Career clinic

This week Professor John Howson answers questions about switching to primary and to a full-time post

John Howson

Transferable skills?

After 20 years of working in secondary schools, latterly as a department head and a year head, I want to transfer to the primary sector and become a senior leader within three years. Would a primary head consider an application for a teaching post from someone with my experience? Or should I go down the teaching assistantlearning support assistantsupply route to gain some curriculum experience?

Assuming you are in your early forties at present, there are two key issues here. Firstly, the possibility of making the switch from secondary to primary school teaching, and secondly, the possibility of you obtaining a senior post in a primary school within three years.

The former is theoretically possible, since your qualified teacher status allows you to teach in either sector. However, as you acknowledge by asking whether you should go down the TALSAsupply route, rather than apply for a permanent teaching post straight away, you may not have the correct skill set for the work required of a primary school teacher. Teaching a class is very different from teaching a subject, and I worry about whether we can create a world-class education system by letting individuals learn "on the job" if they want to transfer sectors.

Even if you make the transfer, will you be ready for a leadership post within three years? Opinions differ on this point, and there are those who will say your 20 years' experience in secondary schools counts for nothing and you must "put in the time" in the primary sector before applying for a leadership post. More importantly, you may have left it too late, as first-stage leadership posts rarely go to those in their mid-forties; governors prefer younger candidates, of whom there are now large numbers working in primary schools.

More hours, please

I have a job teaching six lessons a week and working the rest of the time as a cover supervisor. I would like to teach full-time, but the school is unwilling to increase my hours, despite appointing someone else to teach my subject as a replacement for a member of staff who is off sick. How do I move forward?

From the school's point of view, having an experienced cover supervisor on their books who can also fill a gap in the timetable looks like a great deal. For you, it is not. Unless the school is willing to offer you more teaching, your only option is to look for another job.

What sort of notice period are you on? The cover supervisor part of your work would require you to be on less than a term's notice, but the teacher contract requires the usual two to three months' notice, which puts you in a worse position.

In such a situation you might be freer if you switched to just being a cover supervisor. That should gain you a reduced notice period, but it would only work if you could cope with the reduced income and associated risks while you looked for a full-time teaching post.

If you want a full-time teaching post, you will need to focus your application on what you have achieved teaching your subject for effectively a day a week. I also wonder whether the combination of the two posts deprives you of the appropriate non-contact time. Assuming a 30-lesson week, and a 10 per cent non-contact rate, you deserve the equivalent of one lesson a fortnight in preparation time. If you are expected to attend two sets of meetings as both a teacher and cover supervisor, that places even more burdens upon you. I really think you need to look hard at trying to find a teaching post, probably in another school.

Professor John Howson is our resident career expert, with 40 years' experience in education, including spells as a teacher, academic, school recruitment researcher and government adviser.

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John Howson

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