'I was given a bad reference by my headteacher'

When a job offer was rescinded, this teacher had no idea why – until she discovered what her headteacher had done


Teaching career: Woman looking at laptop in shock

On induction day at my new school, the management seemed friendly and relaxed, and the children enthusiastic and engaged in learning. The deputy head told me not to think about preparing work during the summer break. Although I was keen to be well-prepared, I felt reassured. 

September quickly rolled around. I soon discovered that the laidback feel to the school was, in fact, hiding disorganisation and chaos. There were no books for the children to write in, not enough tables and chairs for my class, and most of the morning was spent trying to organise the classroom

This was not the great start I’d been hoping for. The theme continued. There seemed to be no regard for staff workload and wellbeing, with staff meetings sometimes lasting more than two hours, with little positivity. 

Of course, staff were quietly unhappy and often berated management behind closed doors. It was a toxic environment. But I kept working, determined to do the best for the children in my care.

Teaching career: receiving a bad reference 

One Tuesday, we received the Ofsted call. I was observed in a maths lesson and, after asking for feedback, I realised how truly unhappy I’d allowed myself to become. 

The inspector said my lesson had been fantastic and that there was clear progress in my books. So, why did I feel so deflated? The simple reason was that there were never any positives highlighted by my senior leadership team (SLT). I don’t expect managers to tell us constantly what a wonderful job we’re doing, but a little goes a long way. 

I began applying for other jobs. It took a while but, the following October, I went to an interview and was offered the post on the same day. 

Over the moon, I handed in my notice to congratulations from the SLT

The problems began a week later. I received a call from the new school. “I’m sorry, but we can’t offer you the position,” said the headteacher. 

My voice began to break. “I don’t understand,” I said. “For what reason?” 

“It’s your reference,” she replied. 

I was sure that there has been some kind of mistake. I’d had my performance management signed off the week prior, and had met all my targets. My attendance had been great and there had never been any problems. 

I couldn’t eat or sleep with worry, my mind whirling with what could have possibly happened. 

I tried calling my current headteacher, but he didn’t reply to my voicemail messages. Nor did he respond to my emails asking to speak to him.

‘Willing to jeopardise my career to make me stay’

The next day, I went to speak to him in person. “I’ll talk to you at the end of the day,” he said. 

“I can’t teach today,” I heard myself reply. 

“Well, then I’m not speaking to you,” the headteacher said, his voice taking a louder and angrier tone. 

“That’s fine. I’ll be in touch with my union,” I said, walking away. 

With some support from an amazing union rep from my local branch, I got to see the reference that he’d written. He’d been asked whether he would employ me again and had answered “no”. 

I knew that my headteacher hadn’t wanted me to leave mid year. But, apparently, he was willing to jeopardise my career to make me stay. I honestly think that he expected me to see out my yearly contract. He was wrong. 

After a short stint doing supply work, I interviewed for a SLT position in my supply school and was successful. I’m still teaching in my current school and, after three years, I couldn’t be happier. 

Luckily, they were able to see through the bitterness from my last employer and recognise me for the teacher they saw in front of them and not the one presented to them on paper. 

Of course, nothing will change until a headteacher is sued for this kind of practice. But I hope my story will encourage others not to give up after a bad experience. 

The author is a primary teacher in Liverpool

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