Requesting references after offers have been accepted

Flow diagram showing previous and new flows. In the previous flow, candidates requested references then selected 2 before sending their application. In the new flow, candidates give reference details then send their application. After they receive an offer, candidates check reference details and request references.

We’ve changed the way that references are requested. Previously candidates requested references as part of their application, but now they do it after they accept an offer of a place on a course.

This change was made on 7 September 2022, when candidates could start to prepare their applications for the 2022 to 2023 recruitment cycle.

The issue

Candidates previously had to get 2 references before they could submit their application. This caused problems because:

  • courses could become full while candidates waited for their references
  • some candidates would need to ask their employer for a reference, revealing that they were planning on leaving their job even though they did not have a place on a course yet
  • candidates were not always sure who to ask for a reference, for example if they had been caring for a child for several years

In addition, receiving references with the application meant that providers used them as part of assessing candidate quality.

Research suggests that references are not a reliable way to assess whether a candidate is suitable for teacher training because people giving references:

  • may not like to give negative references, or may be told not to do so by the organisations they work for
  • could be biased, whether intentionally or not
  • may not know the candidate well enough to give a detailed reference

We found that poor references very rarely led to rejection. Almost all rejections mentioning references were due to concerns about a candidate working with children.

We wanted to find a way to:

  • make it easier for candidates to submit applications
  • move the focus of references away from assessing the quality of candidates
  • continue to ask whether there’s evidence that it is not safe for candidates to work with children
  • reduce the amount of work done by people giving references, particularly those such as academic tutors who do so regularly

Analysis

Analysis of data in May 2022 found that:

  • 93.5% of candidates with unsubmitted applications had not completed the references section
  • 2,011 candidates with unsubmitted applications only had the references section left to complete
  • 49.4% of the candidates with only references left to complete had not entered details of anyone who could give them a reference
  • 46.2% were awaiting a response for at least one reference

This suggested that changes to the references process could lead to a significant increase in the number of candidates recruited.

What we changed

We changed the application form so that candidates no longer need to request and receive 2 references.

Instead, candidates just need to give details of at least 2 people who can give a reference if they later accept an offer. Providers see these details but are told not to use them to contact people who can give references.

When a candidate accepts an offer, they have to review the list of people which they gave when they applied. They can add or delete people from the list.

After any changes, there must be at least 2 people in the list in order for the candidate to accept the offer. Emails are sent to the people in the list.

The reference requests now ask for factual references, for example about the candidate’s role and responsibilities at work. People giving references are no longer asked whether the candidate will make a good trainee teacher.

Providers can see references as soon as they’re given.

Other approaches we considered

We considered removing references from the application and instead making references an offer condition.

If we did this then we would only ask candidates to give details of people who could give a reference after they accepted an offer. This would be easier for candidates, but providers said they wanted to know who candidates planned to ask for references.

We also considered removing the process of requesting references from the service altogether. We would instead require providers to handle this themselves as part of their enrolling process.

After considering these alternatives, the approach we chose was a compromise between improving the experience for candidates and not requiring too much change from providers.

Research and engagement

We did research with candidates, providers and people who give references.

Candidates

We did usability testing with 8 participants who had already applied for teacher training. We asked them to use a redesigned journey which followed the new process.

We found that:

  • some participants went through the new journey without realising that the process had changed
  • when we explained the change, they felt that it would have had benefits for them when they applied

Providers

We engaged with providers by:

  • sending a survey to them
  • doing usability testing
  • running a series of presentations about the new process

We found that providers were concerned about the new process. They needed to be reassured that:

  • it would not slow down their recruitment
  • people giving references would still be asked whether they know any reason why candidates are not safe to work with children

People who give references

We spoke to 7 people who had recently given references. Most of them work in roles where they regularly give references.

They felt that the new process would save them time, particularly since they would only need to give references for a smaller number of canidates.

Many of the participants said they would continue to give references which included opinions.

Future considerations

We’ll review the new process in November 2022. We plan to:

  • ask providers how the process is working for them
  • evaluate whether the change is encouraging more candidates to apply
  • check that the process is not causing delays to candidates getting their references
  • consider changing the ‘Manage teacher training applications’ interface so that reference requirements can be more clearly communicated to candidates