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Making the transition to primary teaching

Career | Published 8 May, 2007

You may be passionate about your specialist subject, but secondary teaching isn't your only option. Nick Morrison speaks to teachers who have made the transition to primary, and find it every bit as rewarding.

For many teachers, the decision to teach in a secondary school is almost automatic. From inspiring passion for their favourite subject, to wanting to stimulate inquiring teenage minds, they are looking for something only secondary schools can provide.

But what about those who have made a mistake? Or fallen out of love with secondary teaching? They may not want to stay in secondary education, but they still want to teach. Is a move to primary straightforward? Will they be able to cope? Or are they just choosing the easier option?

Karen Garner says there is nothing easy about teaching primary. After taking an English degree, secondary seemed the obvious choice, but three years in she was feeling disillusioned. “You realise that Year 10 bottom set is never going to share your passion, and because it’s a compulsory subject, older children can turn off.

“Timetabling meant I was teaching the same lesson to Year 8s three times a week, and it just killed it for me,” she says.

After quitting her job, Karen started supply, but this time decided to try primary, and soon discovered what she had been missing.

“I had to do a lot of reading to ensure my subject knowledge was at an appropriate level, but I found it far more rewarding than any day I ever had at secondary school.”

Karen, 37, has now been teaching at Harefield Primary in Southampton for five years, and says the attitude of some secondary teachers towards their primary counterparts is entirely misplaced.

“There is a definite intellectual snobbery, and secondary teachers think their subject specialism makes them a better teacher, but primary teachers have more breadth of knowledge and greater understanding of the curriculum,” she says.

John Howson, recruitment analyst and The TES Magazine columnist, says advice on how to move from secondary to primary teaching is the single biggest subject raised at his TES online job clinics.

To read the full transcripts of recent careers clinics, click here

“If you’re fed up teaching adolescents but still enjoy teaching, the notion of having one class rather than lots of different ones may well seem a better use of your skills,” he says. The introduction in English primary schools of 10 per cent non-contact time in 2005 has made them more attractive, and competition for leadership grade posts is less in primaries. “You don’t get many people wanting to move the other way,” he says.

Professor Howson has called in the past for the introduction of certification to teach specific age groups, rather than a system where all you need is to find a school willing to take you. But he says his advice for anyone looking at changing is always to research it thoroughly, including the prospects of getting a job. And he says heads will be looking for evidence the move is for the children’s, not the teacher’s, benefit.

David Tuck, vice president of the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), says the key to switching from secondary to primary is being able to build up a relationship with the children. “Good teachers will be able to make that transition, but you do not deal with reception children the same way you would deal with sixth formers,” he says.

Teachers will also have to contend with moving to being a generalist rather than a specialist, and with having the same class all the time. This can make primary teaching a lonely profession, says David Fann, head of Sherwood Primary in Preston and chairman of the NAHT’s primary committee.

“You are with a lot younger children and the level of interaction is much lower than at high school,” he says. He adds that he would be reluctant to take on a teacher straight from high school, and would want to see evidence of a commitment to primary teaching.

Jo Dicker says she has the best of both worlds. She spent two years as a secondary maths teacher, but for the past four years, she has taught in Hugh Sexey Middle School, a 9-13 school in Wedmore, Somerset. A middle school means she can still teach her specialism, but doesn’t face the same behaviour problems she encountered in secondary.

“You do have to pitch things differently but I haven’t really changed the way I teach,” says Jo, 27. “I also spend less of my time on behaviour management and more on actually teaching.”

She also believes she is teaching the most interesting age group. “They are not so young that they’re hanging on to you and not so old that they’re not bothered,” she says. “They do most growing up at middle school age: they come to us as children and leave as young adults. To me it is the perfect age range.”

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Comment (20)

  • Are there any specific courses recommended for someone like me who wants to make the move to primary teaching but with limited experience of primary teaching? I have been teaching since 1997 and have had enough of the GCSE/A Level hamster's wheel. In a nutshell, I would much rather teach than prepare older children for exams.

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    Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
    15 September, 2009


  • I am in a similar positiion, i have been teaching for three years in secondary and would like to make a move into primary. However i have limited experience in primary schools. Are there any courses to help people in my position?

