Writing a Teachers' Reference
The structure of the reference is an important consideration. Oxford uses information on the educational context of an applicant’s school or college, but this is not derived from the reference.
Further details about the use of contextual data are included later in this section. A short (two to three lines) paragraph about the school at the top of the reference may be important if there are particular issues that may have had a direct impact on the applicant (e.g. high staff turnover, major disruption because of rebuilding work which closed the labs for a term), but if there is more required then it is best to include a more detailed statement on the school website and then put the URL link. For UK students, information on the school's approach to qualification reform may also be helpful.
When qualifying student achievement, it is again helpful to tutors who may be confronted with a sea of top grade predications, to have some subjective, but nevertheless valuable information about the specific candidate. For example, if this student is the best candidate you have taught in fifteen years in Biology, why not include that in the reference? And it is even better if you follow that up with a statement explaining why you have reached that conclusion (e.g. In ten years of teaching A-level History, Sophie is the strongest candidate I have taught, evidenced particularly through her careful and considered interpretation of source material whilst undertaking her extended project on the Causes of the War of Jenkins’ Ear, and her innovative and thought-provoking essay assessing the impact of the Watergate break-in on the subsequent fortunes of the Republican Party in the 1970’s). This not only provides a tutor with some context to the candidate’s ranking and ability, but also gives initial avenues for discussion during any interview the candidate may attend.
If an applicant is applying for a joint course, such as Classics and Modern Languages, it is important that their suitability for both subjects is addressed as tutors from both departments will be assessing their application. Tutors are aware that it may be challenging to write a reference if a student has applied for slightly different subject combinations at other universities. In these cases, similar to the challenges faced when the student writes their personal statement, the wider context of the subjects and the skills required to study them will be more helpful to comment on. Using the Classics and Modern Languages example above, the ‘ability to express ideas clearly and effectively both in writing and orally’ is state in the selection criteria for both subjects and an example of the student’s skills in this area would be useful.