Careers - Smart move

11th September 2009 at 01:00
If you're thinking of moving from secondary to primary, you need to have a strong case and get sceptical heads onside

Teaching primary, teaching secondary. Same profession, very different jobs. But having qualified teacher status (QTS) qualifies you to teach in both sectors, and a growing number of teachers are crossing the divide - or at least thinking about it.

John Howson, who hosts the TES online careers clinic ( says it is one of the most common topics for discussion. "Teachers want to know how to switch sectors, and nine times out of 10 it's secondary teachers looking to change to primary," he says.

Moving into primary can appeal for all sorts of reasons beyond a dewy-eyed nostalgia for sports days and nativity plays. Some secondary teachers find starting a family of their own makes them more able to relate to young children. Others are attracted by the chance to teach new subjects, the rewards of working with a single class, or simply the prospect of a fresh challenge - all of which are sound professional reasons, but not necessarily enough to convince sceptical heads.

"Why would someone choose secondary, train in secondary, teach in secondary and then suddenly want to switch?" asks primary head Anthea Michel. "My first thought would always be that they are finding behaviour management difficult and think teaching younger pupils will be easier. We're massively over-supplied with primary-trained specialists. Why take a risk and employ a secondary teacher?"

So how can you convince schools that you're serious about a career change and not just jumping ship? Retraining isn't really an option. There are no official conversion courses and if you've already done a secondary PGCE, you won't get funding to do a primary one - the Training and Devlopment Agency for Schools' view being that since you already hold QTS, there wouldn't be any point. Another possible stepping stone is getting a job in a middle school, but it's a shrinking sector.

To make your CV attractive to primaries, you'll have to think creatively. This may mean taking up piano or learning to paint. "Most primary schools want all-rounders," says Professor Howson. "If you're fluent in a foreign language, or play sport to a good level, that will strengthen your case."

But however multi-talented you are, it helps to get experience of working in a primary school. One way to do that is through supply. After teaching secondary English for five years, Rachel Smith wanted to give primary a try and was taken on by agencies even though she hadn't set foot in a primary school for years.

"Supply is a great way in," she says. "The work is set for you, so you can concentrate on getting to grips with new routines and new ways of working. Supply lets you sample all the primary age groups, so it's broader experience than a PGCE."

Once you've found your feet - and bagged some references - you'll be well placed to apply for permanent posts, though Ms Smith has stuck to supply out of choice.

"What I love about primary is the variety," she says. "I also find younger children are more enthusiastic than teenagers and less likely to be stroppy or uninterested. I miss the banter you get at secondary level, and I miss being around for GCSE results day. But I've no regrets, and having taught across the age range, I now understand where children are going to, or coming from, at every stage of their school life."

Besides making you a more complete teacher, getting into primary could be a clever career move. For years, secondary teachers have been the ones in greater demand, but shifting demographics mean that's likely to change. At the same time, growing links between primary and secondary will create new opportunities for teachers with the widest experience.

"When I told my head that I was interested in moving to primary, he thought I was crazy," says an assistant head in a secondary in the North West. "But looking long term, gaining primary leadership experience could be a smart move. I'd be well placed to run a federation of schools, including primary and secondary - and those are the really top jobs."

Whatever your reasons for switching, you'll need determination, courage and luck. But don't be put off. There are heads who will give you a break if they think you've done your homework. At St Peter's CofE Primary in St Helens, head Barbara Flitcroft keeps an open mind - not least because her daughter recently moved from secondary to primary. "I'm only interested in the quality of teaching and the candidate's knowledge of primary practice," she says. "It's the deal the children get that matters, not which age group the person trained for."


- Don't talk about moving "down" to primary - it's patronising.

- Secondaryprimary liaison work can be useful experience.

- Ask your local primary adviser about secondments.

- Target large primaries that employ subject specialists.

- Maths or English teachers find it easiest to transfer.

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