Getting Referees Right | Initial Teacher Training

Referees are more important than you think. Pick the wrong one and run the risk of sabotaging your application. Choose wisely: pick somebody who knows you well enough to write a decent passage but won’t spend a decade deciding how to start.

Here’s how I picked the perfect referees:


In Football, a referee’s speed is as important as his knowledge of the game. If they can’t keep up, the players will get away with illegal moves and tackles. Referees who miss this risk turning a game in the other team’s favour. The same goes for your UCAS application: slow referees are game-changers. There are horror stories online of applicants writing killer personal statements but being unable to apply to their University of choice. Why?

They waited months to hear from their referee. By the time the reference had come in, it was too late. Their dream Unis were all full. The reputation of the Uni you choose for teacher training isn’t anywhere near as vital as it’s made out to be during your Undergrad, but not getting where you want to be because of someone else blows.

I waited a full month for my reference to reply, but thankfully didn’t suffer that same fate. I’ll be speaking about that experience next week.

Pick somebody who you know will write a reference pronto. Explain how important being prompt is, and how any delays could cost you your future. Melodramatic, sure, but if guilt is what it takes to get people moving, then why not? If they make comments such as “I’m very busy now” and “lots going on at work”, don’t be afraid to ditch them. It’s your future, and you’re going to make it happen.


Short answer: no, your reference does not have to be a wordsmith. They don’t have to be a novelist, writing poetry and producing two blog posts a week in their spare time. If they can make a point in a succinct manner, there’s no need to spend hours carefully crafting words. Providers will probably prefer plain English anyway. Think about it: you’ve approved thousands of applicants today already. Which of the following statements would you prefer to read?

  1. Josh is a great bloke. He’s reliable, punctual, always helps out in class, which really helps me focus on the struggling students. A joy to work with.
  2. Josh has contributed a number of noteworthy actions to our time together in lessons that have been of the utmost stellar quality. I struggle to imagine a man more dedicated to our work. The help he offers every day has lifted a great weight from my shoulders, allowing for the opportunity to work with many struggling students while Josh teaches the more mature practitioners.

Both paragraphs are fine; they convey the same message. But the first statement is succinct. It’s to the point, doesn’t waste time, and is easier to read, understand and fully comprehend. If you referee’s likely to use long words and complex sentences, that’s great. But if they don’t – if your referee doesn’t even have a GCSE in English – then that’s fine. Their job is to highlight your brilliance, not to impress the admissions officer.

That’s your job.

In a week’s time, I’ll be releasing the second part of this post: what to do when (because it will, inevitably, be when) your reference never arrives. Next Monday will be my long-awaited ‘2018: A Year in Review’. As ever, I’ll see you at 5PM GMT. Subscribe to my socials while you’re at it:

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