A teacher teaching a student to solve something on a white board.
A teacher teaching a student to solve something on a white board.

Primary teaching vs secondary teaching: Which career is right for me?


If you love working with children and young people and have the right skill set, teaching can be an engaging, satisfying and in-demand career path.

Research shows that over 80 per cent of the Australian community views teaching as a valued, trusted and ethical occupation, and Australia’s current teacher shortages mean there are plenty of employment opportunities.

Before you pursue an education career, you’ll need to make decisions about where you’d like to study. School teaching offers different streams and one major decision that Australian professionals must make is whether they’ll pursue primary or secondary school teaching. How do you make the right choice?

Here, we will examine the factors that can help you determine which type of teaching will best suit you so you can make the best decision for your future studies and career.

Primary vs secondary teaching: What are the differences?

Can you imagine yourself leading young people in a lively classroom discussion about a current issue or guiding an eager group of five-year-olds through a game or song that teaches literacy and numeracy skills?

It's important to fully consider the differences between these two teaching experiences when choosing your pathway.

Here are the key differences between primary and secondary teaching.

Student age

One obvious difference between primary and secondary teaching is the age of the students you’ll engage with. In Australia, primary schools offer programs from Foundation (or Prep) to Year 6 for students aged between five to 12 years.

Secondary school extends from Years 7 to 12 for ages 13 to 18 years.

For primary-aged students, relevant age-related developmental factors include:

  • the need for support and guidance
  • natural curiosity and asking many questions
  • the need for support in developing life skills, including independence, making friends and negotiating challenges
  • respond positively to imaginative and creative teaching strategies

For secondary school-aged students, age-related factors can include:

  • independent learning 
  • engagement via advanced learning strategies
  • students needing support in identifying and developing their interests and strengths
  • managing peer pressure, bullying and stress 
  • setting clear limits and discipline

Role of teacher

In primary schools, teachers play an important foundational role in helping students adapt to classroom environments. This role includes encouraging social and emotional growth and helping build skills such as reasoning, creativity and problem-solving.

This role is vital in preparing children for the rest of their school years, including establishing a love of learning and the capability to flourish in educational environments.

Secondary teachers play a mentoring role. In addition to leading students in their academic journey, they guide adolescents in their emotional and social development. Secondary teachers prepare students for more independent modes of tertiary study, as well as becoming active citizens and entering the workforce.

Work environment

According to a report by the Grattan Institute, teachers generally teach classes for about 20 to 22 hours a week. Primary teachers are typically expected to teach a couple of hours more than secondary teachers.

However, the structure of these teaching hours is different across primary and secondary education. In primary schools, teachers are generally allocated to a specific class and year level and spend most of their workday with their class. In secondary schools, teachers usually work on their subject area across different classes.


In primary schools, teachers are required to teach all subjects across the current Australian curriculum.

This includes eight learning areas: 

  • English
  • Mathematics
  • Science
  • Humanities and social sciences
  • The arts
  • Technologies
  • Health and physical education
  • Languages

The curriculum incorporates a number of general skills and cross-curriculum priorities, which means that primary teachers will teach a wide range of content.

In secondary schools, teachers specialise in one or more learning areas in the curriculum. In the later secondary years, these are broken down into different subjects, and teachers can run classes in one or more of these subjects. For example, science in Years 7 to 10 is focused into Biology, Chemistry, Physics and Earth and Environmental Science in Years 11 and 12.

Should I be a primary or secondary teacher?

As a teacher, the differences between working with primary-aged and secondary-aged students can impact the enjoyment and satisfaction that you will gain from your work.

To determine the type of teaching best suits you, ask yourself the following questions:

How do you want to engage with your students?

Your personal qualities can influence the types of relationships you like to develop. For example, you may have a knack for communicating with young children, and you feel motivated by the idea of supporting and encouraging primary students to develop a love of learning. This could indicate that primary teaching would suit you.

Secondary teachers, on the other hand, need specific skills in interacting with young people and often enjoy tackling the intellectual challenges of this age group. The ability to set clear boundaries, maintain a calm and professional demeanour, and manage complex group dynamics are important assets for this type of teaching.

Do you want to teach a specific subject area?

You should consider what you want to teach. Primary teachers teach across a broad variety of subjects. They engage in learning materials such as reading, writing and numeracy, which are foundational for children.

On the other hand, secondary teachers tend to focus on one or two specialised subjects. These teachers may have roles that delve into more advanced content like complex literature, mathematics, science and history.

Do primary and secondary teachers earn the same?

Salary is an important factor to consider. While the pay for primary and secondary teachers is similar, primary teachers earn slightly more on average.

The average salary for a primary school teacher is $96,000 per year, with entry-level positions starting at approximately $83,000 per year and senior positions up to $118,000 per year.

The average salary for a secondary school teacher is $92,000 per year, with entry-level positions starting at approximately $85,000 per year and senior positions up to $108,000 per year.

Another important factor is job growth, which is higher for Australian primary teachers. There are 500 new positions available each year, compared to 100 new secondary school teaching jobs per year.

What education do I need?

To qualify and register as a primary or secondary school teacher in Australia, you will need either a Bachelor of Education or any bachelors degree together with a Master of Teaching. Different institutions offer a variety of teaching degree options, most of which require choosing between a primary or secondary teaching stream.

If you are ready to become a registered primary teacher and already have a bachelors degree, consider studying VU Online’s Master of Teaching (Primary Education).

Why study a Master of Teaching (Primary Education) with VU Online?

VU Online’s Master of Teaching (Primary Education) covers the full range of theoretical and practical subjects that you need to register and work as a primary school teacher Australia-wide. It includes units dedicated to the broad range of curriculum learning areas and 65 days of placement in classrooms to give you all-important hands-on experience.

This degree is accredited by the Victoria Institute of Teaching (VIT), which means graduates will be eligible for registration to teach across Australia.

The course is delivered fully online in VU’s award-winning Block Model, in which you study one unit at a time over six study periods per year. This focused approach allows you to fully immerse yourself in each subject, and provides postgraduate students with the flexibility to work around family, work and personal commitments.

One-on-one academic support is available seven days a week, including evenings, to ensure that you succeed and enjoy your learning journey.

Be the difference with an inspiring career in primary education

If you decide that primary teaching is the path for you, VU Online’s Master of Teaching (Primary Education) can help you start a meaningful and rewarding career in primary education.

Visit our website to learn more, or speak to a Student Enrolment Advisor today.