Should people with criminal convictions be allowed to teach?


A convicted cocaine smuggler who spent years in a Spanish prison has been given the green light to teach in Victorian schools. While some have protested the decision, just how big a deal is it in the grand scheme of things?

The decision, made by the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT), overturned an earlier ruling by the Victorian Institute of Teaching (VIT) that deemed the woman, Kim Salter, unsuitable to teach due to her conviction.

According to VCAT, Salter poses no risk and would be a “great asset” to rural Victorian schools. But the VIT doesn’t see it that way, contesting that registering her to teach is “outside the public interest”.

“VIT considered this application for registration very carefully and determined that it was not in the public interest to register this applicant,” Melanie Saba, the VIT’s CEO, told The Educator.

“The VIT is disappointed that the decision was set aside by VCAT and it was ordered to register the applicant.”  

But where do other education bodies stand on this issue?

Australian Principals Federation (APF) WA president, Ron Bamford, told The Educator that as there are different circumstances in each case, a nuanced approach must be taken when making a decision to bar an individual from teaching.

“Our focus on employment practices should be around what is best for students and the rest of the school community.  If someone has a past conviction that might cause safety concerns then we should not employ them,” he said.

“However, having a past conviction for a crime that poses no risk for the future should not necessarily be an impediment. It would be a case-by-case decision.”

Bamford added that just because a past mistake was made by a prospective teacher, they should not be denied “a chance to move forward”.

“We teach our children to learn from their mistakes and move forward, I think that we should adopt the same attitude to those adults who have made a mistake in their early years and give them a chance to move forward as well,” he said.

Queensland Teachers Union (QTU) president, Kevin Bates, agrees.

Bates told The Educator that prospective teachers should never be prevented from entering the profession just because there was one mark against their record.

“If a person has been granted registration, it means they’ve been through a rigorous process of assessment, which is very detailed and looks at a vast variety of evidence – not just single items that are considered in isolation,” he said.

“We see from time to time people who might have had a past conviction but who have gone on to have successful teaching careers.

“If something pops up from when they were 18 years old, it’s not fair that they’re judged on something this old. It’s appropriate for their entire record and their performance as a teacher to be taken into account.”

However, Bates pointed out that on rare occasions, “the system does fall down”, but added that the authorities are always quick to act when an inappropriate registration has been identified.  

“It’s probably less about the registration process than it is about employers exercising their responsibility to double-check that the registration of the person is current and there are no conditions being placed on it by the registering authorities,” he said.

HAVE YOUR SAY: Should people with past criminal convictions be allowed to teach?