Making the switch: how I went from secondary to primary and how you can too

Sometimes people ask me what’s the one big thing I’ve noticed switching from being a secondary teacher to a primary teacher and, honestly, it is the amount of DMs I get from secondary teachers asking how to make the switch. I thought I would put together a blog post on the one year anniversary of me becoming a primary teacher to talk about how I made the switch, and with some advice for those looking to do the same. I hope to add to this with another post with some more detailed reflections on a year in my new role.

How I made the leap

I wish I could lay out a really clear path to moving between the secondary and primary sectors but there isn’t one out there that I know of. Most people who have been successful seem to do it through a mixture of chance, lucky and serendipity and all those things combined facilitated my move to primary teaching.

Back in October last year I handed in my notice at the school where I’d started as an newly-qualified secondary RE teacher. It was the lowest point in my teaching career and I had begun to feel as though teaching wasn’t the job for me. I didn’t have a clear plan for the future but I decided to throw myself upon the mercy of Twitter to find something interesting to do between January and July then see how I felt about applying for a new secondary role for September.

Amongst a few different offers was one from my now headteacher who reached out to ask if I’d be interested in helping them reshape their RE curriculum and doing some cover teaching in a primary school. Initially I said no, I hadn’t ever thought of myself working in primary before and I just couldn’t see myself teaching maths to six year-olds. Fortunately for me they wouldn’t take that ‘no’ for an answer and messaged me again later that week asking to chat on the phone. By the end of that call I’d agreed to go in for a tour and an interview to discuss how I might fit into things there.

Finding the right school

I knew the second I stepped into the school that the culture and the feel of the place was very different to the secondary school I’d come from and from other primary schools I’d worked in. The more I saw, the more I was intrigued and excited, I could feel a new door in my career opening, I could see a glimpse into a completely different future from the one I saw for myself from that point.

I decided to take the job as a part-time, temporary teacher with a remit to work on the RE curriculum and provide cover across KS1 and 2 when needed. At that point I was still adamant I would return to secondary and had lined-up interviews in February at different schools which I thought would suit me. It wasn’t until Covid hit in March that I allowed myself to seriously consider the radical career change that I’d take to become a full-time primary class teacher

As we switched to a Virtual School practically overnight I saw what a remarkable place that school was, filled with resolute and creative professionals and I knew this was a place I wanted to stay. Fortunately a class teacher position was just being advertised and I submitted my application just before the last days of normal schooling. The rest, as they say, is history.

Thinking of making the leap yourself?

As you can see my move from secondary to primary is not something that others could easily replicate. I was incredibly lucky that I had made the right connections on Twitter and that I was able to dip my toes into primary as a cover teacher before making that leap into a full-time role as a Year 6 class teacher.

There is no formal way to transition from secondary to primary which is both a blessing and a curse. It is good news because it means that your QTS is transferable to primary teaching and that you should not have to take any time out of your career in order to do more training or unpaid work. On the other hand it means that the process is ad hoc and relies on luck and good connections as much as anything else.

There is, of course, nothing to stop secondary teachers applying for primary class teacher jobs but I am not aware of the success rate that results in. It would seem odd to most headteachers to receive an application for KS1 or KS2 teacher from someone who has only ever taught KS3, 4 and 5, at least I assume that is the case.

Utilising your subject expertise

Consider carefully what expertise you can bring to the primary curriculum and try to find opportunities within your current job to develop that. If you can work with primary schools in your existing trust then do, if you can start to read and write about primary curriculum on a blog then do, if you have spare capacity to plan and resource some primary schemes of work then do. One of the biggest selling points that secondary teachers have is their subject knowledge and expertise.

A better approach to making the transition would be to research some schools or trusts that you feel match your values or that have impressed you and then reach out to heads or other senior leaders to talk to them informally about primary teaching. The more connections you make, the more you’ll get a clearer idea of primary teaching but also the more possible job opportunities you have come your way.

Know why you want to make the transition

Think carefully about why you want to teach younger children. I can categorically tell you it is not easier than secondary teaching. I work more hours now than I did as a secondary teacher and teaching a whole range of subjects is more taxing intellectually than teaching the same RE lesson to three Year 8 classes. I can honestly say I haven’t once regretted my change of career but that doesn’t mean it has all been smooth sailing or somehow more ‘fun’ or ‘easier’ than secondary teaching.

I have another post in the works which will look at my reflections after a year of primary teaching but it is sufficient to say that primary teaching is a distinctly different job to secondary teaching. The structure of your day, your week and your year will change. The way you form relationships with students and staff will change. The way you see the curriculum and the way you teach it will change. It is not a simple transition and it is not one to be taken lightly but, for the right people, it is absolutely the right choice.

I am always interested in talking candidly to people who are seriously thinking of moving to primary teaching. I’m afraid I can’t offer your a magic bullet, it’s not an easy or straightforward task but I am happy to talk things over. Just send me a DM on Twitter.

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