Legally, previous employers are not allowed to give bad references. If an old employer didn’t like you, and they are asked to give a reference, they can either decline completely (which indicates they may not have liked you/there were problems) or otherwise, if they give a reference, they MUST give a good one. It’s the law.
@TheRaven - if you quit five years ago, it’s likely that your managers won’t be at the firm in question any longer and when/if the company are asked to give a reference they will just tell your new prospective employer that they can’t give an accurate reference because of that. Also, your new prospective employer will not necessarily ask this firm for a reference. They might just want to know what you were doing. Firms usually ask for two references, and if you can supply two others for more recent employers, you should be fine.
@Traineewannabee - both your school and your uni will certainly give references. Educational establishments always give them, and they’re always really good. Sure, no one at the uni or the school might remember you, but they’ll still give you a generic, positive, reference. It’s just the way it works - and if you think about it, it’s in the education provider’s interests to give glowing references. It makes them look good too.
People worry far too much about references. Most employers don’t even follow them up, and if they do, it’s just a matter of course. References are usually only checked once a decision has been made to offer someone a job. The only case references are really important is applications to MI5, SIS, public services, the police, etc.
Good luck guys!!!