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What’s the right chemical formula to getting a place at university?

Despite proving that academically she’s capable of studying for a chemistry teaching qualification, Paris’ conditional university offer was revoked after the university’s criminal records panel felt that court transcripts given to them didn’t provide enough information to allow them to adequately risk assess her. 


In 2015 I received a suspended sentence for the transportation of illegal immigrants across an EU border. I was in a really bad place at the time having fled the UK with my two children after being a victim of domestic violence at the hands of my ex-husband. I committed the offence under duress and I’m pretty sure the judge believed this to be the case as was reflected in the sentence I received.

Six months ago I applied to university to study for a qualification to teach chemistry. I disclosed my conviction and was delighted to hear that I’d been given a conditional offer. I was told that I needed to apply for an enhanced Disclosure and Barring Service check which I was asked to take to the enrolment day.

On the day my course started I was called into a meeting with the course director and told that my DBS certificate had flagged up a serious conviction which he needed to investigate further. I was shocked that this hadn’t been dealt with sooner but more than happy to provide him with anything he needed to help him make a decision about my future study.

He asked me to provide a statement of the circumstances surrounding my offence and also for a character reference – I gave him both. Sadly he didn’t feel that this was enough and asked me to provide him with the court documents which again, I did. I was then told that it would be necessary for an independent panel to review the documentation and make a decision.

All the time this was going on I was studying hard, doing my homework, making friends and I was really motivated to succeed. In mid-September I was told that the university were withdrawing the offer as the panel didn’t feel that the court papers I’d supplied provided enough information to adequately back up my story and allow them to properly risk assess me. He told me that I would always face this problem and it was unlikely that I’d be accepted by any other teacher training provider.

I was humiliated, heartbroken, devastated and livid all at the same time. I’d been honest from the beginning and I’d worked extremely hard and achieved so much already as a single mother fighting my way out of poverty and an abusive relationship. I’m passionate about teaching and making chemistry accessible to all especially those students with special educational needs.

The university has not only shattered my dreams but the dreams of everyone who has been supporting me through my difficult journey. My children’s school provided me with 10 hours of childcare, allowing me to pay them when my childcare grant came through. A local charity gave me some money for a further 2 weeks of childcare so that I could complete my chemistry and physics practicals.

When my fellow students found out what had happened they started a petition. My tutor burst into tears and said she would see what she could do to help but none of this did any good. In fact, when the university found out about the petition my classmates were told not to aggravate the situation any further!

I’m currently in the process of appealing the university’s decision but I’m not feeling particularly confident. I don’t want the university to do me any favours, I’ve already shown that I’m good enough to be offered a place now I just want the opportunity to get on and study and make a better life for myself and my children.

By Paris (name changed to protect identity)


A comment from Unlock

Sadly Paris’ story is not unusual with many universities being very risk averse towards people with a criminal record. There is no evidence to suggest that students with a criminal record commit more crimes on campus than those without a criminal record.

We believe that universities should judge applicants on their previous academic achievements and experience and we are working with and encouraging UCAS/universities to amend and improve their application processes.

We are supporting Paris with her appeal and we hope to provide a positive update soon!


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