Where do I start?

10th January 2003 at 00:00
I was given a six-month conditional discharge for a minor shoplifting offence 20 years ago, when I was 18. I am ashamed and embarrassed by it. I had thought the discharge was exactly that - finished with - but I have no idea whether I have to declare it on forms or not.

I've worked as a helper in primary schools for more than seven years, have done voluntary work with head-injured adults, counselled alcoholics and drug addicts, and held a responsible post in industry. This summer, I was required to fill in a form in order to do voluntary work at my children's school, but I was too embarrassed to complete it, so I have stopped helping. If I want to train as a teacher, how would my "record" affect my employability or ability to get on a PGCE course? Do I have to declare this minor misdemeanour?

I feel really sorry for you, and exasperated with a system that makes you hesitate about coming into teaching when you are so committed. You will have to declare your history. The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 was originally designed to give offenders a second chance and job prospects, so some offences become spent and no longer appeared on criminal records. However, those working with children are not covered by the act. You should declare any offence you've committed, however long ago.

A criminal record doesn't render anyone unemployable. If the conviction were for a child-related offence then it would be a problem, but schools and colleges won't give too much weight to something that happened a long time ago, and from which you have undoubtedly learned. It would be far worse not to declare it as it will come to light when the Criminal Records Bureau check is made. Then the issue will not be the conviction or the "crime", but your failure to disclose it, thereby bringing into question your honesty.

When you apply to be a teacher you'll have to apply for an enhanced disclosure from the CRB. It will show spent and unspent convictions and all cautions, but will also include"relevant non-conviction information" from police records. The CRB sends the disclosure in confidence to the prospective employer who is obliged to treat it in the strictest confidence. For more information: www.crb.gov.uk.

Are you a student or NQT? Email your questions to: susan.young@newsint.co.uk. Sara Bubb's A Newly Qualified Teacher's Manual: how to meet the induction standards is published by David Fulton, pound;16

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