Timetabling is the method by which the curriculum is brought
to the pupils. The head of a school has a number of resources
at his or her command - teachers, teaching areas, finance and
time. A timetable is the means by which these resources are
marshalled to provide the greatest possible educational opportunities
and alternatives for pupils in the most cost-effective manner.
In the developing world the emphasis on cost-effectiveness cannot
be overstated. The more efficiently resources are utilised the
better the education for the greater number of children. Decisions
expressed by the timetable affect the entire school population
and reflect the educational programme and philosophy of the
Individual study time : 3 hours
By the end of this unit you should be able to:
have a basic understanding of timetable construction
appreciate the timetable as a device enabling better
realise the amount of time and complexity of thought
that goes into the production of a good timetable
recognise the limits and constraints of a timetable
comply with the period allocations prescribed by the
Ministry of Education
be aware of the need to :
- make full use of all teaching and specialist areas in the
- ensure the workloads of all teachers comply with ministry
- allow for immediate changes to meet emergency situations;
- give pupils a choice of optional subjects to fit their career
Principles and constraints of timetable design
Let us first of all identify some of the principles upon
which you should base your timetable design.
1 In essence a timetable should be pupil-centred to maximise
learning opportunities: arranged with a variety of activities,
with subjects spaced to sustain the children's interests and
motivation, and taking into account age, concentration span,
ability range, single grouping, class sizes and pupil career
2 The best and most efficient deployment of teachers can be
the teaching establishment of the school has been correctly
all the subjects are fully covered
there is a staffing equilibrium in terms of experience,
sex and age
the frequency of transfer of teachers is minimised
teaching loads are balanced across the timetable.
3 The pupil capacity of a school is controlled by its buildings;
as far as possible all teaching stations should be fully utilised.
An important decision has to be made whether teachers move
from teaching area to teaching area, whether pupils move,
or whether both move.
4 Emergencies will lead to timetable adjustment. A good timetable
should be flexible, allowing adjustments to be made with the
minimum disruption to school life.
5 Allowance has to be made within the timetable organisation,
including non-teaching time for:
pupil registration, assemblies, time between periods
to change books and materials, pupil guidance and welfare
staff development including departmental meetings,
staff meetings and in-service workshops.
6 Staff should be deployed vertically and horizontally across
the timetable; this means that teachers should teach at different
levels and not just be allocated completing or beginning classes.
7 Teachers should be timetabled to teach the subjects in which
they are trained.
8 There should be a balance in the timetable in the sense
that not too many double periods or practical subjects should
follow one after the other.
The following are some of the factors which will limit
your freedom in your design of the school timetable.
Time: 'Restricted time' is time determined by ministry
policies over which the head has no control, for example,
the number of periods per day, the number of periods per subject,
the length of a period, and the time of school broadcasts.
'Disposable time' is controlled by the school and reflected
in the timetable,such as when a subject is taught, when registration
occurs, the length of formal study time, the allocation of
non-teaching time, and the use of double, single or triple
Teacher availability: This can seriously affect a
timetable, determining class sizes, subject choice and the
quality of education offered.
School buildings: The design, type and number of these
directly affects the timetable in the number and variety of
subjects offered, the number of classes, the size of classes,
the size of the school, the quality of study opportunity,
library access and usage, and teacher/pupil ratios.
Traditional attitudes: These can militate against
the innovative use of resources which would add to the school's
efficiency, such as how the school hall is used, and the time
of registration and assembly.
Lack of public utilities: This can restrict the timetable,
for example, no electricity can mean no evening work; a lack
of water can affect Art, Science, Agriculture and Home Economics.
The timing of the school day: This is related to the
size of the school's catchment area. The greater the walking
distance for pupils the shorter the school day.
Adhering to the timetable: If teachers do not adhere
to the timetable this will reduce its effectiveness as the
framework for planning the time available for learning.
In this unit we consider timetabling only for formal lessons
in primary, junior secondary and senior secondary schools.
