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Careers advice from Theodora Griff

I have not had an easy relationship with my headteacher and I'm worried because I didn't get shortlisted for a job recently - can I ask to see my reference?

Oh, bad luck about that job! It is always quite depressing when you are not called to interview, isn't it? A bit like not getting chosen for teams in the playground.

Do you know that your head wrote a reference for this job? I ask because usually, although not always, references are taken up after the decision is made about who to shortlist, so in most cases they will not actually read the reference until after they have sent you the invitation to come to interview.

But if he did write a reference - as some schools longlist a largish number of candidates, ask for references and then shortlist from those - then why not ask him if you can see it? Now, he may well say no, and in most cases in England and Wales you have no right to insist on his showing you. (The exception is where there is a local agreement that all references are open: that is, shown to candidates.)

The Data Protection Act makes a specific exception for references when saying that you have a right to see documents relating to you. At least, it makes an exception for a reference held by the person who wrote it. But, curiously, it allows you to ask the person who received it to show it to you. Mad, isn't it? However, there are so many caveats surrounding this right that many schools will not show it to you anyway.

Try asking your head if you feel very worried about this, and if that fails then you can always try asking the other school. And better luck with your next application - I have my fingers crossed for you.

Meet Theodora Griff online on the TES Jobseekers forum or in person at a TES Careers Advice Service seminar or individual consultation. bit.lyuWhqN2.

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