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Timetables: Past-time of the Devil or something that brings out our best?!

My mum worked for years in a secondary school in Warwickshire and she was the person in charge of putting together the timetable. She used to meet up with other timetablers from schools nearby, including a Deputy Head of the school I attended (I was quite a character at school, so I dread to think what conversations may have taken place about that Newton Girl!). They spent HOURS talking about how to do it, when to do it, who should do it, who could do it. The list of questions was seemingly endless. This is why when I read this article about timetabling in the TES, it brought back memories of my teenage years!

The author writes that timetabling doesn’t allow for personal feelings to affect outcomes, that there are so many variables that come into play compromises are always necessary and that, in fact what one would imagine as a solitary, isolating job is actually a collaborative team effort. This all rings true from when I was a teenager: my mum used to come home and complain that key players in the timetable jigsaw of her school had not replied to emails or had moved some goalposts that had rendered a significant wodge of her work void; or that someone had gone onto sick/maternity/soul-searching leave or part time, which meant shared classes. Teachers do not like shared classes. Mum had a notebook by her bed for when she woke up in the night with a revelation as to how to make that class fit or that teachers’ timetable work. She carried this notebook with her for much of the time during the summer term and would often stop mid-way through a thought to make a note of something. It was utterly befuddling to teenage me, but I did find it quite funny!

I have to disagree slightly with the article in that personal feelings are involved in timetables though. My mum said that class allocation was left to heads of department. This was the case in a school I worked in too. I saw some interesting workload decisions, grouping decisions and allocations in my time as a junior member of staff that meant some people appeared to have a more pleasant experience of their teaching week, while others did not. I’m sure this is not the case in all schools, but there are, I’m sure places still where timetabling can bring out the worst in leaders and others where the best decisions are made with the kids in mind and staff well-being as a key factor in thought processes.

All that aside, it was nice to read something that made me think of my mum. My mum is a legend. She made me appreciate how important support staff are in schools and how good communication is THE key factor in any healthy organisation. Where that fails, other things can start to topple.