As the degree of timetabling complexity differs for the various
levels of primary and secondary education, it is better to
consider each level separately.
Timetable preparation in primary schools
Under normal circumstances there is one classroom or teaching
area, and one teacher for each class.
It is quite common in lower classes for teachers to draw
up the timetable themselves, adopting a flexible approach
to the day's activities, whereas in the remaining classes
teachers follow a formal timetable.
Step 1: Collect and have available all relevant ministry
directives on time and subject allocations. It is important
to ensure that the timetable meets all the requirements of
Step 2 : List all the teaching areas in your school.
How many classes may be accommodated in your school at one
time? You should note that a class working for a period of
time in the school garden, or on the playing field may be
regarded as accommodated for that period. However, the extent
to which it is necessary to plan with such attention to the
full use of every space will depend upon the pressure of numbers
Step 3: How many class teachers are on your establishment?
Allocate teachers and classes to classrooms or teaching spaces.
Step 4: Special education teachers, if available,
will have to be timetabled separately to serve the needs of
pupils with special needs whilst they are part of a class.
Individual class timetables will have to be consulted and
possibly adjusted to remove clashes.
Responsibilities of the head
In the lower classes of primary schools timetabling is often
an integral part of the classroom teachers' duties. The head
approves the timetable and then prepares the general timetable
for the school.
The overall responsibilities of the head are to ensure that
government directives and policies are complied with
each teacher makes the fullest use of school resources
clashes between individual teacher's timetabling demands
are resolved amicably and fairly
special education teachers are used appropriately.
Double session primary schools
Double session arrangements occur where the number of pupils
in a school catchment area exceeds its pupil capacity. It
is therefore necessary to maximise the use of the physical
plant and facilities by operating the school in two sessions.
As many primary schools do not have electricity, the time
when the school can operate is determined by the daylight
hours. The first session usually begins at 07.00 hours and
continues till 12.00; the second session is from 12.30 to
17.30. In some primary schools the two sessions overlap. Two
sessions do not mean two schools; one head is in charge of
the school for both sessions. Opportunities for co-curricular
activities are reduced, but can exist for each session provided
there is a timetabling plan to make use of the recreational
and game facilities, the school garden and library. Without
such timetables (one for each session) classroom instruction
and learning will remain the sole means of education and many
of the wider values of schooling will be lost.
Timetable preparation in secondary schools
Step 1: List the number of teaching areas in the school.
A secondary school timetable consists of three major components
which in themselves can be the bases of separate timetables,
namely: teachers, classes or teaching groups, and rooms.
outdoor teaching areas
(if classes are held there)
Step 2: Note any limiting factors: the teaching space
can only accommodate half a class, cannot be used for academic
work or examinations, or can only be used for certain types
Step 3: List the number of teaching subjects and identify
each as either 'core' or 'optional'.
A core subject is one which all pupils must study; an optional
subject is one which a pupil can opt to study.
Step 4: Ensure that the time allotments prescribed
by the Ministry of Education are adhered to. Perhaps the most
common pattern is 40 minute teaching periods, an eight period
day, and a five day week with each covering 40 periods a week.
What are the equivalent standards set in your school?
Step 5: List your teachers by name and subject. Include
the classes to be covered and the expected teaching loads.
Note any teacher shortages or surpluses.
Step 6: Collect data on pupil preference in optional
subjects, and modify in terms of step 5 above.
Areas with teacher shortages :
(Note: D & T = Design and Technology; HE = Home Economics;
RE = Religious Education)
If Geography is the most popular subject and Commerce the
least popular, are there enough teachers of Geography? If
not, some pupils opting for Geography will have to be encouraged
to choose Commerce instead. Are there sufficient pupils to
make up a class of D & T? (Remember in some subjects,
such as D & T, usually half the normal sized class can
be accommodated at one time.)
Step 7: Using the above information adjust your optional
subject programme to ease the teacher shortage if this is
possible. If not, there are alternative methods which could
be used to ensure as many options are available as possible.
