Imposing timetables

Imagine a world where teachers and Heads of Department get to be directly involved in the construction of the school timetable. Would that be a good thing?

For the majority of schools in the UK the timetable is created by one or two people or often outsourced. The timetable is then imposed upon the teachers who must fit their lessons into the pre-defined blocks. The word imposed is strongly negative but I use it quite deliberately because it is accurate, suppliers of timetabling software such as Timetabler even use the word in their sales presentations. I don’t say this to berate software companies. They provide a superb service and enable secondary schools to create complex timetables without the need for coloured counters and oversized sheets of paper. Nevertheless, the end result is that teachers are obliged to work with what they are given often with very little input of their own.

Not all schools operate like this. At Kunskappskolan schools in Sweden each department decides what they would like to offer their students the following week based on the students levels and interests. High Tech Hi schools in San Diego, USA use project based learning with thematic teaching and have much simpler timetables made up of longer blocks.

Not all schools want to follow these less common approaches but the creation of all but the simplest timetables requires a complex optimisation of constraints and requirements. Up until now the easiest option has been to task one person with providing a solution and imposing it upon all the rest. Access to cheap powerful microprocessors means it no longer has to be this way.

How would it benefit you, the teacher?

Think big. Imagine the following scenario: You have a group of 30 kids. You are allocated 8 hours to be used over 4 weeks. It is entirely up to you how you use that time.

Would this approach be useful?

Would it improve learning?

Would it enable you to plan more creatively or be a burden?