Standardised school days for Moray secondaries

Move wins heads' backing but pupils are not on side

All secondary schools in Moray are to operate a standardised school day from August 2012, in a bid to open up more courses to pupils and help schools counteract budget cuts.

The plan, agreed this week, means all eight secondaries will start and end each day at the same time, and work to the same schedule in between, although they remain free to decide which subjects should be timetabled at which time.

The move won overwhelming backing, including unanimous support from headteachers and deputes. The most divided group was pupils: only 59.3 per cent were in favour of a schedule that allows 15 minutes for a morning break (no change from the status quo) and 50 minutes for lunch (15 minutes less for one school, 10 minutes less for most others).

A report by George Sinclair, Moray Council head of schools, learning and development, identified three main advantages:

greater ability to meet pupils' needs through, for example, Moray College and community learning and development services;

the ability to co-ordinate courses with very small numbers across schools;

greater ease in use of ICT to support learning.

Mr Sinclair's report added: "Given the current budget situation, the move to a co-ordinated day may be the only way to address learners' needs in a collective manner which might not be open to individual schools."

There has been overwhelming support locally: 84.1 per cent of teachers, 85.4 per cent of support staff and 82 per cent of parents were in favour, while the Educational Institute of Scotland also gave its support.

The most common concerns were that shorter lunch breaks would restrict staff working groups and extra-curricular activities. Although a number of people made positive comments about shorter lunches. Others argue it would result in significant upheaval for little gain, with cross-school working likely to be minimal.

Council officers do not believe the proposal will make a significant difference to the cost of school transport contracts, which are due to be awarded at the same time as the standardised time-table begins.

John Stodter, general secretary of the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland, said a standardised timetable for secondary schools in a local authority was an idea that other councils should explore; a number were doing so already.

With pressure on local authorities to shift more money towards early-years budgets, Mr Stodter said it made sense to look for innovative and cost- saving approaches at the other end of the age range. High-attaining pupils in upper secondary were particularly expensive to provide for, he added.

School Leaders Scotland general secretary Ken Cunningham said the Moray idea was "a sensible way to go, especially in a relatively small authority", as long as consultation showed there was backing for such a move.

Standardised timetables could help schools make the most of Curriculum for Excellence, he said, although it might not make sense to introduce them throughout larger authorities; an alternative would be common timetables in particular parts of those authorities.

Changes to timetables should be driven by potential educational improvements, not economic imperatives, he said, although there may be "spin-off" savings.

The Moray plan approved this week - entailing a combination of 30 55- minute and 50-minute periods a week - emerged from a failed 2009 proposal to introduce a 32-period week in Moray in 2009, including a lunch break of 40 minutes, two longer days ending at 3:40pm, and three shorter days ending at 2:50pm.

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