On Saturday 10th March I attended a WomeEd organised event on the topic of ‘Women in Timetabling’ at Aureus School in Didcot. The event was really well organised and in true WomenEd style was inclusive to all who attended: baby Jack enjoyed a great day in the free creche that was provided courtesy of TES, Eduval, and staff from Aureus School.
I attended because until seeing the event advertised on Twitter, I hadn’t (rather naively, but I don’t think unusually) even considered timetabling as something that can have significant impacts on a range of aspects in our profession: workload; pupil behaviour and welfare; teacher wellbeing; costs.
In the lead up to having my son and in the months following I’ve done a lot of thinking about how and in what capacities I want to and might be able to return to work. Questions I’ve been considered are:
- Do I want to go back full time? What will this mean for me in practice? How will I balance work/life?
- Do I want to go back part time? In what capacity? How will I ensure I don’t end up working ‘full time’ for a part time salary? How does work/life balance work in these instances?
- Do I want to ask for flexible working hours? What might this look like in practice? Would it mean not being a form tutor (a role I really enjoyed before going on maternity).
- Do I come up with my own suggestions for how I can make an impact in the classroom?
- And how do these different ways of working impact on decisions I take to go for promotions or take on additional responsibilities? I don’t want to sacrifice all the “shiny” aspects of my job for the sake of ‘working smarter’.
I therefore wanted to become better informed about the impact of timetabling on my job and how I might be more solutions-focused in conversations about timetabling – for myself and other colleagues. I didn’t leave the day feeling like I could be the school timetabler, but I did leave feeling like I had some useful questions I could pose to those that do.
One of the questions posed by the leader of the session was ‘Who really runs your school?’ This flow chart caused a ripple of laughter around the room, closely followed by sighs, nods of the head, and murmurs of agreement. In conversation with others it became apparent that too often the timetable somehow magically gets done to teachers. It appears in our pigeon trays one day and there is, generally, little room for manoeuvre. Some of the solutions the collective came up with to support effective timetabling are listed below:
- Don’t block timetable all year groups to have the same subject at the same time (particularly in KS3). This means that 1 teacher can teach more than one year 8 class for example, helping to reduce workload across the departmental team.
- Considering movement (of pupils and teachers) around the school could save on valuable time being lost, corridors becoming bottle-necked, between-lesson bullying, and ensuring that pupils/teachers turn up to lessons on time.
- Scheduling PE at times in the day that mean pupils can get changed without being late for lessons.
- Being sensitive to the number of times a teacher has a particular year group/ lesson last period of the day.
In the afternoon we got to have a go at a timetabling task ourselves. At intervals we were given additional requests that needed to be accommodated: Maths wanted to be block timetabled; one teacher only works Tuesdays; another is 0.8FTE; another does lunch duties so can’t teach P3; lab space is minimal so Science can’t be timetabled together; English want to teach in pairs; one teacher visits a Primary school Monday afternoons etc. It was a challenge, but it wasn’t impossible. On a larger scale, I’m sure it provides plenty of headache moments. Completing this exercise made me realise what a mammoth task timetabling is but that it is also do-able to accommodate the needs of staff when timetabling (and putting the staff needs first in these instances in no way compromises on the quality of education that pupils are receiving).
My top takeaways from the day:
- ‘No’ or ‘that request will have negative timetable implications’ is not an answer. This answer needs to be opened up into a conversation in which the needs and requirements of all parties (school, teacher, faculty) are heard and worked through.
- Be 10% braver when asking for timetable changes to be made. If you approach these conversations in a solutions focused way then you are more likely to have productive conversations and outcomes about how your needs can be best met.
- Timetabling is not a single person’s job. It shouldn’t be something conducted and completed in isolation away from the people who it impacts most. Collaboration is key.
- Timetablers should not control the school. ‘It’s always been that way’ is not a mantra.
- Asking to shadow the timetabler in your school can provide you with great CPD and help to ensure that more than one person is skilled in this area of school management.