23rd May 2003 at 01:00
Your career and pay questions answered by John Howson

Q Having qualified as a secondary maths teacher, I've decided primary teaching is for me. I thought a CertEd would allow me to teach in either sector, so I was disappointed to hear nothing from a number of the schools I applied to. Is there a course I could do part-time to retrain, or would a stint of teaching practice be enough? I can't afford to be a student for another year.

A You don't say why you want to switch. It may be that you aren't giving a compelling reason for wanting to switch to the people who are reading your application forms. While you are technically correct - that if you have qualified teacher status you are permitted to teach in either primary or secondary schools in England - I was mystified by your mention of a CertEd.

Did you train some years ago, or is your training in the further education sector? If it's the latter, you don't have automatic qualified teacher status to teach in schools. You would be required to take further training to achieve such status, if you haven't already done so during the time you have been teaching in secondary schools.

However, even possessing a teaching qualification in a shortage subject may not be enough to facilitate your transfer. There is a world of difference between class and subject teaching. In most primary schools, you would be expected to be able to teach all the national curriculum subjects.

Additionally, you should have an awareness of how younger children learn and of the testing framework for key stages 1 and 2.

The Government has succeeded in increasing the number of primary school teachers in training over the past two years, so competition in many parts of the country is fierce. If you are determined to switch sectors, you might consider asking if you can help with the liaison between your secondary school and its feeder primary schools. This will help you to spend time with upper-primary aged children. You might also offer to develop a maths after-school club in a local primary school. These types of activities will help demonstrate that you are serious. They will also afford you valuable experience.

In the end, however, it will come down to a matter of supply and demand. If there are sufficient better qualified and possibly cheaper teachers trained to work in the primary sector looking for posts at the same time, you may not be successful in your aim.

John Howson is visiting professor at Oxford Brookes University and managing director of Education Data Surveys. Send your career questions to him at

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