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    29 August, 2010


  • Does anybody know if you stay on the same pay band when you transfer from secondary to primary? For example, if you were M6 in secondary do you keep your M6 in primary, or do you need to start again?

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    25 May, 2011


  • I have exactly the same questions and feelings as all the people above, but can't seem to find the answers!!! I have worked in secondary now for 14 years and to be honest i'm falling out of love with teaching secondary. Although D&T is my subject specialism I have also taught pretty much every other subject at secondary level throughout my career which in my mind makes me the ideal candidate for primary teaching.
    Is there a conversion course that can be done whilst I'm still teaching in secondary?

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    3 October, 2011


  • I have done a little bit of looking into this, and as far as I can tell, you would have to find a place at a middle school teaching 8-12 year olds for a while, so that you can say you have the experience.

    I found this:

    Not straight forward by the sounds of it.

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    4 October, 2011


  • Thanks for the great advice & comments. I have qualified as a secondary teacher, and have yet to complete my NQT year - having said this, I have also got about 3-4 years primary experience in short-term supply & tuition classes in primary schools. I have had only a couple of interviews, and each time the head has offered the position to a Primary trained teacher - what else can I do to stand with a fighting chance of such a statement?

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    24 February, 2012


  • I have done this - moving from teaching English at secondary school for 4 years to Primary, where I became a Headteacher after 5 years. To make the change I completed a Return To Teaching course and did a Primary placement with that, followed up by a year of Primary school supply teaching. I then applied for a post and secured it, on the back of this experience. Having said this, it was quite a while ago when the job market for primary posts was much less competitive than it is now. However, I do think that whilst I don't miss the amount marking that came with English coursework, I do miss the children and I miss my subject terribly as its not the same teaching literacy to Y3/4 for an hour a day. I also feel that the poster above who wants to move to primary and so "teach" rather than prepare for exams should take care, as it's just as progress and attainment focussed at Primary, only at a lower attainment level. Which is a sad inditement on our school system and the pressure placed on all schools to churn out particular levels and being judged on this, regardless of anything else.

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    6 October, 2012


  • I am doing my PGCE in ICT and hate it! =S I made the biggest mistake of my life! I can't do anything about it now, gotta get through this. You guys have a higher chance of finding a placement in Primary school than myself as you have had years of experience. What do I do? Honestly, I sometimes cry to myself, I find it so hard and the staff aren't so welcoming either. Feel so lost and now thanks to Mr. Gove, the current ICT curriculum will be scrapped and replaced with a new one next year...They expect us to teach the students PROGRAMMING! Seriously, they find it hard to understand the concept of and make databases, how will they learn to code?! I mean, I did Computing in the first year of my degree and found that it was way too technical for me and now I have to teach it. I am not happy at all. I really want to change to Primary. :'(

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    26 November, 2012


  • Hi,
    Whats the advice on if you want to go from 4 years as qualified teacher in primary KS 1 & 2 to PE secoundary because your really sporty and its your passion? Would you go back to M1? Thanks!

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    10 February, 2013


  • Secondary PE is a nightmare to get a job in now as there are so many people plus you are shortlisted even further than with other teaching posts. If you are a good PE Teacher with a good letter and application but your specialisms do not fit in with what the department are looking for then you won't get shortlisted. I have been teaching PE for 9 years but took a year out after my 3rd year and since 2007 have been on supply/temp contracts as I compete against over 150 people for each job. I have recently made the move to Further Education and now have a permanent job lecturing in a college. Better to look to stay in Primary as the new Government initiative has created PE specific jobs in primary schools so try to get one of those by selling your passion for the subject.

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    11 April, 2013


  • I am qualified secondary PE teacher and SSCo and am looking at making the move into primary. I have a lot of experience and knowledge of primary teaching, I'm just struggling to make my application stand out. Can anyone give me any advice on how to do this please?

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    16 April, 2013


  • Hi - I am currently looking into a move from secondary Head of English to primary (pref KS2). I have taught English, French (basic), ICT and theatre studies as well as having a wide scope of historical and humanities based knowledge (thanks SHC!). I can also teach recorder, basic music, singing and dance. How would I best go about making such a move? I have been on the Litercay Coordination team for two years so would hopefully be in favour!
    Any advice would be gratefully received!

