How we are timetabling secondary teaching in September

The government's evolving list of guidelines for reopening is giving schools a headache on timetabling, but this senior leader thinks they have it sorted

Simon Lock

september guidance

If one thing is clear in the pages and pages of guidance set out by the government for the September reopening of schools, it is that the secondary timetable will need an overhaul. 

The logistics of social distancing, providing a broad curriculum and staggered starts and finishes are a huge challenge. So how are schools approaching it? 

Back in July we spoke to Jan Hetherington – vice-principal at Wykham Park Academy, which is part of the Aspirations Academy Trust – to find out how she has adapted her plans in light of the guidance. 

Apart from a few tweaks here and there, her timetabling plan looks in good shape as her school sets to reopen. Here she talks us through what it will look like:  

Will you be offering the full curriculum for all students?

“I’ve got endless scraps of paper that I started scribbling on when the guidance came out, with many different versions of what our timetable could look like. But yes, we’re going to run the whole curriculum.

“We will go through the normal processes that we would in any year, so there may be some students to whom we say ‘let’s drop this and focus on this’, but that’ll be part of the normal processes, – it won’t be due to this restructure.”

How are you structuring your bubbles?

“We’re very fortunate in this school in that we’ve got enough space so we can keep each bubble of students in a zone. We’re going to have year-group bubbles, but we’re going to have home classes within those bubbles. So bubbles within a bubble in a sense.

“We’re expecting the large majority of key stage 3 teaching to be done in the home class, and if they need to move to a different class they can do, but it will be within their year zone.

"So if their option class doesn't require any specialist equipment or space, the lesson will be taught within the year group zone.

“Each of these zones will have their own entrance, exit and toilet facilities. It will be teachers that move around the different bubbles.”

How will you manage specialist classrooms and equipment?

“We’re lucky in that we don’t need to use the specialist spaces as part of our zoning. So, if our Year 11s need to go and do construction or food, they can go and do that.

“We just need to work out a little bit more detail to ensure there isn’t another class in there directly before. We can look at whether that class is doing a theory or a practical lesson, and adjust so that two practical lessons are not timetabled back to back.

“Because our specialist spaces are not going to be part of the year group zones, we can clean them appropriately between use.”

Will the school day stay the same?

“We looked at all the things we could control and we have decided to stagger starts. We’ll start the school day slightly earlier and when you arrive at the school gates you’ll have routes through to each zone. This will mean that some year groups will have a slightly shorter mentor time.

"For new Year 7s, we have posted on our website videos of key areas and key staff in school, so they can digitally orientate themselves. We will do the normal sort of thing for them in terms of on the first day, when they'll come in on their own before the rest of the school. We’ll also be getting them in first so they can have more time with their mentors.

“We would expect our Year 11s to finish later anyway, but we’re looking into how we stagger the finish times.

“One of the changes we’re looking to make is that we’ll reopen some entrances to the school that we don’t use anymore. Each year group will come in at their allotted time and follow their pathway to their zone.

“We can only control what we can control. What times students leave their own homes and who they meet on the way is outside of what we can control.”

Will you take ability sets and subject tiers into account?

“With KS4, we considered keeping students in their home class for core subjects but have decided against this. Where there are kids that do a higher tier of a subject, we have to give them an experience appropriate to their ability, so KS4 will remain in their regular class for each subject.

“With KS3, the curriculum leaders are going for mixed-ability classes for all subjects except for year 9 languages.”

How are you allowing for pupil movement?

“We’re fortunate in that we’re a very spread-out campus with multiple routes taking you to any one part of the site. For our design and technology department, for example, there are a number of different routes to get there depending on where your zone is in the school.

“We’ll have a one-way system around the specialist space. So when there’s a changeover and students are moving from a specialist space to their zone, by the time the other zone has left to go to their specialist space then, as long as we manage the movement, they won’t meet.”

How will you organise breaktimes?

“Each of the zones has its own entrance and exit that we can use. For example, Year 7 are going to be in the humanities space.

“There’s a set of stairs and an exit and entrance that will be for their use only and they will go to a designated area to have their breaktime, which is in a different part of the site from where Year 9 or Year 11 will be having their break. So we’ve not changed the times of breaks, we’ll just change where they happen for each group.

“Students will pre-order a lunch which will be taken to the students rather than a staggered approach. We've taken the difficult decision, much against the principles of the head, that all food will be served in disposable containers.”

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Simon Lock

Simon Lock

Simon Lock is Tes senior digital editor

Find me on Twitter @simon_lock_

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