The Student Room Logo

Why can I not decide between primary and secondary PGCE?

I am considering applying for teaching training courses for 2024 but i cannot decide which one I want to do more, either primary or secondary.

I was accepted onto a PGCE course for 2023 to train as a secondary history teacher, but I ended up withdrawing my place because I wasn't sure if it was what I really wanted. I applied for secondary PGCE on the basis that I wanted to teach my favourite subject that I had studied to MA level, and I also thought that being qualified to teach secondary would give me a broader choice of career options e.g. being qualified to work in further education as well as secondary. However, I did a year of supply work at various secondary schools prior to applying for the course and for the most part I didn't enjoy it.

The few positive examples I had of working with secondary aged students were few and far between. I think when it comes to secondary education, I realised that I actually liked the image of me being a history teacher more than the experience of working with teenagers and young adults, if that makes sense. However, I still cannot shake this feeling that maybe my judgement was clouded due to the fact that I had no training and/or prior experience of working with this age group and if I were to be shown proper methods from professional teachers, I could grow into the position because the prospect of teaching history is still very appealing to me. Also, during my time working supply, I got a lot of placements in some tough secondary schools where I had next to no help from other staff members and was left on my own to deal with a lot of challenging and hostile behaviour issues, which also had a hand in negatively colouring my view of the job.

Since I withdrew from the course, I have been working as a TA in primary schools and so far the experience has been better. I was a TEFL teacher in China for three years before coming back to the UK in September 2022, and during that time I worked mostly with kindergarten aged children. I loved it despite the challenges of working with very young children with no prior experience, and I also enjoyed the creativity of doing different subjects and activities as opposed to just the one. For example, in China I was asked by one school that I worked at to organise an international day for the students where we did work and activities themed around the UK. I decided to put on a small drama of Robin Hood where I had to write the script, organise props and rehearse while also act in it with other teachers on top of other activities. I will admit that it was a logistically exhausting challenge having to do all of this preparation while simultaneously doing my regular work routine. But in the end the kids loved the international day activities and performance, and I remember feeling a huge adrenaline rush from the experience, like the "I would do this even if I wasn't being paid" kind of feeling.

I also feel like I get a huge sense of fulfillment in the process of helping young children learn important life skills such as reading, writing as well as learning about them as individuals and seeing their potential and talents grow in other areas like arts & crafts or science etc. However, i will stipulate that of the primary schools I've worked in, most of them have been in local communities (with the exception of China) that are more well off than a lot of the areas I was working in secondary schools, so I recognise that I may have a rose tinted view of the job from that experience. Also, I am a concerned that the workload of being a primary teacher will be a lot more than secondary because you're planning for multiple different subjects as opposed to one, and there are a few subjects that I am not particularly interested in or am not good at ability wise e.g. Maths, foreign languages. Furthermore, I am concerned that being qualified as a primary teacher will limit my options to teaching primary only, and I would like to keep the door open of maybe trying a different age group in the future if I fancy a change. Finally, and this might just be my personal insecurity talking, but as someone who has a MA in history, I do feel like I might be stepping down a bit by working in primary because obviously I won't be able to have in-depth talks with students about historical topics that I and they are interested in at primary level and that is one of the reasons why I would like to work with a higher age group. But I think this might be coming to an end for me because I'm not sure if trading my own personal happiness and fulfillment for trying to live in some unrealistic fantasy land where I am playing a version of being Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society, is a good trade-off to make in the end. Some of you might wonder why I put that last point in at all if I don't feel it's relevant, but in the interest of putting all my cards on the table, I thought it would be better to leave it there.

Anyway, if you could give me any help or advice, I would be very much appreciate it.

Thank you.
Reply 1
There is only one way to find out. Get some experience.

With all due respect your aims and wishes to go into teaching are very self-centred. You use phrases like "I actually liked the image of me being a history teacher" and "I get a huge sense of fulfilment in the process of helping young children learn important life skills such as reading, writing as well as learning about them as individuals" and so on. I used to be like that. "Oh - how wonderfully lucky the little darlings will be to have me as their teacher," I thought.

What you need to appreciate is that teaching has nothing absolutely to do with you. It is all about the learner and they will sap you of very last ounce of mental and emotional energy whether they are 5 or 15. A lot of people also think that primary is about lots of happy children screaming and shouting in delight whilst running into the classroom ready to learn and listen to your every word. The reality is far from that with many children these days presenting very challenging and upsetting behaviour traits.

So rather than pondering and speculating, get some experience. Do you know anyone locally who might get you an in on some of your local schools? Do you know anyone with children who might be able to introduce you to a local school? That would be the best way as you will see education warts and all. For a slightly more polished view, go here:

But get some experience and leave your ego at the door!

Good luck!:smile:

Quick Reply