Making staff happier may be easier than you think

Claire Pullen

Claire Pullen is an assistant headteacher at St John's School and Sixth Form College. She is a timetable Consultant for Edval, and lives in County Durham.

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A typically time-pressed Secondary school teacher, Rob spends most evenings planning lessons, marking work, grappling with new specifications, deciphering mark schemes and pondering issues of behaviour management. In his third year of teaching English, he enjoys his work, but increasingly feels there’s just not enough hours in the day. Oh, and he’s just learnt he’ll be picking up a GCSE Drama class in September…

A healthy workplace with a happy teaching staff is the goal of every school, and with a well-documented teacher retention crisis, wellbeing has become a common topic in SLT meetings across the country. And yet, timetabling is an often-neglected area, rarely mentioned in relation to staff wellbeing. This, in our opinion, is a missed opportunity to make staff considerably happier.

Have you ever overheard a staffroom comment to the effect of “My Tuesdays are awful this year”, or “I hate Thursdays because I teach non-stop with playgroup duty”? Smarter timetabling “Wellbeing has become a common topic in SLT meetings.”can make day-to-day teaching more enjoyable and sustainable, with research finding that the most significant areas leading to unnecessary workload are marking, planning and data management. Powerful timetabling systems like Edval Timetables can help in all areas.

After all, the school timetable is the main place where ‘work’ is allocated. It is the document that tells teachers where to go, which class to teach, when they should work, when they should take breaks or PPA, when they should meet and who they must teach.

School leaders are often surprised to learn that better timetabling leads to increased staff satisfaction, reduced absenteeism and a generally happier school community without any financial losses. In fact, schools using Edval Timetables save an average of £100,000 each year - proving that staff wellbeing and cost-savings do not need to be mutually exclusive!

Recognising that the best timetabling software systems are collaborative, allowing for reflection, experimentation and dialogue, Rob’s school decide to implement Edval Timetables for the new academic year. The timetabling team ask staff about their preferences.

As a specialist English teacher, Rob would prefer not to teach Drama, but would instead be open to picking up an additional GCSE English class. “Rob can pick up his daughter from the crèche!”He calculates that this would halve the time he spends planning at home every week. Rob considers requesting yet another Year 10 class, but after considering assessment deadlines, reports and parents’ evenings, decides he would prefer a balance of Key Stage 3 classes to constitute the remainder of his teaching. Like most of his colleagues, he would prefer not to share classes, since the new-style GCSEs are less modular, and comprise no coursework or controlled assessment component.

Using smarter timetabling, it’s now far easier for Rob’s school to analyse and experiment with various curriculum models. Edval Timetables is currently the only system that provides this. It answers questions quickly and efficiently, in ways that existing legacy timetabling cannot. This is invaluable in the timetable planning phase and significantly reduces workload for teachers.

With a few small changes, Rob feels much happier at work. Now that he has a ‘base room’, Rob no longer needs to rush across the school through crowds of children between periods, lugging bags of work. He no longer teaches flat-out on any day, and can even pick up his daughter from the crèche two days a week.

In fact, Rob’s entire department is happier that meetings have been timetabled into the school day, leaving more time to plan after work. They also note that class sizes are now balanced more equitably, meaning that workload is fairer for everyone.

Powerful timetabling systems like Edval Timetables make it easier to organise arrangements to better suit staff. Why shouldn’t teachers be given an extra Year 10 class to significantly reduce planning, two fewer parents’ evenings a year, a late start on a Monday morning, or block collaborative planning time on a Thursday? And this is just the tip of the iceberg.

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