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5 best practices for background checks: What international schools need to know

Hiring teachers internationally brings a whole set of challenges to your school’s candidate vetting process. Most school heads know from past experience that when it comes to background checks, there just isn’t one prescribed strategy that works for every case and every country.

Do you know what really matters to your teaching candidates?

With that in mind, we’ve outlined five key guidelines here you can follow when conducting your background checks, to help ensure a secure learning environment for your school’s students and safeguard your school from future liability issues:

Get a criminal background check from your candidate’s country of citizenship, in addition to the country they currently reside in.

International background checks are complex and notoriously difficult to carry out. Since there isn’t a global database (yet!) that allows schools to look at a candidate’s information in one go, international background checks should consist of checking records in each country where the teacher has lived and taught in. To complicate matters further, each country has its own set of laws, and some countries prohibit any agencies from obtaining records.

At minimum, if your candidate has been living or teaching abroad, they need to provide a criminal record check from the country in which they are teaching immediately before joining their new school, as well as their home country. Experienced international educators will usually have important papers ready to share with prospective schools, including a portfolio of criminal background checks from every country they’ve lived in before.

Some schools might require teachers to have an uninterrupted criminal record history, with police checks for every country in which they’ve lived or taught in. However, there may be certain circumstances where it’s just not possible for a candidate to obtain a criminal background check. It may well be that the country your candidate lived in beforehand does not provide police checks, or requires that the candidate makes the request in person, so use your judgement in these rare cases.

Make sure background checks are up to date.

Technically speaking, a criminal background check is only valid on the day it was issued. However, due to the long turnaround times involved in securing checks, it’s likely impossible to have a certificate dated on the very day a new teacher starts at your school.

That said, make sure that the latest criminal background check for a teacher you hire is no more than six months old on the day they depart. Three months is ideal, but certain countries take longer than that to issue a check so you’ll need to bear this in mind and adjust your requirements accordingly.

Don’t forget to have a process in place to re-vet your teaching staff periodically (at least once every three years).

Ensure criminal background checks are at the national level.

Firstly, it’s really important to understand the difference between national and regional criminal background checks. Not all checks are made equal. In general, you should always require a national over a local check, and ideally one that’s specifically designed for individuals working with children (when this option is available). Most western countries will have special criminal background checks in places for individuals working with children.

Be sure to inform your candidates during the interview process which exact documents will be required for employment, so they have time to request the necessary documentation.

Country Best practice criminal record check Other checks available that should not be accepted Provider Average turnaround time
USA Federal Level FBI Criminal Record Checks State level Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) 60 days when ordered directly from the FBI, issued in 2-3 weeks when ordered from “Approved FBI Channelers”
Canada Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) Criminal Record Check/Vulnerable Sector Check Local Police Check, Regional RCMP Check Canadian Government Police Authority 120 days (due to high volume)
UK Disclosure and Barring Service (Enhanced with Barred List) Check/International Child Protection Certificate UK Standard or Basic Police Check, Police Certificate/Basic Disclosure National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) 40 days
Ireland Garda Check Local Police check National Vetting Bureau of the Garda Siochana 6 weeks
South Africa Federal Police Check Local Police check South African Police Service 14 days
Australia Federal Level Police Check State Police Check Australian Federal Police (AFP) 15 days
New Zealand Federal Level Record of Criminal History Local Police check New Zealand Licensing and Vetting Services Centre 20 days

Avoid third-party criminal checks.

With the exception of US FBI checks (which allows for FBI approved channelers), international school heads should completely avoid the use of a third-party provider or private company to obtain criminal background checks.

All background checks should be original, stamped documents and come directly from the relevant police department or government office. This almost goes without saying, but background checks that were ordered online and printed out should not be accepted.

Get criminal background checks notarized/Apostilled.

There may be special cases where you’re concerned about candidates fabricating criminal background checks. Or, perhaps you want to introduce an extra security measure to ensure documents are 100% authentic across the board, regardless of where your candidate is from.

As an extra precaution, it’s advisable that original criminal background checks be notarized or Apostille authenticated (an Apostille is a type of US or international authentication for important documents). There’s one notable exception: Canada hasn’t signed the Apostille treaty as of yet, so Canadian teachers need to secure a consulate verification stamp as an alternative.

There are currently 113 countries worldwide that issue Apostille certification. Click here for the full list.

Remember, international school leaders ultimately have the responsibility to ensure that the teachers they hire have appropriate backgrounds and records to be working with children. If you’re working with an outside teacher recruitment service, it’s important that they also have strict vetting procedures in place for candidates. Don’t be complacent: ensure that they’re also following the best practices outlined above.

Finally, you’ll want to communicate to your community that your school is proactive when it comes to properly screening teacher candidates. Clearly outline your screening protocol for new hires on your school website. This will go a long way in reassuring parents that your school is mindful of student safety and committed to providing a safe school environment.