Who should you have as your referees?

Tes Editorial


Deciding who to put as your referees when applying for a job can be a tricky business. In an ideal world, you want to pick your most recent line manager to give a glowing review, but that isn't always possible.

We spoke to Tes recruitment director Dr Michael Watson to find out what the dos and don'ts are when it comes to referees.


Who should a teacher have as their referees?

It should always be someone who knows you in a professional capacity. Your line manager and one other colleague (ideally, one more senior to you) who also knows you in a professional capacity.

Who should you have as your referee if you're a senior or middle leader?

The head would normally list the chair of governors and the director of Children’s Services or the school improvement partner in the LA. If it is an academy within a trust, then the principal would normally include the chair and the chief executive. The deputy head would normally include the head and the chair. The head of department would list their line manager (who may or may not be a deputy) and the head. Essentially, always someone who knows them in a professional capacity and who can comment on their performance, unless the request is for a personal reference.

Are there any common errors applicants make when it comes to referees?

Avoid including referees who are not at your current school unless you absolutely have to. These are often telltale signs of a wider issue, although it’s understandable if you have been out of employment for a long while, eg, owing to an illness. Always ensure that you have notified the referee that you have included them on a job application; this will avoid any embarrassing situations.

On the rare occasion, we receive references (more of a testimonial) at the same time as the application form. It’s usually clear when it’s an agreed reference, but even if it is not, it’s not best practice to do it this way. 

Should you say “referees on request” or is it important to put a referee’s details in?

Avoid using references on request, as this is stating the obvious. In my experience, it is better to leave them off altogether as the prospective employer will understand that they can get this from you at the appropriate time. In the case of applying for jobs where children are involved, referees' details should be included in order to be in line with safeguarding procedures.

What should you do if your former school won’t give you a reference?

Some will not give references. It’s not uncommon these days for employers to only provide basic information. You should at least get the organisation to confirm your role and the dates you worked for them. This is one instance where you should consider using a personal referee who can comment positively about your character.

What are the definite don'ts when it comes to referees?

Don’t use a relative or spouse. It’s obvious they will say something positive about you. Avoid asking individuals who don’t know you well enough, as this will come through on the reference and leave the prospective employer questioning your judgment.

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