Save money and tackle bullying through smarter timetabling

Chris Cooper

Chris Cooper is a cofounder of Edval and the CEO of Edval UK, and has authored many published thought-leadership articles on timetabling. As a senior consultant, he has advised the government and large educational entities on projects, and gives lectures on timetabling philosophy. Chris is active in empowering women through flexible working, smarter timetabling, and reduced teacher workload - both current focus areas of DfE.

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Image courtesy of author. Image courtesy of author.

Bullying is a difficult problem. Limiting mobile phones or blocking social media can reduce cyberbullying, but not anti-social behaviour in classrooms. Curriculum-based anti-bullying strategies are not usually the first approaches that schools consider, but they can have a major impact, and are likely to save you money! Consider these smarter, budget-effective timetabling approaches and reduce bullying in your school.

Flexible class structures - Dynamically tuned

Old timetable software has difficulty generating solutions that ‘better group’ classes together for independent setting. This may result in a poor student mix, or poor student-teacher combinations. Allowing pairs or groups of classes to be scheduled together enables moving students easily in/out of classes. Smarter software groups classes better, and can dynamically manage issues.

For example, a school may pair group classes 7A+7B and 7C+7D, but later decide they prefer a combination of 7A+7C and 7B+7D, in order to mix up social groups. Timetabling was once seen as an annual activity unresponsive to change, but modern systems offer many benefits. Dynamically regrouping classes can result in fewer classes overall, meaning direct staffing savings.

Clever Class List Management

This is a strategy to ensure bullies are not in the same classes as their victim students. It allows schools to separate a number of bullies that, when together, cause trouble as they ‘egg each other on’. It also offers the option of pairing buddy students, which may help protect victims from bullying.

Timetabling software can manage social relationships in creative ways, and assist schools to derive “Smarter software groups classes better.”better class lists. Usually, student social issues are buried in welfare or discipline reports within the administration software. They’re not linked electronically between students, or ‘visible’ when making class list changes. Yet seeing the problem is half the solution. Smaller class sizes facilitate supervision and discourage bad behaviour. It’s easy to balance classes within blocks, but balancing classes across blocks is complex. Smart timetable software uses complex algorithms to move students, even across blocks to achieve balance. This may enable collapsing classes you could not otherwise collapse together, which is an easy way to save on staffing.

Reduce Unnecessary Student Movement Between Classes

Better rooming consistency and reducing student movement around the school are key areas for curbing negative student behaviours and increasing the comfort of learning environments. The more students move around, the greater the opportunity for bullies to encounter and harass victims as they cross paths unsupervised. Additionally, where a given class has many different rooms across the week instead of a consistent room, there is less ownership and slight increase in vandalism (expensive for the school to deal with) and other recidivist behaviour, as students feel more disrupted.

Reducing movement is ideally best done as a function of timetabling itself (allocating classes to period times), first and foremost and only secondarily in the process of ‘actually’ rooming classes once the main timetable has been completed.

Student ‘movement’ is not an aspect that is considered at all by legacy timetabling software, and very rarely by manual timetablers. And yet, it can have a big impact in bullying and academic performance. Even the ability to have students arrive to class faster, as they are not walking as far or are as ‘distracted’, is helpful - which is an outcome from reducing student movement. Smarter algorithms can even enable better use of room resources. You may not need to pay for that Science lab conversion after all!

Improve Staffing Quality

Schools have always staffed manually, but many now use edtech to assist; using algorithms to assist delivers better-quality arrangements. It’s important to note that some timetabling systems offer auto-staffing or auto-rooming features, which work poorly and take more time to ‘fix’. Smarter systems, however, deliver better than human results, in a fraction of the time, often at a great price.

The innovative use of this new technology allows more flexibility and fine-grained control. The ability to easily manage staffing more dynamically allows better use, and thus lower cost. It allows easier dynamic adjustment to staffing during the year, in ways manual timetabling can’t. Clever staffing tools automatically detect social issues with specific students and manage these. This discourages a teacher being ‘accidentally’ assigned a class with their own child, while encouraging a teacher to take a class if a student has been recognised to work well with them - buddy pairs applied to student-teacher relationships!

Balance Class Sizes

Bullying may occur in the classroom, especially where the class is full. Larger classes mean less space to separate victim and bully, and there may be more perpetrators forming a gang mentality.

It’s more likely a bully and victim will be in the same class if it’s larger. Reducing class sizes allows better ratios for supervision, hence “You may not need to pay for that Science lab conversion after all!”negative behaviours are more naturally discouraged and quickly identified than in a rowdy, full classroom. Larger classes stress teachers, decreasing staff wellbeing. They are busy delivering a lesson, and would rather not be distracted by policing bullying behaviour. Another area of complexity is splitting core classes into smaller practical class groups. Smarter timetable software improves the class size balance. Improvements can be made in this way using technology, and yet ask most timetablers about this and they admit ‘balance’ is not a focus point for them when generating elective option blocks.

Reduce Split / Shared Classes

Students in classes shared between two teachers suffer from reduced supervision. One teacher may not be aware of social issues occurring in a previous lesson, taught by a colleague. Like consistency in rooming, having consistent staff for a class allows teachers to be better aware of and address bullying. Additionally, shared classes feel more disruptive to students, and can aggravate some negative behaviours as a result. Reducing the instance of issues aids in reducing teacher workload.

Improved Supervision - Duty Roster

Smarter timetabling software generates better than human quality duty rosters in seconds. While this is good, the biggest win is that it is easier to ‘ask for more’ out of this process.

Some playground areas or times are more prone to bullying incidents than others, and some teachers are stronger or more observant. Where it was previously difficult to manage this level of fine-tuning of ‘right teacher, best area’ in rosters, automated algorithms simplify this. It allows schools to directly address bullying by focussing stronger teachers towards more problematic areas.

It also makes it easier to consider alternate rosters, such as being able to assign two teachers to a playground area on some days if there is load available. Manual rosters take time, so users are less inclined to maximise quality where there may be need to consider a lot of variations to find best fit - versus ‘a’ roster that works well enough.


Forward-thinking leaders see smarter timetabling as an effective strategy towards reducing bullying. Rather than waste time dealing with distressed students, angry parents and poor grades, reconsider your timetable and software. The solution to bullying may lie here - an area you hadn’t previously considered as such big lever for change. Further, there could be direct savings through employing such strategies. A win-win!

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