Dear John: I don't want to use my head as a reference. What can I do?


I really need to leave my current job. Last week the straw broke the camel’s back and I just feel that enough is enough! However, my headteacher is a bully and I do not want to use him as a reference - he has been chopping away at my teaching career bit by bit for years now. I have friends who have successfully got teaching jobs without using their headteacher as a reference - so I know that it CAN be done.

So, who do I use as a reference when I give “employer” as a referee? Any advice you can give would be greatly appreciated.


This is a tricky one. Normally, the absence of an employer as a referee raises questions in the minds of those considering applicants, even if references should come after deciding whether you are the best candidate for the job. Sometimes teachers who have recently completed some CPD or a higher degree will use their tutor; or, someone else in their local authority who knows your work.

Without these avenues, you can always ask that references aren’t taken up unless you are offered the post and can then explain the situation and ask to see the reference in case there are actual factual inaccuracies or even actionable statements. Many appointment panels would look askance at references that differed wildly from the application and any views about you that they had formed at interview. Although your head may not like you, it will be abilities as expressed in your application and at interview that will secure you the next job.

So, put the head as a reference, but make it clear you will be asking to see a copy. If he is bully, assertive action on your part may even give him a pause for thought, especially if you have stood up to him an initiated a grievance about his behaviour.

John Howson worked as a secondary school teacher in London for seven years before moving into teacher training and consultancy, including a brief period as a chief government advisor. John is now a recruitment analyst, visiting professor of education at Oxford Brookes University and hosts our Career Clinic where you can post questions to him.