Confidential References – What’s Next?

Our previous Newsletter Blogs focused on the issue of confidential letters of reference and the potential they have to destroy teachers’ careers, with no accountability for admin endorsing their own agenda. An ISR POLL  shows 77% of international educators support ending the use of confidential references. The question becomes: How can we now effect the needed change?

Various solutions grace our Blogs. One idea does allow for confidential letters but with the caveat that these letters become publicly accessible after one year. Another Blog participant advised that an administrator who hasn’t the guts nor integrity to give a teacher a copy of their reference letter shouldn’t be allowed to give it to anyone else. Thinking outside the box, a teacher reported that she asks for a non-confidential letter of reference well in advance of asking for the confidential one. She then includes the non-confidential letter with the resume to counteract any unforeseen effects of a confidential letter.

Changing the status quo of any institution always takes time. For example, when ISR first posted the International Educators’ Bill of Rights in 2008 no recruiting agency would endorse it. Today the International Educators’ Bill of Rights, with or without endorsement, has prompted many schools to raise their standards or fail to attract candidates. Members regularly write to report success with administrators who actively improve their school policies to comply with standards set by the International Educators’ Bill of Rights. In the same manner, we at ISR believe secretive confidential letters of reference can be phased out with time and effort on the part of international educators.

Towards this end, ISR encourages you to email your recruiter to demand a stop to confidential references. Most industries, or at least those operating in a transparent and politically correct world, have abandoned the practice of secrecy in references. International education, which regularly espouses the need to embrace the 21st century, has yet to follow suit.

To get you started, we’ve provided recruiting agency contact information here and a sample letter you can copy/paste, add to, alter, or use as a basis to create your own letter.


I recently participated in the International Schools Review Survey concerning confidential letters of reference. Over 77% of participants favored doing away with confidential letters of reference. You can view the Survey results and attached Blog by clicking this link: ISR POLL

I feel the practice of confidential letters reference pose a very real concern to international educators as careers have been destroyed by unethical directors with their own agendas. Such instance are outlined on the ISR blog I have referenced above.

Certainly, back-stabbing letters of reference take place in a small minority of situations, but one such victim is one-too-many. I encourage you to examine the practice of confidential references and take steps to end it.

I look forward to hearing from you and learning your opinion on this topic and what steps you can take to end the archaic practice of secretive confidential letters of reference.



Highlight & Copy the above letter. Then CLICK HERE  to select a recruiting agency you wish to send your letter to. Paste in letter, modify as desired. Click to send.

18 thoughts on “Confidential References – What’s Next?

  1. I was in academia for a number of years and the only references that are given any credibility are the confidential ones. This is standard when applying for university positions.


  2. I am unsure why this is such a big issue. I hope that any school I interview with also talks to my references to get further information. If you do away with the confidential reference it will mean that the interviewing head would need to talk to the references of anyone he seriously is interested in employing. The references are just a way of providing information to prospective employers about a candidate. I am not an administrator but as a department head I know that there are teachers who will exert a lot of pressure to change a decision that they do not agree with. If references are not confidential then the candidate may as well write the reference themselves.

    I also ask for open references from referees, that way I can decide if I want to ask them for a confidential reference. Some people are very good at writing reference letters and others are not. If you want well written letters of recommendation try to see what their writing is like before asking for references. We all have our strengths and weaknesses.


  3. I find it interesting that a group that relies on anonymous postings to evaluate schools and administrators thinks confidential references are a horrible thing. Sort of the pot calling the kettle black


  4. Two points:

    1. In the UK most employers know that they have to let you see a reference if you request it under freedom of information.

    2. It is difficult to understand how a website that supports the opportunity to condemn a school anonymously can oppose a system of confidential references.


    1. Agree with you completely on point two. To add to this if all your references are not good surely that reflects on you and not the person who writes the reference. Perhaps ityis time to check the mirror if this has been the case.


  5. Such sour grapes and disdain for fellow teachers. Holding oneself on a pedestal, above all, sounds like one of the directors this article targets. If you really just wanted to serve kids and teach why did you go over seas in the first place? You’re a bit of a hypocrite. With your attitude and accusing us of just wanting to travel you should have stayed home and helped advance those in need in your home country instead of the kids of the wealthy and powerful. There is nothing altruistic in what you’re doing and playing tough guy only demonstrates your lack of compassion for kids and adults. Why not go back into your office and stare at yourself in the mirror and see if you recognize the person staring back.


