Case study – Colleges must ensure that if they want to know about criminal records, then their questions are very clear

Our helpline was contacted recently by a probation officer who was working with an individual looking to apply for a college course. She believed that the wording on the application form was unclear as the question asked:

 

Please declare whether you have any relevant* convictions or current proceedings against you:  Yes/No

 

*Relevant proceedings or criminal convictions are those of violent or sexual nature or involving unlawfully supplying controlled drugs or substances. Failure to declare information may result in disciplinary action being taken. However, if applying for a course in Support/Teaching, Childcare or Health and Social Care, you will need to declare ALL criminal convictions so please indicate Yes to this question as all are relevant at this stage of the admissions process.

 

We contacted the college setting out the following:

  • The criminal record question was potentially misleading and gave very little guidance about what applicants needed to disclose for which courses. This could lead applicants to disclose convictions which they didn’t need to, specifically those which were spent under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act.
  • There was a risk that the college could take something into account which they were not legally allowed to consider. Action could potentially be taken against them under data protection legislation.
  • For courses relating to teaching, childcare or health and social care, no mention had been made of the fact that ‘protected’ cautions and convictions did not need to be disclosed.

The college was happy to engage with us and amended their question to read:

 

To help us meet our responsibility to safeguard all members of the college community please declare whether you have any relevant* unspent convictions or current proceedings against you:  Yes/No

 

*Relevant proceedings or criminal records are those of a violent or sexual nature or involving unlawfully supplying controlled drugs or substances. Failure to declare may result in the college withdrawing you from the course.

 

If you are applying for a course in Support/Teaching, Childcare or Health and Social Care, do you have any convictions, cautions, reprimands or final warnings that are not ‘protected’ as defined by the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act (ROA) 1974 (Exceptions) Order 1975 (as amended in 2013)?  Yes/No

 

Lessons

This case demonstrates how colleges are often unclear about what questions they can ask about criminal records. However. as this case shows once they’ve been given advice around disclosure legislation, they’re happy to amend their application forms to comply with both the ROA and Data Protection Act.

Links

There’s information on universities, colleges and education on our self-help information site.

Notes about this case study

This case study relates to our work with other organisations

Names and details have been changed to protect the identity of those involved.

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