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The law on ... Previous convictions

Basic issues

When a teacher applies for a post at a school, it is important that he or she gives full disclosure of any previous convictions that they might have had in the past. The law governing disclosure of criminal offences is covered by the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 (ROA).

According to the ROA, conviction is spent when the person in question is considered rehabilitated and will return to the previous position as though the offence did not occur.

To determine whether a conviction is spent will depend upon the nature of the conviction imposed. There are exemptions if it is in the public interest to disclose the convictions, and this interest is considered greater than the need to protect the individual.

Given that teachers are charged with the duty to look after and teach children they are not, in accordance with the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 (Exceptions) Order 1975, exempt from disclosing spent convictions.

Failure to disclose would therefore give the employer the right to dismiss the teacher. The act of not disclosing the spent conviction would be considered gross misconduct.

Possible action

If a teacher is found to have misled their employer on the application form, internal disciplinary action could ensue.

Depending upon the severity of the offence and how recently it took place, local authorities may refer the teacher to the General Teaching Council (GTC) who would decide whether they should continue in practice or what other sanctions should be imposed, such as conditional registration orders or a suspension.

Teachers who commit offences while employed but outside of the school environment could find themselves up against the criminal justice system as well as the GTC as both bodies try different aspects; the criminal justice system would try them for the offence committed and the council for "unacceptable professional conduct" for which, if guilty, sanctions could be imposed.

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