Cross over to the other side to climb the career ladder

24th June 2016 at 00:00
As traditional barriers break down, some leaders are switching from secondary to primary to get ahead

With the rise of multi-academy trusts and an increase in all-through schools, the traditional boundary between teaching in secondary and primary is starting to break down.

Now growing numbers of secondary staff are crossing the crumbling divide and forging a new career as much-needed primary leaders.

Surrey South Farnham Scitt (school-centered initial teacher training) has spotted the trend and set up a new course to help.

“I was secondary trained originally,” says Claire Donnachie, head of school at South Farnham Primary, who is developing the course. “And we have several people within the academy trust who have made that move from secondary level.

“We also have had lots of enquiries from secondary colleagues who were thinking about the same thing, hearing it was possible and wanting to discuss it.

“In the South East, there is a lack of people in primary leadership, so this course would be meeting a need.”

The new course, which is expected to have 10 places in September, is aimed at secondary-based middle leaders and senior leaders who want to move to primary level and will run over two terms.

That will include five full days in school, observing teachers, shadowing pupils and conducting learning walks. There will also be five early evening sessions on issues such as curriculum and assessment. Participants will be expected to plan and deliver a lesson.

A way of developing staff

Ms Donnachie thinks that academy chains will view this as a way of developing staff who might otherwise leave the profession.

“Multi-academy trusts may run a variety of primary and secondary schools and leaders may move between phases within trusts,” said Ms Donnachie. “Nobody wants to lose their best people. This is about talent spotting and talent management.”

A sharp rise in the number of all-through state schools – 144 are currently open – is also expected to fuel demand.

Wendy Baxter, principal of Ark Chamberlain primary academy in Birmingham, who made the switch from secondary to primary herself in 2013, supports the idea of more training to help leaders make the move.

“It’s a great idea,” she says. “So many people come to me and ask me about it, and what they need to know.

“Three years on I have really started to get it, but I wish that someone had condensed that knowledge. Because, without doubt, there is a real shortage of good primary heads and so many good secondary people could fill those shoes.”

Keeping people in teaching is becoming an increasingly urgent problem. Latest available official statistics show that 49,100 qualified teachers – more than one in 10 – left the state-funded sector in the 12 months to November 2014. A report, Why Teach?, published by the LKMCo education thinktank last year, revealed that middle leaders were “significantly more likely” than classroom teachers to describe opportunities for career progression as playing a very important role in their decision to stay in teaching.

And with the current crisis in primary leadership recruitment, moving between phases is becoming increasingly popular for experienced secondary teachers going into leadership.

Loic Menzies, director of LKMCo, said: “In some rural communities, where you only have a small number of schools, people will stay in their jobs for a long time. If you can free up space by giving people the ability to move horizontally, that is a good idea.”


Thinking of making a move?

Tips on what secondary teachers who want to go to primary need to consider, from Wendy Baxter, Dan Morrow and Claire Donnachie:

Curriculum Subject specialism is expected at secondary. But primary leaders need a broader understanding of the curriculum, as there will be no heads of department to rely on. You may also need to teach it.

Leadership There are some large primaries. But, in general, schools are smaller and have smaller teams than in secondaries, so you will need to be more of an all-rounder.

Parents At secondary level when students making their own way to and from school, there isn’t the daily interaction that you have at primary level. Many primary headteachers are outside every day to greet children and parents as they arrive and leave.

Behaviour In its own way this can be just as much of an issue at primary level as it is for secondaries. Young children do misbehave and also have less ability to articulate why they feel angry or frustrated.

Support Are there networks that you can tap into? Are there peers who can mentor you and help point you to research and good practice?

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