How to get the most out of the timetable

Richard Endacott

Sunday, 2 June 2019

Timetabling is a very satisfying, yet deeply complex task, bringing in a variety of different skills from mathematics, to human psychology, trying to meet the demands of a challenging curriculum with ensuring the wellbeing of the staff involved.

In this blog, I explore my first venture into the murky world of timetabling and give some insight into how key decisions are made.

Many students are currently in the throes of exam season. For us teachers now is the chance to cram in the last nuggets of information before the student’s date with destiny whilst for others, it is also the first opportunity to get to grips with next year’s timetable.

clock race

A thankless task which has lofty ambitions of pleasing everybody and in the end pleases nobody. As a middle leader, my responsibility initially is to alert the timetabler to which direction I would like my bus to go and which members of staff I would like in each seat.

It is a very enjoyable yet challenging task, matching the skills of individuals to specific classes whilst hoping to stretch and challenge them to improve their own pedagogy.

Those of you familiar with my blogs will be aware of the diverse nature of my Faculty from the experienced teachers who have very specific skillsets, 2 part-timers, 4 Heads of Year and current NQTs, who will next year be embarking on their first full year of teaching (and first full timetable) to the long term supply teachers who have an array of talents but may not be here beyond Christmas.

To add to the timetable complications we have 2 vacancies, both heads of department roles which causes an issue as to deciding on their strengths before the application process has been completed.

table communicate

The ambition is to match teachers to classes and teaching spaces in the most effective way possible so that students and teachers have a working week that gives us the best chance of delivering an outstanding curriculum.

It’s not rocket science but it’s a major challenge, it’s like a huge game of ‘Tetris’, blending problem solving with an acute awareness of the human issues surrounding staff deployment and the implications ultimately on the students’ experience every day of the week.

Working out the Mathematics is the easy part; it’s the human element that presents the challenge: not everyone can get what they want and do not necessarily see the big picture when fighting their corner.

Compromises need to be made, good compromises need to be based on some principles and those need to be informed by the school ethos – the priorities for learning, the well-being of staff and students, professional development and so on.

hand lightbulb 4-1

Anything is possible within a timetable, but you can’t deliver everything. The challenge is to decide which things to sacrifice and which things to protect and sometimes, two choices are mutually exclusive – it’s one or the other because you can’t have both.

I have core principles which I follow:-

  • A teacher will see their class through to the end of the key stage wherever possible
  • There is a mixture of enjoyable and difficult classes for all teachers (including me)
  • Do not promise anything to anybody.

By the end of the process I will have pleased nobody, but hopefully will have set the faculty up for success, enabled the staff within to develop their skills and experience ready for the next stage of their career.

Most importantly, I will have created an environment for staff and students to maximise both their enjoyment and engagement with the subject areas within the faculty.


About our Community Expert


Richard Endacott

Career Development Lead

Richard is a history Teacher by Training and for the last few years been head of sixth form. His specialism is leadership and career development in the classroom.


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