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Not apathy, but primary

Adi Bloom on a desperate need to quit secondary teaching

Kate Preston is prepared to face the competitive and uncertain job market of the primary sector - if it will get her away from the relentless apathy of secondary pupils.

The 26-year-old is joining those newly-qualified teachers prepared to pursue an elusive primary job to escape badly-behaved, unmotivated secondary pupils.

Ms Preston worked for a single term at a Merseyside comprehensive, before deciding to retrain for primary teaching by taking a one-term conversion course.

"Getting teenagers motivated is very hard," she said. "You feel it's a battle just to get them to listen, before you can even begin to teach anything. But younger children are more inquisitive, and excited about learning new things."

Ms Preston's degree subject was art, and she was advised that there would be little demand for this in the primary sector. Instead, she was told that training places and jobs would be offered to new teachers with specialisms such as English, maths and science.

"I'm not bothered," she said. "It's a risk worth taking."

Fellow Merseysider Jeanette Healy, 31, trained as a secondary teacher to focus on PE, her specialist subject. But, after a few supply jobs, she became disillusioned. "I felt threatened and frightened," she said. "There was backchat and pupils were rude and offensive. I didn't want to be in school at all."

She is retraining at Churchtown primary, in Sefton, Southport: "Primary is a real challenge. You're not doing the same subject all the time, and you have to be able to build up a relationship with your class. You feel like you are achieving something. I'd be mad to go back to secondary."

But there are also some disadvantages. "Primary teachers can work until 6.30pm," she said. "And career development isn't as good as in secondary."

Alan Smithers, director for the centre of education and employment research at Buckingham university, is conducting research, funded by the Department for Education and Skills, into the reasons that teachers move between primary and secondary sectors.

He said: "Pupil behaviour is the second most important reason for secondary teachers leaving their schools. But it is the 12th reason for primary teachers." Workload was first for both.

Caroline, 25, (who preferred not to give her surname) is a newly-qualified art teacher in Manchester. She completed one-and-a-half terms of her new job before she began to consider retraining.

"Secondary pupils mess around, misbehave, and swear in the middle of class.

Teaching primary, I won't come home angry. Instead, I'll be able to see the joy on kids' faces," she said.

But Sara Bubb, of London university's institute of education, questions whether new teachers have considered fully the consequences of such a career shift.

"Sometimes people are running away from a problem," she said. "They think primary is going to be easy. But they'll be judged for teaching subjects and year groups about which they know nothing. And heads may be reluctant to employ them over a trained primary teacher. It's very hard."


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