Making the transition from secondary to primary teaching

I got asked a very good question by @toffler73 about what’s the best things you can do to prepare for a transition from secondary to primary education.

On looking around I found plenty of advice on technically how to make the change, but precious little on the kind of skills development you needed to do to have a real chance of succeeding.

A broad curriculum with a specific group

Your biggest challenge will be from moving from an environment where you teach a single topic to lots of children to one where you teach many subjects to just a single group.

The first and most obvious thing is that you’ll need to be clearly comfortable and knowledgable teaching every aspect of the curriculum.

Schools will also be looking at how you can link topics together into exciting units of work. That cross curricular dimension that often gets scant attention at secondary becomes a crucial part of primary teaching.

Because you’ll mainly be dealing with a specific group your pastoral skills will need to be clear and strong. If you’re a form tutor at secondary this will help, but being the single teacher who the children spend the majority of their time with brings much greater responsibility for ensuring their welfare.

You’re likely to have a much more direct relationship with their parents as well – schools will want to see that you can handle this, and really use the teacher-pupil-parent relationship to help improve a pupil’s achievement.

Curriculum knowledge

It goes without saying, but in order to stand a chance at interview you’ll need to know the primary curriculum inside and out and like the back of your hand.

This can be about more though than just reading big wads of information and being competent. You’ll need to have some great new ideas too if you’re going to impress at interview.

You can get some great ideas from chatting to primary teachers on Twitter or attending teachmeets, even by taking a look at some of the most popular resources on the TES.

You can use your secondary training to your advantage too. Many primaries need subject specialists too in particular areas (such as MFL) and if you can help them meet that need it will give your application a massive leg up.

Communication and behaviour management

The principles of good behaviour management are pretty much the same whoever you’re teaching, but in practice there will be significant differences to how you control a secondary and primary class.

You will need to be able to show that you understand this, and also how you would keep your class on task.

At primary level you can afford to be much more expressive in your voice, without seeming patronizing. The flip side of this is that you need to show real focused energy to keep your classroom engaged.

Again your lesson content is crucial to ensuring pupils stay engaged – what kind of lessons would you plan to make sure they really grabbed your pupils’ imagination?

Working together

Good team working skills are essential for every role, but in many primary classes you’ll be working with a teaching assistant or even team teaching. It’s one thing to work with someone on a professional level in the staffroom, it’s quite another to do that in the classroom.

You’re likely to have strong team working skills anyway – make sure your potential new employer is aware of them and that you have experience of working in similar scenarios.


As with any role, one of the first things your employer will look to is what experience you have in a role.

This can be one of the hardest things to get if you’re working full time in a secondary school.

If you’re able to reduce your days at school you can take a day a week doing supply in a primary setting. This may be tough at first but it will show you’ve got both an experience of what primary teaching is like and the grit and determination to succeed.

If that’s not an option try and get as much time teaching key stage 3 as you can, and work with (or become!) your current school’s transition co-ordinator. You might be able to run taster sessions on your subject to feeder primaries, or arrange visits from primary students to the secondary school.

The other option – if you’re lucky enough still to be near one – is to seek out work at a middle school first. These are fast disappearing but they do provide an excellent ground for you to make a more gradual shift towards primary teaching.

@teachingtim suggests an excellent idea which is to sign up to a return to teach course and get a supported experience of teaching in a primary. This will enable you to get the experience while not flying blind without a safety net.


It goes without saying that the key thing you absolutely must display is a real passion for teaching younger children. This is something you can’t learn, and it will come through in everything that you do.

If you’re really serious about converting this one should be the easiest of the lot!

If you are interesting in making the transition to primary then why not get up to speed in the areas that challenge you most by booking onto one of our primary courses.