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Hi-yo, Age Ranger

Just because you trained in secondary doesn't mean you can't switch to primary. Jill Parkin finds that sector-swapping is easier than you might think - it could even give you a new lease of life

There are no blinding flashes, signposts to Damascus or small changes of name. But, as far as conversions go, crossing the great divide between the secondary and primary phases has its own drama.

"After 30 years in the secondary sector? I should say so," says Ian Haines, now teaching primary in Essex. "But a kid is a kid, and teaching little ones across the curriculum is great fun."

Most of the traffic is one way - conversions from primary to secondary are rare. Discipline is perceived as harder in the secondary sector and you have to prove you hold sufficient knowledge in your subject. That's not toodifficult if you have a degree in a specific subject followed by a PGCE, but it can be harder for BEd holders to convince headteachers.

Women returning to teaching after having children are the single group most likely to convert from secondary to primary. An interest in and liking for younger children is coupled with confidence that they can look after them as well as teach them. And many welcome a break from the discipline issues in the secondary sector.

Technically, it's not a difficult move to make. If you have qualified teacher status, you can teach in any age phase without further training. In practice, many swappers take update courses. Many of the funded returner courses listed on the Teacher Training Agency website serve as a conversion route between phases. The agency suggestschecking with the provider that the course meets your needs.

"There's a variety of people who want to make the change, but we do find quite a few are older teachers, some of whom took the earlyretirement option in the early Nineties," says David Rose of Select Education, a teacherrecruitment agency that runs a conversion course for teachers switching from secondary to primary supply, as well as courses on the numeracy and literacy strategies.

"The strategies are the major consideration for teachers wanting to move from secondary toprimary," he says. "The teacher also needs to be conversant with primary classroom management and behavioural strategies, and primary teaching resources."

Supply teaching can be a way of "tasting" life in the other phase before opting for a full-time job across the divide. It can also be a way for older secondary teachers and those who have childcare responsibilities to work flexibly within primary schools.

For Ian Haines, primary teaching has been an invigorating fresh start after 30 years in one secondary school. In that time, he saw the place change from grammar tocomprehensive as well as thedisappearance from the curriculum of classical studies which, along with English, was his speciality.

Now 59, he teaches two days a week on a long-term contract with Rainham Village primary school, near Romford, Essex. And it has brought a new lease of life for his specialism - there can't be many schools where juniors have been introduced to the Greek alphabet.

"They loved it," says Haines, "just as they love the Greek myths and Roman history. And, looking at the primary curriculum as a whole, I have to say hats off to the numeracy strategy because it's very teachable, even for someone from the secondary sector.

"I started in 1966 and stayed in the same school. By about 1994, I was becoming rather disillusioned with the paperwork and a couple of years later they dropped classical studies. I took early retirement and had six wonderful months off, but by the end of it I realised that I missed teaching.

"Then the nearby school my son and daughter had been to offered me some part-time work teaching Year 6, which was not too different from Year 7. Next, tryingsomething different again, I taught Year 7 in an independent girls' school for a year."

Various courses with Select Education followed, including special needs and the literacy and numeracy strategies as well as primary supply stints, before Haines settled at Rainham with his two-day-a-week contract.

"I've done everything from three-year-old nursery children upwards. Having a grandson helped with the younger end. At first, after 30 years in one secondary school, I was apprehensive. But not now. There's great variety in the primary phase - and the children are lovely."

"It's fun," he concludes, coming across as rather more upbeat than one might expect of a 59-year-o`ld.

For those rare birds who want to fly in the opposite direction - from primary to secondary - the Open University may prove the best route to developing your specialism while still working and earning. Certainly, with the teacher shortages most acute in the secondary sector, those who do make it across the divide are likely to be very warmly welcomed.

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