Access to Further Education

Every year, more than 30,000 people are convicted of a criminal offence in Northern Ireland. However, only a small number of those who offend pose a significant and ongoing potential risk to public safety. Despite this, both this group – and the huge numbers of people who receive alternative disposals – will have to declare their convictions in a wide range of circumstances for varying periods of time.

The requirement to disclose convictions therefore affects many people in society. The consequences of having to do so have a lasting impact on a person’s ability to gain employment, access further or higher education or training opportunities, volunteer, or obtain insurance or a bank account. Yet having access to such opportunities is central to reducing the risks of re-offending and as such is in the interests of public safety and of wider society, both of which are best served by encouraging and enabling people to move beyond their offending behaviour.

The barriers for people with convictions in Northern Ireland have increased over recent years as a result of complex and ad hoc legislation, such as the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups legislation developed in response to particular social events, which has placed greater requirements on individuals to disclose their past convictions, and continues to increase the structural barriers to accessing education, employment, training, etc. While there have been recent changes to the criminal records disclosure processes with the introduction of the filtering system – and the upcoming associated review mechanism – it is clear that the changes are not well understood by applicants and colleges alike.

Our experience of college application processes highlights a lack of awareness about the importance of managing risk appropriately and increasing opportunities for those who have come through the criminal justice system.

Download Policy Paper - Access to Further Education