As an educational institution in South Africa, it’s essential to ensure that teachers are fit to work with children. A crucial part of this responsibility is doing a background check on their criminal record status. Since 2019, Schools have been legally required to do background checks on prospective educators and any other prospective employees, including sports coaches, administrators and grounds staff. This step was implemented to ensure they are not listed on the National Register of Sexual Offenders and the National Child Protection Register. But what if a teacher has been convicted of a less serious or minor crime in South Africa? Can they still be a teacher if they have a criminal record?
In this blog, we’ll explore how a criminal record can affect a teacher’s employability and why the South African Council for Educators (SACE) requires police clearance. We also look at whether it’s possible to clear a criminal record in South Africa, and how school leaders can obtain criminal records to guide their hiring decisions.
Can You Be a Teacher With a Criminal Record in South Africa?
The answer to this question isn’t straightforward. According to the South African Schools Act of 1996, all teachers must be registered with SACE before teaching in public or private schools. As part of the registration process, applicants must undergo a criminal background check. Unfortunately, there are teachers who are active in the profession despite having a criminal record, which they have not disclosed.
While having a criminal record does not necessarily disqualify someone from teaching, the decision ultimately rests on the nature of the offence and its relevance to the teacher’s ability to fulfil their duties. For instance, a person convicted of a serious crime such as sexual assault or violence is unlikely to be allowed to work with children.
SACE evaluates each case individually, considering factors such as the severity of the offence, the length of time since it was committed, and the teacher’s overall fitness to teach. If a teacher is deemed unfit due to their criminal record, SACE may revoke their registration.
In addition to the legal requirements, many schools have their own policies regarding criminal records. Some schools may have a zero-tolerance approach towards any type of criminal record. It’s best to practice due diligence and officially confirm the status of a teacher’s criminal history, as some practising teachers have slipped through the cracks and have not declared their criminal records.
Why Does SACE Require Police Clearance for Teachers?
SACE requires all teachers to obtain police clearance certificates as part of their registration process. The primary reason for this requirement is to ensure that only individuals of good character and integrity are allowed to teach in South African schools. By obtaining a police clearance certificate, SACE can verify that a teacher has not been convicted of any serious crimes that may disqualify them from teaching. This is important for the protection of learners and for the reputation of the teaching profession.
Additionally, the requirement for police clearance certificates aligns with the Council’s mandate to regulate the teaching profession in South Africa. SACE is responsible for ensuring that all registered teachers meet specific standards of professional conduct and competence. Obtaining a police clearance certificate is one way to demonstrate that a teacher is a fit and proper person to be registered with the Council.
How Long Does It Take for a Teacher’s Criminal Record to Be Cleared in South Africa?
A teacher with a criminal record may apply to have the record expunged or removed. However, not all criminal records can be cleared; only certain convictions can be removed. These include minor offences that were committed more than ten years ago, offences committed by individuals who were under the age of 18 at the time of the offence, and offences where the sentence was a fine or a suspended sentence without any conditions. However, more serious offences such as sexual offences, violent crimes, and crimes involving drugs or firearms are generally not eligible for expungement.
The process of expunging a criminal record can take several months. The Director-General must consider the application and make a decision based on several factors, including the nature of the offence, the time that has passed since the conviction, and the person’s behaviour since the conviction. It’s essential to note that expunging a criminal record does not mean that it is erased entirely. The record will still exist but will not be accessible to the public. Some government departments and law enforcement agencies may still have access to the expunged record, and there are some instances where the record may still be considered.
Criminal Record Checking Services For Schools and Educational Institutions in South Africa
Companies like HURU offer criminal record-checking services for schools and educational institutions in South Africa. These services are designed to help schools, and educational institutions ensure that they are hiring teachers and other staff members who are suitable for working with children and young people.
HURU is committed to supporting SACE in its mission to enhance the status of the teaching profession through appropriate registration, management of professional development, and the implementation of a Code of Ethics for all educators. HURU aims to make the lives of educators simpler and more efficient by streamlining the criminal check process required by SACE. With HURU’s easy-to-use system, educators can get their fingerprints captured once and run checks at any time in the future without having to go through the process again.
HURU’s features, including automatic re-runs, online report access, and reduced turnaround time for results, make the process of completing a criminal check much more accessible and stress-free for educators. Our commitment to simplifying the process of completing a criminal check aligns with SACE’s efforts to improve the teaching profession and ensure educators comply with the necessary regulations. Contact us for more information or advice.