Diary of a headteacher: The challenges of timetabling

Written by: Diary of a headteacher | Published:
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Creating the perfect timetable is a challenge as we must balance the competing needs of students, teachers and subjects…

We are approaching the end of the academic year and during these last few weeks I don’t tend to see my deputy head much; he is locked away completing the timetable, putting the finishing touches to our framework for teaching and learning.

Timetabling is an incredibly important job; it is one of those integral pieces of work that ensures the school operates successfully on a daily basis.

There is no getting away from the fact that a school cannot run without an organised framework that denotes where students and teachers need to be for every hour of the school day, for 190 days a year.

There is a certain skill-set that is required to complete a school timetable. You need to be a logical thinker and enjoy problem-solving, while at the same time having the ability to be creative, flexible and think outside the box – necessities to overcoming the complicated nature of compiling a whole-school timetable.

I’ve never been great at it and only once have I had full responsibility for completing it – even then I needed support from a member of the maths team who helped me finish off the jigsaw!

Luckily I have a deputy head who is adept at slotting things into place and as a result we have a very flexible approach to timetabling that has enabled us to deploy our staff in the most effective areas.

One of the major principles that has driven our timetable in the past few years has been our priority of avoiding splitting groups, particularly in years 10 and 11.

I wanted our maths and English teachers to have sole responsibility for their classes in key stage 4 so that accountability for student progress was clear and obvious and, more importantly, so that students received a consistent teacher across these two years.

It has been a key part of driving consistency with standards and it has resulted in a better experience for our students, while also improving workload issues for our staff.

In the sixth form we often intentionally split groups because it plays to our strengths with staff expertise and aspects of the course. However, for our GCSE qualifications in the core curriculum, we have allowed this principle to be a major driver in writing the timetable. Interestingly, in previous years it was part-time staff, who had requested specific days off, that were the most influential factors in timetabling.

This time of year also means a huge amount of work for my senior leadership team. They are tying up loose ends for this academic year and evaluating the impact of their work against the aims of our strategic plan, while at the same time formulating our strategies for next year.

They are also the last members of staff that get slotted into the timetable, which is frustrating for all of us. I try and balance the premise of them being expensive teachers, alongside the importance of them leading by example in the classroom and having a teaching load that doesn’t compromise their integrity as practitioners, or their capacity to complete their senior leadership duties.

It is a hard balance to strike and we all have to accept that the higher you move up the leadership ladder, the more you will be separated from your subject.

Where there are gaps in the timetable it is often members of the senior leadership team that have to fill them and upskill themselves in a subject area they are unfamiliar with. It is a real challenge, even for me as a headteacher, to let go of the subject that brought you into teaching, but in the context of school budget cuts and the requirement to operate a lean staffing and curriculum model, it is one we all have to rise to.

  • SecEd’s headteacher diarist is in his third year of headship at a comprehensive school in the Midlands.


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