A visit to schools in Sweden in 2012 left me thinking there must be a better way for English schools to structure their day.
Since the Victorian era secondary school timetables have been constructed from a limited number of standardised blocks of time (50 minutes is popular) serving fixed groupings of students. Timetables are imposed upon the teachers who generally have little say in their construction. They are usually fixed for a whole year, do not respond to the students’ needs and restrict collaboration between departments.
It is no wonder this is the norm, scheduling with so many constraints and requirements is a complicated problem (look at this wikipedia link if you don’t believe me). But unlike the Victorian era, or even the 80’s when I was at school, we now have access to cheap powerful microprocessors and talented programmers who devour this kind of problem for breakfast.
For the past six months I have been quietly exploring the possibility of radically changing the way that timetables are created. This would entail giving the teachers the power to decide how long their lessons were, which students should be attending and which other teachers they might want to work with. I can see ways for giving students choice and involving them in the creation of their own personalised schedules.
Many people I’ve talked to have suggested that the hardest part of this project will be to specify an optimisation algorithm. Actually, there are already algorithms available that do the job. We are all so indoctrinated into the current expectations for timetabling that I suspect the bigger challenge will be to encourage teachers, middle and senior leaders to think big about how radical changes to the school day might improve learning.
Over the next few months I will be posting links to discussions and ideas. Please get in touch with your problems (about timetabling not verrucas), suggestions and demands. The worst thing an engineer (that’s me) can do is to come up with a great concept and turn it into a product that no one wants. Feed my imagination.