The Timetable

by André Double – Author, Founder of LYIS

Few areas of everyday international school leadership and management are as fiercely contested as the school timetable. Timetables come in all shapes and sizes, often loaded with caveats and additional responsibilities woven into them. The savvy international school teacher who has followed a well-trodden path may have even negotiated themselves out of a Homeroom or Form Tutor position. At least, my prior experiences have taught me. Earlier this week, Chris Seal, Head of Senior at the Tanglin Trust School, Singapore provided Leading Your International School with a remarkable quote about the timetable, which is worth repeating:“The timetable is inherently linked to your school culture. It defines you and what you are offering. There can be inbuilt inefficiencies into the timetable, so key decisions around the number of classes you offer, are vital”. 

Your Timetable as Your School CultureWhen we talk about culture, we often think about great narratives, stories, myths, artefacts and the behavioural norms of your people. Few of us would make that association directy to our school timetable. Yet, as Chris points out, your school timetble is exactly that – a glaringly obvious statement of your culture – in the hands of hundreds of your students and seen by hundreds more parents. Its thought processes, design, clarity and ease of implementation are cornerstones of your culture. I’ve known schools attempt to completely re-write their entire timetable structures over the holidays and staff come back with complete chaos ensuing for the first few weeks of term – leaving a serious hole in a principals ability to draw everyone around a shared purpose and direction. 

What Great Timetables Do

Reflect Your Identity

Great timetables reflect the Mission, core values and needs of your school. If you are serious about the importance of language and its development, like Barry Cooper and the Global College, Madrid, then they reflect it. If you are serious about health and wellbeing and time outdoors away from structured learning, then the approach to PE will reflect it. If you have certain academic targets to meet and have outwardly communicated these to parents, the timetable will reflect it. 

Are Made Up of Compromises

“Everyone wants more teaching time – especially those who are delivering examination subjects” notes a head of timetabling I interviewed. It’s important for teachers to understand the big picture – i.e. how many hours their subject will receive over the long-term, not just during a week. “Thinking abstractly is important for teachers when it comes to the timetable”, he notes. The timetable I learn, should also include contingencies that can replace lost learning through school closure or external trips and events. 

The Malaysian Public Holiday

If you are working in Malaysia this year, you’ll have more public holidays than virtually anywhere on earth! With many of them falling on a Monday, you will need to seriously consider how this affects the delivery of academic subjects that are due to take place on Monday’s. Sample strategies include shifting the return week, to subtract a different day of the week each during each and every public holiday. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that sacrificing a weeks worth of Monday’s during the school year will leave a serious dent in the aspirations of your school to be successful. 

Are Equitable

How do you achieve justice when writing a timetable? You consult, listen and build your ideas around the school’s needs, with a sympathetic eye on staff. Much of the preparatory work with the timetable should have been carried out in the summer, gathering feedback on its effectiveness, requests and suggestions for ways in which it can be improved. Individual requests for change are challenging at the best of times and can often be met unfavourably with others. If you do make changes, communicate them effectively and always do so with the best interests of the students who will be impacted by them. 

Inform – Not Sell

A timetable is not there to be sold. You are not trying to achieve a ‘buy-in’. Once the decision is taken on the final version (and I’ve heard of up to 20 versions) before it gets signed off, then the expectation is that teachers implement it. DO NOT make promises to teachers around your timetable during interviews, one on ones or in whole-school staff meetings. 

One Week or Two-Week Timetable?

I am not a fan of the ‘two-week timetable’, but admittedly there are schools and circumstances in which it may work better for you – particularly secondary schools that have a greater academic demand and higher number of courses that need to be delivered. If you are relying on hybrid models of learning or the availability and cost of weekly staff is prohibitive, then again, this may be a better option. When choosing between one or two-week designs, think abstractly and bring experienced heads together. And…make sure you consult local staff. 

Let Your Leadership Team Do The Heavy Lifting

A great deal of leadership is service. It is protecting our teachers from bureaucracy and ensuring they have effective tools and resources to be successful. Use your middle and senior leaders to teach challenges classes, to cover blindspots on the timetable and to provide cover and support to those during times of need. Occasionally covering a class for your teachers during a specific time of the year is one of the best ways to build your culture and for you to have a first-hand account of where your students are at in their learning journey. Stepping back into the classroom is NEVER a wrong option. 

Questions Your Timetable Might Need to Answer

  • Does your timetable allow for at least one empty classroom on each floor to accomodate classes that may need to be isolated? 
  • Does your timetable meet, exceed or seriously undermine the recommended number of hours for its programme of study? 
  • What contingencies are in place at certain times of the year when rooms are needed for examinations? 
  • What are your school’s plans for outdoor learning and are teachers encouraged to do so?
  • How will you deal with teachers who believe they have been mistreated? What compromises are you prepared (or not prepared to make)? 
  • What timetabling software are you going to use and how do you know it is most suitable to your context? 
  • How many people are likely to be trained in designing the timetable and making edits? What will happen when this person is not around? 

What are your strategies for ensuring a smooth and successful timetable? Do comment below.

LYIS is very pround to partner with TIC Recruitment 

One thought on “The Timetable

  1. Making a great timetable is never easy! I can still remember, how long it took and how stressful my founding principal was by that time! Especially when you were facing staff absence (COVID time, many teachers unpredictably got locked down in China overnight). I like how André illustrated ‘Questions Your Timetable Need to Answer’, which inspires the timetable makers to think deeply and take action wisely, and effectively. Do get a lot out of your article, thank you, André. Great work!

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