With schools implementing social distancing, timetables are even more important. Here in this article, originally published by TES, Wykham Park’s Jan Hetherington provides her best tips.

The school timetable has always been something of an unsung curriculum hero.

What manifests as a simple A4 print-out is the sum of many hours’ work and much head-scratching. An enthusiast would tell you it is the bedrock on which a school’s entire curriculum is built, and this wouldn’t be drastically overstating its importance.

Jan Hetherington is vice-principal and specialist leader of education for curriculum leadership at Wykham Park Academy, part of the Aspirations Academies Trust.

As well as developing the timetable for her school, she also coaches senior leaders across other trusts on how to create more effective timetables, so she understands the intricacies and importance of this piece of work.

“Timetabling gives the structure of your experience for your students,” says Hetherington. “It’s about quality of access and it’s massively important. Both the curriculum model and how you implement that through a timetable has a huge impact.”

Even under normal circumstances, the timetable has to take into account a multitude of factors to make it as effective for both staff and students as possible.

Coronavirus: A new school timetable to allow social distancing  

But with leaders having to adapt to social distancing, bubbles, phased returns and whatever else the guidelines might have thrown up this week, the timetable suddenly has new, additional layers of complexity, with both students and staff potentially confined to smaller groups.

Like many others, Hetherington has been busy restructuring her timetable to allow for the new legislation.

“Taking into account the guidelines from the government, which state that we can’t have more than 25 per cent of our students in at any one time, I’ve split the students into groups made up of one-fifth of the Year 10 and Year 12,” she says.

“So Year 10, for example, I’ve grouped them by an option subject. For example, on Monday, the three groups that are in are the three who’ve got modern foreign languages (MFL) as an option, so the eight or nine students in those groups will have English, maths and science and their MFL.”

With students still getting the bulk of their curriculum delivered via remote learning, the face-to-face time will be used for support rather than teaching, which reduces the pressure on teachers who may be faced with different groups to what they’re used to.

The structure of Hetherington’s approach also makes postponement straightforward.

“We’ve planned in such a way to give a regular pattern of staff and students in on any one day. Whether we start on 15 June or 1 July, it doesn’t matter because it’s the same pattern.”

Six tips for effective timetabling when your school reopens

Having been through the process and successfully prepped for return, Hetherington gives these tips to fellow leaders:

1. Keep things flexible  

With lockdown restrictions ever-evolving, it pays to make sure your timetable has the capacity to keep up.

“Things are going to be changing constantly, so it’s about not thinking what you’ve done is the finished product. It’s going to be constantly refined,” says Hetherington.

2. Figure out your groups

With schools operating at reduced capacity, groups are inevitable, but how you organise these groups needs careful consideration.

“While we’ve initially grouped all of our students by one of their options, what we’ll do moving forward is group students by two options,” says Hetherington.

“So, for example, at key stage 4, all of the students who do history and French will be in on one day. Then all the students who do geography and food will be in on another day. And then your grouping of your staff is really key to support whatever system you put in place.”

3. Identify your base rooms

The more students are moving around, the more you have to think about potential problems when it comes to sanitising surfaces and potential virus transmission.

“In relation to specialist rooms and movement to and from these spaces, ask yourself if you want a particular year group to be based in specialist rooms,” says Hetherington.

“You might want Year 11 based in science labs, even teaching their English and maths in there, but enabling them to stay in one place. Or you might want Year 7 in there because it’s a space that will engage them more quickly.”

4. Consider your curriculum

With so much to fit in but so little time in school, Hetherington suggests that you re-evaluate what you can realistically deliver.

“Reconsider curriculum provision for all year groups and be aware that the delivery of things like PE and drama in terms of social distancing is going to be very difficult,” she says.

“Also think about the amount of content within that curriculum provision when you might have reduced time.”

5. Allow for movement times

The arrival, departure and movement of students may be impacted by social distancing, so you need a timetable that allows for this.

“Consider your lunchtimes and breaktimes, if you’re going to have them,” says Hetherington. “Also think: what are your arrival times for your groups? Make sure you take into account any staggered release times.”

6. Keep communicating

In this ever-changing environment, keeping stakeholders in the loop is vital. And for teachers who have been through so much upheaval, sharing any updates effectively gives them one less thing to worry about.

“In normal circumstances, there would be some to and fro with curriculum leaders, and as schools reopen this will be the same, if not more important,” says Hetherington.

“Using colourful blocks [in timetables] is really important because if the maths staff are looking for their blue, they can see the spread of that across the week and see where their staff are,” she adds.

Jan Hetherington is vice-principal and SLE for curriculum leadership at Wykham Park Academy, part of The Aspirations Academies Trust