Timetable rage divides us as lessons hot up

29th May 2009 at 01:00

With hundreds of our pupils away on exam leave, we are enjoying a rare and glorious silence throughout many parts of the upper school. It is the time of year when staff can gambol down near-deserted corridors. It's a time when even the feistiest of our Year 10s is still too awestruck by his sudden, newfound seniority to start throwing any of his considerable weight around yet.

We might, therefore, imagine the pervading professional atmosphere at the moment to be one of contentment. Surely it means peace in our timetable, at least until September?

Sadly not. Timetables, in fact, are the source of the problem. Teachers are absolute angels for most periods of the year, but this isn't one of them. The timetable demon has overtaken us.

For starters, this is the point when the timetable has divided secondary school staff into the resentful Haves and the indignant Have-nots. There is, literally, a class divide. Teachers with several lower-school classes are still performing busily on the front line, whereas those who chiefly taught exam groups this year enjoy that rare luxury - planning and preparation time for next year.

There is plenty to do, but it is not the same as trying to drive pupils through the fag-end of the year. Staff who have been released will counter that they have had a year of extra exam pressure, but this cuts little ice with those dealing with jaded Year 9 groups in a steaming summer term classroom.

But timetable rage does not end there. There is much heat, too, over the timetable for the school's forthcoming "alternative curriculum" week. Some colleagues are assigned to watch classes being led by soldiers in a sequence of teambuilding exercises.

This is, in my view, distinctly less stressful than my job: repeatedly dressing up and acting the role of a pig-herder for mornings of "medieval life" with Year 7s, followed by afternoons helping those same pupils research and present a supposedly innovative show on the theme of Fair Trade. (All right, it's fun too - but if I hear another group this year sing, in the style of the football chant "We love you Fair Trade, we do ... ". I will begin beating the nearest desk with my head.)

Finally, there is the most troublesome timetable of all. It's the one that is making its first tentative flight away from the deputy head's computer screen - namely, the "final draft" timetable for next year. It really doesn't matter how brilliant, caring and consultative your deputy head may be, the document will still be met with much fury and tears. We will want to know, for instance, why we have been given two Year 10 GCSE classes next year while another colleague apparently has none? Why have we been given those crazy guys in 8X again? Shouldn't we have an extra non-contact for doing this or for running that?

Of course, the problem is exacerbated this year by schools having less money than before. How can a timetable possibly be a cheering document when schools have been so stitched up financially? Even if that weren't the case, we would complain about next year's timetable anyway. It's the timetable demon at work again.

Stephen Petty, Head of humanities, Lord Williams's School, Thame, Oxfordshire.

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