Preaching to the unconverted

16th March 2001 at 00:00
Want to change from secondary to primary school teaching but don't know quite how to make the switch? Carolyn O'Grady looks at the options

You've gone to college; you have got qualified teacher status; you start teaching in a secondary school. Then you realise that what you really want to do is teach young children. Or, conversely, you have developed a great interest in one subject and want nothing more than to be responsible for it alone and teach in a secondary school rather than a primary. What do you do?

Claire King, a Derbyshire teacher, was in such a situation and has recently begun looking into how to switch from the secondary sector to the primary after five years in teaching. She has not found it easy.

And her task has not been helped by the Teacher Training Agency's recent announcement that it is "re-evaluating" its funding of conversion courses between secondary and primary. The reason? Perhaps it is because traffic is going in one direction only: from secondary schools beset with shortages to the less teacher-deprived primary sector. Of 17 conversion courses funded by the TTA for the first time in the year 2000-2001, only two are for teachers converting from secondary to primary.

There are several reasons why teachers want to switch from secondary to primary, says Ken Bland, head of Continuing Professional Development at University College, Northampton, which is running two returners courses this year with special additional modules for teachers wishing to convert from secondary to primary. "They sometimes doubt their subject knowledge. Or they wonder if they would be able to cope with perceived changes in behaviour in secondary. Very often they've enjoyed supporting their own children in primary school."

One of the very few returners courses which does advertise as suitable for teachers wishing to convert from primary to secondary as well as the other way, is funded by Wolverhampton education authority and the TTA. So far it hasn't attracted any secondary to primary conveters, though Wolverhampton's recruitment strategy manager, Vilma Jarrett, says she expects to have at least one on a course beginning in April.

So with conversion courses few and far between and likely to become more so, what do you do if you want to change?

Though, surprisingly, there is no statutory requirement to retrain in order to convert from primary to secondary teaching, it can be difficult to find a job going straight from one to another. Ordinary returners courses may fit the bill, and some initial teacher training providers are prepared to make ad hoc arrangements.

Liverpool Hope University College, for example, will arrange for teachers who want to convert from primary to secondary to work in a school and with tutors at the college to satisfy their particular training needs. "If you are unable to find a conversion course, you may want to consider some further study in the area you wish to move into," advises the TTA. And it recommends gaining classroom experience.

Ms King looked into conversion courses and found that her nearest course hasn't received TTA funding for next year, and that local returners courses and CPD modules were mostly full-time. As she is teaching they are no use to her.

"The best advice came from headteachers at local primary schools," she says. "One head has welcomed me into his school to do some workshadowing. I can do this from my school as we are a Beacon school I so long as while I'm there I observe what ICT is done I I have also embarked on some home study. I have downloaded all the key stage 1 and 2 national curriculum documents from the internet and sample material from the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority."

And, despite possible withdrawal of TTA funding, at least one institution, Wolverhampton, still intends to offer secondary and primary conversion courses. "At the end of the day it's about having enthusiastic teachers in the classroom whatever phase they're working in. We have to respond to the need," says Ms Jarrett.

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