The issue: Drug offences
Given that possession of class A drugs can carry a seven-year prison sentence, some would say teacher Noel Kehoe got off lightly. After being caught carrying ecstasy, he received only a caution from the police, and then, last month, the General Teaching Council for England (GTC) chose merely to reprimand him, rather than striking him off the register.
In fact, the reprimand was par for the course. In the rare cases where teachers have been struck off for a drugs-related offence, there were usually complicating factors - such as being caught with drugs on school premises. But avoiding the GTC's wrath is only one of the obstacles facing a teacher found in possession of drugs, and while Mr Kehoe may have kept his job, it doesn't mean he will be able to resume his career as though nothing has happened.
In most walks of life, minor offences are considered "spent" after a period of five years - but for teachers a police caution or conviction is a permanent stain on their record, and you are obliged to declare it every time you apply for a new job.
And there is no point in trying to cover it up. Teaching is considered a "notifiable profession", which means the police automatically inform your current employer of any offence. And if you apply for new jobs, a CRB disclosure will reveal not only convictions, but also cautions, and even arrests that came to nothing.
So honesty isn't just the best policy - it's the only policy. The good news is that headteachers are free to make their own decisions about employing teachers with a drugs record. And while some heads might steer clear as a point of principle, others will probably be willing to overlook a one-off conviction.
"There are key things I'd want to consider," says one experienced head. "Is this person a risk to pupils? Do they still use drugs? Do they accept that their actions were unprofessional? I would have to be absolutely convinced that there was no risk of future embarrassment to the school."
When filling in job applications, address these concerns directly by explaining the circumstances behind your conviction, and stressing that you have learnt from the past. Whatever your personal views on recreational drug use, it's probably better to appear repentant rather than trying to justify your actions.
You should certainly not assume your career is going to stall. It is estimated that around a third of the UK adult population has tried drugs - and some heads will view a conviction for possession as bad luck, rather than a sign of bad character.
"Teachers with a criminal record often fear they will be stuck in their current job forever," says TES careers expert John Howson. "But if you have excellent references and you're a great teacher, you may just have enough positives to outweigh that one big negative."
- The GTC reviews cases where a teacher is found in possession of hard drugs, while soft drug offences are reviewed by local authorities. Drug dealing is always referred to the GTC.
- Never accept a caution from the police if you are not guilty of an offence. It will stay on your record.
- Never lie about past cautions or convictions.
- At interview, be ready to answer direct questions about an offence. Don't get flustered.