  6. Send all the letters you want. You think that’s going to change the practice? The responsible administrator will follow due diligence and speak to references anyway regardless of what is written. Good luck on getting this practice eleminated.


  7. I agree wholeheartedly with the person who says to cultivate good relationships, do a good, job and you are not likely to get a negative review. I also agree with the person above citing the reputations of many schools and administrators being besmirched by spiteful, vindictive, and generally nasty (obviously very bad employees overall) reviews that are as far from the truth as could possibly be. I have been in international schools over ten years. I have seen absolutely wonderful teachers who are truly dedicated and do magnificent jobs under tremendous pressure. On the other hand I have also seen a great number of teachers who choose to enter the international school realm simply as a means of seeing the world–they give very little of themselves, are usually negative about everything, while trying to get others to think that they are the arbiters where education is concerned. The teachers with whom I have taught and are the first kind are the ones that I respect. I also suspect that many of the poor, negative, and ill prepared teachers with whom I have been associated were incapable of being hired in their own country and try to pass themselves off as educators in foreign schools. Time for a little truth here, folks. The whiners, gripers, bitchers, etc., are the ones who give the least, teach the worst, and generally don’t care because they know that there is always some international school that is desperate enough to hire them in a recruitment bind. Be mature; do your jobs; and quit sniveling.


  8. I have excellent written references (over the top) from all my past administrators, yet I did not list my previous head as a reference.
    Why? Hmmm, not trustworthy…
    If the prospective employer is called I have my hard/electronic copy.


  9. The references, school or administrator, given by anyone using ISR should not be anonymous either. Many schools have had their reputations damaged by a disgruntled–usually just been given a bad review for being a poor teacher–“reviewer.” What works for the goose works for the gander as well. One cannot request that anonymity be a one-way street.


  10. Sorry, Neverbeenafraid. I think there is an element of Pollyanna there. I do know of people who are incredibly good teachers, consummate professionals and admired by colleagues and students alike who have been given bad references by unprofessional headteachers. I wish it weren’t so.


  11. In the real world supervisors have issues. They may not want you to leave, they could be sociopaths,sexist,racist, in a bad mood, unprofessional or down right vindictive. These references give a former supervisor too much power.


  12. It seems to me, and I may be wrong here…. but bear with me just a bit…. If one does a job well… sows good seeds, cultivates relationships that are strong and based on integrity…there might just be nothing to fear… confidential or not??? Am I a Pollyanna here or does it seem like the majority of people who DO NOT want confidential references are the same kind of people who may have something to fear? We all want to perceive ourselves in the best light, but the fact is…. some of us just aren’t as competent or wonderful as we think we are. If that’s the case… then an Admin. or even a coworker should have the cover of anonymity to tell the truth to a potential employer. Never been afraid.


  13. ‘Shouldn’t it be our responsibility to cultivate relationships that we could use as dependable references?’

    Absolutely, though in applying for any new job it is an expectation that you provide a job from your current head. This assumes that all heads are fair and balanced in their assessments of individuals. I work in a school where the head is known to sometimes give extremely negative (unjustified) confidential references. This places people in a very difficult position – in an interview it would be unprofessional to criticize the person providing that negative reference, but unacceptable that unfair criticism is allowed to stand unchallenged.

    What to do?


  14. “Shouldn’t it be our responsibility to cultivate relationships that we could use as dependable references?”

    Yes, good point. I should have known. What a mistake to trust.

    Don’t you think we can be a bit more vulnerable overseas? We want to believe in our ‘community’ of fellow expats, teachers and administrators. We let our guard down. We may see a decent guy or gal when there really isn’t one underneath.

    I vote against confidential letters, but in the meantime, your reminder to be discerning in work relationships is a valuable one.


  15. I stayed out of the initial post, because i didn’t think that there was much merit or chance in the argument. Universities and graduate schools also use confidential references. In those cases, you have to agree that the letter is confidential. If you don’t agree (by signing) then the reviewer and university know that the evaluation that they are getting may not be as honest and forthright as one that is confidential.

    I can understand why people wouldn’t want a vindictive or incompetent administrator writing their review, but wouldn’t you have a pretty good idea that the person was that way? Shouldn’t it be our responsibility to cultivate relationships that we could use as dependable references?

    I guess in the end, i see nothing illegal or immoral about writing confidential references. I’ve seen a lot of people who should have known better (either because of their own performance or the personality and behavior of the administrator) ask for references and then act surprised that it didn’t go well.

    To me, there are many other practices followed by too many international schools that need to be addressed more than this does.


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