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Change in the law regarding references?

Discussion in 'Pay and conditions' started by marrsy_2000, Jun 21, 2011.

  1. marrsy_2000

    marrsy_2000 New commenter

    Dear Theo/John
    I am looking for some definitive advice about the current situation regarding references. Its a long story which I don't need to go into now but briefly I went for a job, was offered it by telephone, resigned,was then told there was a "problem" with reference from my head so they were withdrawing the offer. PANIC.... then got in touch to see what the "problem" was. The head had only provided basic facts about me: how long I have been employed here, payscale, job description etc... but nothing about my performance or if I was a competent teacher. This was taken by my potential new school as an alarm bell - why wont they give this guy a decent reference? I saw the schools HR consultant and he told me they now have a policy of only writing basic fact style references because the law changed last year. He said it was due to the fact that employers were getting sued if their references were not 100% accurate. I got my union to call my new school to resolve the problem but still waiting to hear.

    My questions are:

    Has the law changed?
    Can they offer a job verbally then withdraw it or make a less attractive offer. What they have said so far is that they will give me the job but want me to sign a temporary contract effectively putting me on "probation" for a couple of months till they can see for themselves that I am capable of doing the job. Clearly this is not what I applied for but need a job for Sept' so feel they have me over a barrel.

    I know I was foolish to resign without it in writing - before anyone tells me - but I took them at their word and if I had not I would not have been able to start in Sept' as this was just before the resigning date.

    I will see what the union guy can come up with but if they still insist on the temp contract what should I do next?

    Any advice welcome.
     
  2. marrsy_2000

    marrsy_2000 New commenter

    Dear Theo/John
    I am looking for some definitive advice about the current situation regarding references. Its a long story which I don't need to go into now but briefly I went for a job, was offered it by telephone, resigned,was then told there was a "problem" with reference from my head so they were withdrawing the offer. PANIC.... then got in touch to see what the "problem" was. The head had only provided basic facts about me: how long I have been employed here, payscale, job description etc... but nothing about my performance or if I was a competent teacher. This was taken by my potential new school as an alarm bell - why wont they give this guy a decent reference? I saw the schools HR consultant and he told me they now have a policy of only writing basic fact style references because the law changed last year. He said it was due to the fact that employers were getting sued if their references were not 100% accurate. I got my union to call my new school to resolve the problem but still waiting to hear.

    My questions are:

    Has the law changed?
    Can they offer a job verbally then withdraw it or make a less attractive offer. What they have said so far is that they will give me the job but want me to sign a temporary contract effectively putting me on "probation" for a couple of months till they can see for themselves that I am capable of doing the job. Clearly this is not what I applied for but need a job for Sept' so feel they have me over a barrel.

    I know I was foolish to resign without it in writing - before anyone tells me - but I took them at their word and if I had not I would not have been able to start in Sept' as this was just before the resigning date.

    I will see what the union guy can come up with but if they still insist on the temp contract what should I do next?

    Any advice welcome.
     
  3. littlerussell

    littlerussell New commenter

    It's not easy giving a definitive answer in a 'grey area'. I don't think this is about the law changing.
    It is standard practice in education to offer a position 'subject to satisfactory references'. It is highly highly likely that this is what happened, or that the head accidentally omitted that phrase from your conversation. Realistically, the school should have actually got their act together and requested references before interview and this is accepted good practice (if your reference had been downright awful they would have lost all the other candidates by now) .
    It is also a practice in certain schools to offer a 'basic' reference for an employee who is in some way inadequate, but where there is insufficient hard evidence to actually write about the shortcomings in a reference. <u>Although your LA's policy is being interpreted in this way by your new school, what has been written should not constitute an 'unsatisfactory' reference, given that it makes no mention of any shortcomings</u>. On these grounds, I think you are right - the job offer should stand. It may be worth suggesting that, in future, your school adds a tag line stating their reference policy and that this should not be interpreted as a reflection of the abilities of the candidate.
    Definitely a union matter, although surely a quick phone call from your HT to the new school should resolve matters?
     
