
(a) you may have missed it in the paperwork where it says that you must,
(b) the school could rely on the Teachers’ Standards and say that you have not demonstrated consistently high standards of personal and professional conduct,
(c) implied in every contract of employment is a term that requires both employers and employees to avoid behaving in such a way as to destroy the relationship of trust and confidence that should exist between them, and the school could claim that the conviction or caution and the failure to disclose could be considered a breakdown in trust and confidence.
So disclose is my advice.
TIPS for Headteachers
If you have a member of staff who discloses a conviction or caution, I suggest that you follow these procedures:
- Thank them politely for informing you.
- Make no commitment at this stage as to what will be the outcome of this disclosure.
- Say that this will be considered, in confidence, and that you will get back to the colleague within 5 working days to give a report at that stage. This may not be a final decision.
- Give a firm commitment about confidentiality, saying that only those who need to know will learn of this, and they will be reminded of their obligation to keep it confidential.
- Check whether the colleague is distressed about having made this disclosure, and if necessary make arrangements for classes to be covered for the rest of the day, and possibly for safe transport home if not fit to drive.
- Contact HR at the Local Authority, or Head Office (if Academy or Independent chain), or your contracted HR service, if you are go-it-alone, to get their advice on how best to respond.
- Contact the Chair of Governors to discuss what further steps should be taken, in line with the school’s policy on the employment of ex-offenders.
- If the offence involves Safeguarding or Child Protection, then the decision will normally be that the colleague is suspended pending investigations. This should follow school policy.
- For other offences, you could consider a range of points, including: does this colleague now constitute a risk to pupils or staff? Is this offence likely to re-occur? Is this offence contrary to the maintenance of good order and discipline in the school? If discovered, would it bring the school into disrepute, or cause concerns among pupils, staff or parents?
Whilst the welfare and well-being of pupils is paramount, you should also try to support the welfare and well-being of your colleague.