If it's Friday, it must be my day off

3rd August 2001 at 01:00
Spare a thought for that poor soul who has to sort out the school's timetable

GCSEs and A-levels are over and the holidays have begun. So we are all nicely relaxedI or are we? Don't forget the timetabler; that member of your senior management team who is either a masochist or suicidal. I know that the person who organises the exam cover system shares some of these fine qualities, but the real loony tune in every school is the person graced with creating the new timetable.

No one is ever happy with the final product. Everyone wants Friday off; Monday, period one off. Every part-timer wants to come in on the fewest possible days; every subject teacher wants only period one lessons. It's a tough job and only people who have done it know that.

What makes a good timetable? First, a sensible curriculum plan. At key stage 3, the years need to be divided in two to give a chance of getting teams of staff organised. If you are in a school that wants to set in whole years down to Year 7, your timetabler has an impossible job - or you are the only school with too many teachers. If someone hints that you should take over as timetabler, look at the key stage 3 curriculum plan and see the degree of difficulty before you agree to attempt the impossible.

Next, the timetabler needs to love crosswords, chess and jigsaw puzzles because it's about tedium, detail and logic. But, there are ways around this. Create a timetable with just subjects, and get the head of department to take the blame, or run last year's timetable and allow no changes - ever.

But in the real world, work on the timetable goes on through the holidays. As most teachers enjoy themselves, the timetabler gets in front of his or her computer for a 16-hour day, because the more that gets done now the less pressure will be on later.

Think of them as you read this. See them now and see how much they enjoy your company, or wait for a few weeks as that's when the fun of timetabling starts and visitors are always welcome. ("Of course I'll redo the timetable, headmaster, now you know that member of staff isn't coming. Not a problem, only three weeks' work down the pan.") Plans to cut summer holidays should be resisted strongly. Timetablers need every second of the holidays to become even remotely sane in time for the start of the new school year.

The writer, who wishes to remain anonymous, teaches in Essex

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