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Life on the other side

John Caunt offers advice to those thinking of changing between primary and secondary sectors.

Have you ever contemplated teaching a different age group? The desire may be prompted by the subject challenge of working with older people, the perceived enthusiasm of younger children or simply a wish to explore pastures new.

For those who make the move, change frequently coincides with other events such as a return from a career break or a particular stage of their own children's education. Sometimes it stems from disillusion. However, a successful transition needs to be founded on careful thought and thorough planning.

Organisers of returner and conversion programmes usually stress how important it is to be clear about one's reasons for the proposed change and consider all that the new role will involve.

There is no official requirement for qualified teachers to retrain if they wish to move between phases, but some research and familiarisation is essential. Depending upon individual circumstances, further training may also be desirable.

Several higher education institutions and local education authorities offer conversion courses - generally within their programmes of updating for teachers returning to the profession. The courses on offer are predominantly for secondary-trained teachers wishing to move into the primary phase and typically involve part-time study of one to three terms. Fees are mostly in the Pounds 200-Pounds 500 range. Details can be obtained from the Teacher Training Agency (tel: 01245 454454).

Teachers considering a move from primary into secondary may find additional subject-specific study valuable. The TTA suggests that in some cases a masters course may be useful.

You need, also, to establish that there is a demand for the skills you have to offer in your chosen sector. There has been a great deal of publicity about recruitment shortages recently, but demand is not uniform across the country. A call to the recruitment department of your LEA may provide an indication of likely demand in your area. A survey of job advertisements may also be useful.

You should not ignore the possible impact of differences in organisational size, structure or culture. A secondary teacher who moved to further education reports initial difficulty adapting to a more informal culture, while one who transferred to the primary sector missed talking to subject-specialist colleagues.

For both, however, positive points outweighed the negative, and both felt that they had been able to use existing skills, develop new ones and become more effective teachers.

On one point, all who have made the move are unanimous. If you are motivated by hope of an easier life, then forget it. As one person who has transferred twice says: "There are no easy options in education these days."


* What aspects of your current experience at work are you seeking to change by making a move?

* Are you confident that your reasons for considering the move are well founded?

* Do job prospects look reasonable for you in the new phase?

* Have you spent some classroom time in a school of the age range to which you hope to transfer?

* What are your subject strengths and weaknesses in the new age range?

* Will you be happy with the broader or narrower subject range resulting from the move?

* What new skills will you need, and how are you going to obtain them?

* Are you aware of assessment, administrative and reporting requirements in the new phase?

* How will your prospects be affected by the move?

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