  4. atwoodfan

    atwoodfan New commenter

    Hindsight is a great thing...but in future you can always verbally inform your school that you have been offered a job that you intend to take (so giving them maxmimum notice) but without formally resigning until you have your bit of paper. I would always recommend this.
    Do you have no other paper evidence that you can provide to show your skills as a teacher e.g. lesson observation write-ups, performance management statements etc. etc.?
    Would someone else senior in your school be willing to write you a fuller effectively "personal" reference about your teaching at that school?
    I hope you find a solution, as I think it is unfair that they are trying to force you to take a much less secure position.
     
  5. Piranha

    Piranha Lead commenter

    Was the offer subject to references? If not, I don't think they can do this, even though it would be hard to prove what was said. I also don't get the bit about references being 100% accurate. As long as the school tells the truth, I can't see how they can be sued.
    You may decide that your best bet is to take the job on the new terms offered, however unfair that may be. Hopefully, you will be able to prove quickly that you are up to it. Good luck.
     
  6. No employer is obliged to provide a reference, but if they do it has to be accurate and honest.
    I am very surprised about the way this school has gone about its selection process as all national guidance for safeguarding very strongly indicates that references should be taken up in advance of interview.
    Having said all that, the advice given already seems very sound.
     
  7. Piranha

    Piranha Lead commenter

    On reflection, this is quite shocking. If your school's policy is to refuse to put any opinions about staff in references however good they are at their job, then it will be very difficult for all staff to find another job. Where schools are efficient enough to ask for references on time, then you probably won't even get to interview. Is this an area that the unions could discuss with the school? At the very least, the school could mention their policy in references so that lack of any views does not imply that peformance may be inadequate.
     
  8. I am not aware of any change in the law regarding references. A reference from an employer should be fair and honest. This does not seem fair. If your new employer sent a job description and person specification with the reference request, then your current employer should at least say whether or not they would have any concerns that you cannot carry out any of the duties.
    If not, then I see no reason why your new employer should be concerned.
    I know many schools ask very specific questions about quality of teaching, behaviour management, attitude and safeguarding to avoid getting vague references as sometimes it is impossible to read between the lines.
    As already advised, it is worth your new Headteacher contacting your existing headteacher and asking specific questions (which safeguarding guidance suggests). It is also worth you contacting your union and asking them to make a phone call to your current school to clarify the policy.
     
  9. Morninglover

    Morninglover Lead commenter

    I agree. I would also ask your Union for advice. If these measures don't bring a solution, you might want to seek legal advice (from an employment law specialist) as I (as a layman) doubt very much whether your school's "policy" is in contravention of employment law...
     
  10. This reference policy has become normal in the private sector for the last couple of years as a consequence of legal action as mentioned at the beginning of the thread. You do not have any legal right to a reference beyond the bare facts. However it is not widely understood by most employers that some company policies are now different and so you get examples of exactly this kind. Prior to entering teaching my former employer changed its reference policy just before making hundreds of people redundant - it saved a lot of time for the HR department.
    Your new employer does not have to offer you a temporary contract though - as a new employee you are legally on probation anyway and can be dismissed fairly easily in the first month or so if you prove to be truly incompetent. After that you start to generate a little bit of protection for yourself, and yes the school would have to jump through more hoops to get rid of you.
    There is one legal grey area - if when you were first employed by your current employer they sought a detailed reference for you, there maybe a reasonable expectation in contract law for you to be provided with a similar reference when you leave. Not sure you'd want to go to court over this though.
    The change of practice is clearly stupid and damaging for everyone but yes it is now commonplace.
     
  11. veritytrue

    veritytrue New commenter

    All sounds a bit odd to me. Your current HT sounds reluctant to commit to a good reference & your new school has picked up this vibe - nothing they've heard in the interim has really changed this view so you're left with the offer of a temporary job. Is your current HT unhappy with your job performance?
     

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