I'm a primary teacher with a degree in ancient history and I would like to move to secondary. Is this possible?

27th February 2004 at 00:00
Ted Wragg, emeritus professor of education at Exeter University, answers your professional problems, big or small, every week. Ask him for independent advice - or offer some of your own.

Ted says

We do not have the same subject and age-range limitations on teachers as is the case in some countries, where such a move would be impossible.

Nonetheless, do not underestimate the amount of preparation needed to make the switch.

The secondary history curriculum is not only very full, but also lies largely outside the periods you studied for your degree. During key stage 3 alone, pupils have to cover British history from 1066 to 1900, a pretty tall order, and have to learn about a period in pre-1914 Europe (so you might be able to dust down your own study of the Punic Wars) and world studies pre- and post-1900. The appropriate "knowledge, skills and understanding", some of which may be familiar to you from your primary teaching, have to be learned.

You will also have to make the adjustment to teaching secondary classes. I teach in primary and secondary schools, and the biggest culture shock is finding that whereas primary pupils may cheerfully exclaim "Wow!", or even jump up and down if they are excited, for adolescents a barely perceptible raising of an eyebrow may be the greatest energy expenditure of the day.

There is one other difficulty. If you were a maths or physical science graduate wanting to make the switch, a chauffeur-driven car would probably arrive to collect you, sent by a school desperate to have anyone not in possession of two heads, or on a life-support machine, teaching these shortage subjects. By contrast, there are many well-qualified history teachers around. But don't be deterred. If you are keen, make the switch, but take advice, try to get some proper retraining and find a good experienced secondary historian to act as your mentor.

You say

It worked for me I transferred to secondary teaching three years ago. My specialism is mathematics and my new school was keen to employ someone with experience of the numeracy strategy to help implement the key stage 3 strategy. I have no regrets. During my primary career I seldom left school before 5pm and had a couple of hours' preparation every night. Literacy and numeracy planning alone took two hours at the weekend. I needed to work at 150 per cent to do my job properly; now I work at 100 per cent.

The main downside is challenging behaviour. But you only have a class for one period, then they move on until next week. In primary teaching, you have the children all the time - if you get a difficult class in September, there is no respite until July.

I miss some things - literacy, for example - but don't miss trying to deliver an appropriately challenging science curriculum to able Year 6 pupils working at level 6. As for displays, people come from miles around to see what I have done with my classroom. It's nothing special in primary terms but, in a secondary scenario, it's exceptional.

I have found far more scope for career development in the secondary sector.

Bigger schools have more money and more opportunities. And nowadays I sometimes leave work at the same time as the children - unthinkable during my primary days.

Anonymous, Kent

Tread carefully

The desire to change is understandable. Many primary teachers with strong expertise in a particular subject feel it would be nice to explore in more depth the subject they've studied to an advanced level.

But have you thought it through? Discipline problems can be considerable; it might be difficult to find a job in a good school because you're not offering a shortage subject; and you could end up with classes who don't share your passion for history. You won't have as much freedom or flexibility to be as innovative around your subject, either, so you could well miss the pleasure of the sheer variety in the primary curriculum.

Jim Brown, Yorkshire

Coming up: Inclusion fears "A child with Down's syndrome has just joined our reception class. I have doubts whether it will work for her - or her classmates. Am I wrong to worry?" Email dear.ted@tes.co.uk

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