I recently posted a blog entitled ‘Timetable recovery – COVID response’ with a linked video that we recorded during the summer of 2020. In recent conversations with many schools it seems that people are taking seriously the changes in circumstances that have opened their eyes to alternative methodologies in putting their schools together.
In December 2020 I added a footnote to the blog suggesting that there were two things that we are discovering leaders are beginning to explore. Firstly, the whole subject of population design (in a lot of people’s language this refers to setting and grouping learners) and secondly, cycle design (i.e. the number of days within a timetable cycle)
Many of the conversations we are currently having with schools across the country centre on this significant issue. Pre-pandemic, much conversation would have pointed at the Education Endowment Foundation Teaching and Learning Toolkit which collates international evidence around grouping strategies which we refer to as population design. We will attach three useful links in the section at the footer. Aside from the work that we do in school efficiency, which opens the whole conversation about class size, there is a significance in the advice from the research which questions: “Have you considered changing the way you deploy staff (both teachers and teaching assistants) so the teachers can work more intensively with smaller groups?” Structure releasing resources for delivery.
Within the challenging environment that we now find ourselves in the narrative around “catch- up”, “gap filling” and “recovery” all centre around creating the most efficient systems that we can, to release the resources that we have available to us to their best effect. The practices that schools are currently using to create their bubbles have led many to question the reasons behind practices that have been long embedded in our thinking. Certainly what we are seeing is a pivot towards more of the research led thinking and less distrust of moving to alternative practices. What if we could structure the classes to be able to target specific learners on a shorter turnaround? What may appear larger classes initially may release teaching tome to be able to focus on a turn around of learners to address specific issues of stretch, challenge and recovery.
If you’re interested in taking this conversation further, come and join our next Curriculum Leadership Programme or comment below.
For many years, certainly during the twenty-five that I have been writing timetables for large secondary schools, most schools have either operated a 5- or 10-day cycle design (other examples are rare these days although prevalent in the late 1980s.) Some look at 10-day cycles and shudder at the thought of learners having to remember a different set of lessons every other week, but they also embed the difficulties of fitting 14 subjects into 25 lessons without a thought. Others that operate 10-day cycles are generally quite comfortable with fitting the 14 subjects into 50 sessions (or whatever variation they operate) and shudder at the inflexibility of a 5 day cycle. 14 being the range of National Curriculum specialisms most schools work within (including a little regional variation.)
I’ve been asked on more than one occasion in the last month to develop and explore the impact of revisiting the cycle designs for 2 main reasons.
Firstly, the pandemic has led more schools to consider the deeper learning experiences offered by a longer lessons and thus secondly, to consider reducing the number of sessions in a week (e.g. 15 session if we consider a 3 100-minute sessions per day.) The impact of this on the number of deliverable combinations to achieve a viable timetable delivery with the current teaching body.
In this example fitting 14 subject divisions into 15 lessons makes a significant difference to the available spread of curriculum.
One solution may be to consider the length of the cycle, for example spreading this 3 lesson per day model over 3 weeks- it has some significant advantages.
- One, it fits a 39 week year more comfortably than the current 2-week cycles.
- Two, a 15 day, 45 period cycle design is closer to the common 50 period cycle so it has less on an impact on the proportions of staff employed to cover the curriculum. A massive issue if you are looking to plan your staffing for September 2021 where the proportionality changes.
- Three, others are seriously considering spreading this structure over 4 weeks, 60 period cycles, which has the impact of creating deep learning experiences with the spread of lessons that fits a multi subject design. It does have a slightly greater impact on the proportions of staff employed to cover the curriculum than the previous 45 session design. This method is slightly more comfortable when considering larger numbers of part-time staff. Yes, schools are considering 4-week, 20-day cycles!
We would be interested to hear from you your thoughts on these strategies and others that you might have been considering. Do comment below or drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
EEF Research: Setting and streaming https://educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/evidence-summaries/teaching-learning-toolkit/setting-or-streaming/
EEF Research: Reducing class size https://educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/evidence-summaries/teaching-learning-toolkit/reducing-class-size/
EEF Research: In-class attainment grouping https://educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/evidence-summaries/teaching-learning-toolkit/within-class-attainment-grouping/
EEF School Planning Guide 2021