The Timetable

Well, it’s here! The long awaited timetable. You’ve probably been waiting for it since you optimistically sent your requirements in just before the February half term and now it’s in your hands.  And of course it’s going to be a disappointment because there is no way that your deputy head (or whoever is in charge of making everyone’s dreams come true) has been able to give every year group a single on Monday, a double on Wednesday and another single on Friday. Nor has she been able to make it that your two subject specialists teach all three of your GCSE classes fairly without having a split class.

What do you do?

If you plan to march into the deputy’s office and demand a recount, then be prepared for a long wait. Either her office is full of people demanding the same, or if she has any sense she will have planned to be out at a conference that day, returning when all the fuss has died down.

Self-reliance is key to making this work. You need to own your timetable for next year.

In chronological order – some ideas to help you out.

1)      Give yourself time. Your team will all be waiting for the news. No doubt you mentioned you were picking up the timetable today and they all want to know if they get Friday p6 free (because somebody in the school must do). No one wants to hear their leader say ‘It looks awful, we haven’t got anything we asked for’. Instead smile and say something like ‘It doesn’t look too bad, I need to work through it myself first and I’ll catch up with each of you tomorrow’ (or whenever is appropriate). Make sure you do catch up with them when you said you would.

2)      Make a plan – before you meet with your team think through the ideas below. You might not be able to answer them all immediately, but having some ideas might help give your discussions direction.

a.       Better not Bitter. Management will have made some decisions that will change your long term plan. Maybe you won’t be able to stream your lessons, or maybe you can stream but now need non-specialists. Whatever the change you need to identify it and figure out a way that it will be ok. This is often a case of ‘Better not Bitter’. In order to adapt to the situation you may need to get creative. Identify your non-negotiable and work out how to keep it. My non-negotiable was having specialists teaching from Y9 upwards across my faculty. One year this led to a rotation of timetables so teaching timetables changed every six weeks. This was a headache for management and lovely Sue in charge of SIMS (Sorry Sue). However it meant the following year the GCSE classes started well informed and at no point could the HoDs say the problem was lack of access to specialist teachers.

b.       Does your timetable block you with other subjects? Take the lead in defining this relationship (but be certain management has broken the news first). Make sure the other parties know and understand your needs and vice versa. Who will be in charge of setting? Can you arrange swaps across the year? E.g. if English and Maths are timetabled at the same time then swapping lessons once every half term allows for a full year group mock exam without causing disruption to any other subjects. Do not find your GCSE groups reorganised mid-year because you did not communicate with the Head of PE that set changes affect you as well.

c.       Singles? Doubles? Triples? Each one has its advantages. You can pretend a double is two singles if you want. You can take groups on local trips or invite speakers in. Check with management to see what additional support is available. Triple Y8 on a Friday afternoon? Count up your SEND needs and see what the SENCO can do for you.

d.       Unfilled specialist roles – Does management have a plan? Ideally someone knows of a specialist who should be free. Otherwise there might be a good non-specialist who the pupils will get on well with and who knows how to deliver a lesson. Finally you might get an agency teacher who could be anybody but hopefully needs a good reference and so is willing to work hard. Careful planning can help you deal with any of these.

Questions/Issues you should expect to arise from meeting with your team.

1)      How much am I working? Is anybody over on their allowance? Maybe your Deputy Head has optimistically suggested that someone worked one lesson extra a week in order to avoid having split GCSE classes. In this case here are some ideas to help support them. Have you negotiated for them to not be used for cover? Or a toil day in the office each half term? Or cover during exams week to help with marking? These may be unconventional techniques but some teachers might appreciate the offers.  Know your audience though, some might march you down to their union rep for a firm telling off (in which case beat a hasty retreat and mention that it came from above).

2)      When are my frees? If they are all on Monday then prepare for a grumpy teacher on Wednesday afternoon. Unless there are straight swaps that can be done between Y7 and Y8 class teachers there’s probably not much that can be done about this one. Can you identify the problem? Maybe management simply hasn’t noticed and lessons can be easily swapped around. If you think there’s a chance then offer to talk to the Deputy. This is best done with a warning email and then a visit in person to her office. Look at the timetable with her, if NovaT6 (or whatever package) is open at that moment you might just get some success.

3)      What subjects am I teaching? Some teachers love a bit of variety and for some fear of the unknown is too much. Catch up with the subject leader in question and find out the requirements and provision. One class shared with an experienced specialist where departmental resources are prepared and shared around is a different experience to leading a GCSE class from scratch. Be sure you know the commitment required before you speak to the teacher. Most departments will want to make like easy for them.

Forward planning: It’s almost definitely too late for any major revisions now but there are lessons to learn for next time. Communication with your Deputy Head about any missed opportunities is key. Messages can easily get lost through management structures but if she has heard you and spoken to you about it face to face it is more likely to be included next time. Pick one important issue and stick to it; it might be double lessons, or streaming or split lessons but it is more likely to work in your favour next year if you address it this year.

Frances Thapen