Yan Tsz-ho and Wang Yun both entered the noble profession of teaching. Yan was a tutor working with young boys, while Wang taught kindergarten.
Both had a history of criminal recordsi . Although it is not known if they background checked, both were permitted to work with students.
- After lying about having a clear sexual conviction record, Yan Tsz-ho applied to volunteer at a nonprofit so he could privately tutor young boys. He later “indecently assaulted” two boys—ages 6 and 7—in Hong Kong during one-on-one tutoring sessions at restaurants, according to a January 2020 article in the South China Morning Post.1
- Wang Yun had a dispute with a fellow kindergarten teacher back in 2019 and then poisoned the students of the other teacher by putting nitrate in their porridge. One student died; 23 others got sick. Three years earlier, she poisoned her own husband the same way. He got sick but survived.2 ii
While it’s unknown if a pre-employment background check was performed on these individuals, these cases are prime examples of why it’s critically important to screen the backgrounds of anyone employed in the education industry—especially educators.
It’s not a question of integrity.
While some may feel a background check questions their integrity, it’s not about that. It’s about mitigating risk.
Schools need to know two things. Is the candidate capable and qualified to perform the job? Is the candidate capable of endangering our students, our staff or our reputation? A thorough background check can help answer both questions by verifying a candidate’s credentials, training, education and work experience, and researching their history for high-risk behaviour or criminal activity.
The risk is real, as evidenced by a string of disturbing headlines within Hong Kong, such as: “Disgraced Hong Kong teacher faces jail for having sex with three underage pupils” and “Teacher suspended from Hong Kong school following sexual assault allegations.”
If you’re not performing background checks, these individuals could be teaching at your schools next.
Everyone should be screened—not just teachers.
It takes a lot of people to run an educational facility, whether it’s a preschool, a K-12, a college campus or even an online training programme. Cleaners and maintenance workers keep the facility clean and running smooth. Contractors and consultants frequently come and go on campus, as do volunteers. Administrative staff, academic faculty and executive leadership are also essential.
All of these employees have some level of access to students, which means they can cause harm.
Apart from the increased risk of physical harm, failing to perform a background check on teachers and faculty members can result in hiring educators who are unqualified or unfit to teach, which can damage the reputation and integrity of the institution.
It’s time to set a standard in education.
Background screening won’t prevent all harmful acts against students and children, but it’s a good place to start. Establishing a screening standard that all employees must pass will do two things.
First, it will give parents and students greater peace of mind that safety is a top priority at the education facility. In turn, this strengthens and supports the integrity of the organisation.
Second, if criminals know they must pass a background check, they are less likely to seek employment at the school. Instead, many will seek the path of least resistance and apply at an organisation that doesn’t perform background checks.
By better understanding the backgrounds of all employees, schools can better protect everyone on their campus and, ultimately, their reputation, against employee-related risk. For guidance on how to build a scalable background screening programme that addresses risk levels associated with specific jobs within the education industry, download our Background Screening Solutions for the Education Industry tip sheet.
i While a history of criminal records is not necessarily an indicator of future criminal conduct – statistical information suggests levels of recidivism depend on age and the type of criminal history.