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    1 May, 2013


  • I made the move from being a Secondary Music teacher (with 8 years experience) to Primary class teacher by starting work as a TA in a Primary school and offering to do any cover going. This gave me the opportunity to observe and learn from some fantastic teachers, and to teach lots of different year groups too. Within a few months I was given responsibility for teaching a Year 1 class between three and five days a week. I then used this experience to apply successfully for a permanent year 1 post in another school. Teachers and the Head at my first Primary employer were very supportive, and gave me lots of advice. My experiences of working in Primary have been absolutely fantastic, and I am poised to start the next school year as a year 3/4 teacher. Can't wait!

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    30 July, 2013

    Miss Smith

  • I would love some advice. Been out of teaching for 6 years to have a child and then did some one to one teaching for two years (that ended in 2011), but found that what I really wanted to do was primary. I was advised to simply gain experience, which I did for about 9 months and the school are happy to give references. The problem is I cannot get an interview-so far only seen two that I could go for- and when I have asked for feedback am told to get a supply job first to match the NQTs in terms of ticking all the boxes on pers.specs.. Tried this too, but isn't any supply at the moment. Even posted letters and CVs to all the local primary schools. Are there any training courses other than the full £9,000 PGCE? As I already have QTS status, the graduate teaching programme route, or whatever it is called now is not available to me. I live in Leicestershire.

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    1 October, 2013


  • I have now completed ny GTP and NQT years in secondary education and 2 full years of teaching. I decided to teach secondary for two reasons, 1) because I only wanted to teach my specialism (Music), and 2) because I was told that if I trained in secondary I could change to primary at any time, however if I did it the other way around, I would have to re-qualify as a secondary school teacher.
    I am now totally deflated and have been brow beaten to the point I want to give up teaching altogether, however friends and colleagues have all expressed their dismay at this as they all feel I am a great teacher.
    My current school is in special measures and we are settling in with our third complete SLT change in a 5 month period, which hasn't helped, but I have never received anything lower than a 2 from OFSTED for my lessons, and several 1's from SLT, County and one from OFSTED.

    Over the past 4 years I have taught no less than 9 different subjects, 7 of those in the same year! so I figure I may as well just go teach primary which was my first desire when choosing to become a teacher.

    I am willing to drop down the pay scale to do this and willing to put in the hours of reading up on non specialist knowledge, but, I have recently been told that I would now have to take a one year course to retrain, is this correct?

    I am so dismayed at my current situation that when we returned from the summer holidays I handed in my resignation and am due to finish on 20th Dec. As yet I still have no job to go to and whilst this is not a major worry right now, and I am willing to do other work until I can find the right position, I am concerned that I will not be able to afford a year of retraining costs and no salary.

    Can anyone advice me of what steps I should take next?

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    21 November, 2013


  • I have been working as a secondary school English teacher for the last two years (I completed my Secondary PGCE in 2011). I want to make the change to primary school teaching but haven't got a clue as to how I go about doing this. I've read some conflicting articles on whether or not I would have to retrain. If anyone could give me some advice it would be really appreciated. Thank you.

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    5 January, 2014


  • am going off teaching

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    19 January, 2014


  • Hi, I have been working as a Prep school teacher (8-13) teaching geography and Latin and wish to go into teaching Secondary school. Is this possible?
    I have a Ba in geography and a GTP, with good experience in a boarding school environment.

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    5 May, 2014


  • Hi! I want to know if I can transfer from Secondary English teaching to nursery or reception? I have worked in both primary and secondary but in recent years have been teaching KS3 and 4. I really want to go back to teaching smaller children again. What is the best way to go about this?

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    26 April, 2015


  • Hi fellow educators!

    Having worked as an English teacher at a secondary school I feel I have gained considerable expertise and experience within my subject specialism, pastorally and in many other fields. However, as I move forward in my career I would like to change from teaching secondary students to primary.

    I am taking advice to broaden my experience of primary by offering myself as supply for primary schools in the area to gain experience and also understanding of the curriculum. Does anyone have advice as to what to include in that letter?

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

    9 September, 2015

    Jo Smith

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