Can your Head write a negative reference for you? Or refuse to write one? Can you see what was written?

5th May 2015 at 01:00

Can your Head write a bad reference for you?



Those of you who think that Heads cannot give a negative reference are incorrect, I'm afraid. 


I don’t know where that idea came from, but a Head has every right to write a negative reference about you, if you are not carrying out your duties to the required standard.


After all, why should somebody be legally obliged to give Jack the Ripper or Sweeney Todd a positive reference if they were rotten teachers and a danger to children to boot?  Just think about it.  Doesn't make sense, does it?


References are to enable Heads to appoint someone who will be really good teachers, and who will not represent a danger to children.  Don't let's forget that last point.  There are quite clear rules about writing references, and about who gets to see them.

Q1  Can your Head write a negative reference about you?

Yes s/he can; it is untrue to say that you cannot give a “poor” or negative reference.


References can indeed be negative, and so they should be if necessary. If not, there would be no point in having them, as they are supposed to be an objective statement of the strengths and weaknesses of a candidate. And if there are more weaknesses than strengths, then the reference will be negative.


However, ANY reference, a positive or a negative one, should always be totally factual and based on evidence, NOT on someone's likes or dislikes.  Objective and evidence-based, not subjective and gossip.  I would consider a "poor" reference to be one that was inaccurate and full of unsubstantiated subjective views, rather than one that was truthful, balanced and objective.


So the Head is allowed to say:


*  You weren't a  good teacher (and give examples of observations that support this view)


*  You were often late or absent (and say that the attendance evidence shows this)


*  Your behaviour management was poor (records of observations show this)


* Parents complained about your treatment of students (records show this)


The legal requirement is for a reference to be fair and factually accurate.  If, because of negligent misstatement (inclusion of inaccurate or omission of important information), you suffer detriment (loss), you may claim damages.


Most HoDs and Headteachers are very careful to be totally factual and balanced in their references. Always get the odd exception, I suppose, but generally they are 100% careful - they don't want the other school to get back at them for something that is not quite right. 


Q2  Can your Head refuse to give you a reference?

 I’m afraid so, yes.  No employer is obliged to write a reference, unless it says so in your contract.   Or unless, for example, you have a Settlement Agreement that says that a specific Agreed Reference will be given.  In these cases, the Head is obliged to respond to reference requests.


The law says that if a reference IS written, the employer has a duty to ensure that it is fair and factually accurate.  But if you suspect that something inaccurate has been said, you are in a difficult position, because, no, you don't have a right to see your references. Sorry!


Q3 Can you see the reference that your Head writes?

There is no legal right to see a reference written about you.  No, it is not part of the Freedom of Information Act.  No, you do not have a clear right under the Data Protection Act either.


Can I see my references?


Q3 Can you just not have your current Head as a referee?

Surest way to get your application consigned immediately to the wastepaper basket! 


I once received an application where the candidate was determined that I should not contact her Head.   So much so, that not only did she not give the Head as a referee, she did not even give the name of the school she was teaching at, just wrote Primary School in the North of England.  You can guess what was my reaction to that!


Who should be my referees?



Best wishes