For example, you could reduce the number of weekly teaching
Suggest two other ways you could ensure a broad optional
Step 8: Meet subject department heads to find their
timetabling needs with regard to:
preferred teaching time during the day
subject weekly timetable distribution
single, double, or triple periods
study time requirements
departmental meeting time requirements.
Remember to involve all the teachers in timetable compilation
Step 9: Identify the amount of non-teaching time which
should be timetabled,to allow for registration or extended
registration, for student welfare and guidance, for assemblies
and for meals.
Timetable compilation in junior secondary schools
In a number of countries there are differences between
junior and senior secondary curricular provisions and so we
need to consider each level separately here.
In some countries the junior secondary programme takes place
in schools specifically designed and built for this level
of education. Each school has a standard number of buildings
determined by the size of the school pupil population, and
a common academic programme over two or three years which
is set by the Ministry of Education, and which is completed
by the Junior Certificate examination.
A major difference between schools is in staffing. Some teachers
are qualified to teach two subjects, others are not. The permutation
of teaching subjects offered often varies a lot and this distinguishes
one junior secondary school from the next.
Step 1: Complete the nine steps outlined in the section
on 'Timetable preparation in secondary schools'.
Step 2: There are several ways of presenting a timetable,
for example a large sheet of paper using colour coding, magnetic
board, peg board, pin board. Choose the most convenient way
for your situation.
Study the sample shown in Fig 3.
A margin along the left hand side is left for the name of
each class. On each line, each column has space for three
entries, namely, 'subject', 'room' and 'teacher'. All this
information is essential. The teacher timetables and room
timetables should be compiled simultaneously.
Note that the sample given in Fig 3 is limited in that it
can only be used for a weekly, five day timetable. No allowance
is made for six, seven or eight day timetables preferred by
some heads. Comments on this type of timetable are made later
in this unit. See page 18.
Step 3 : Determine the order in which information
is going to be entered on the timetable. Priorities will be
decided by demand. If there is great demand on specialist
teaching facilities, then the subjects, teachers and classes
using these rooms should be entered first.
A school has two science rooms and 18 classes, with each class
having six periods of science in the form of three double
periods a week.
The school operates a 40 period per week timetable.
With two rooms this means 80 periods a week can be taught
in the science rooms each week.
But there are 18 classes, each of which has six periods of
science a week. So the total demand on the science rooms is:
18 classes x 6 periods a week = 108 science periods a week.
(1) If the science rooms are fully utilised how many science
periods will have to be taught in non-science rooms?
(2) If a double period was added to the timetable every afternoon
would this solve the problem?
(3) Which classes should receive priority for accommodation
in the science rooms?
You should now see the reason for timetabling subjects with
specialist rooms and a large number of periods, such as science,
before any other subject.
Step 4: If the school is just opening, or for some
reason its facilities are under-utilised, then it might be
best to timetable first a teacher teaching two subjects, or
a subject which has the greatest number of teaching periods.
Step 5: Work across the timetable entering three pieces
of information at the same time : 'subject', 'teacher' and
Do not try to complete one day and then move onto the next
- such an approach will lead to chaos!
Step 6: After entering a subject across the timetable,
check teacher and room timetables to ensure that all the information
Step 7: In making entries think both laterally and
vertically so that the final entries will cause fewer problems.
Timetable compilation in senior secondary schools
The senior secondary course is usually either a two or three
year programme. In a three year programme the first year could
be an exploratory year in which pupils are introduced to a
wide spectrum of subjects in order to identify interests,
aptitudes and abilities which can then be translated into
subjects to be studied during the last two years.
A typical first year programme, on a 40 period cycle, may
be built up of English (Language and Literature) 8, Mathematics
6, African Language 5, Science 6, History 3, Geography 3,
Careers/Guidance 2, Agriculture 3, and Technical/Home Economics/Art
The element of subject rotation arises in Technical/Art/Home
Economics where rotation between these subjects may take place
to enable pupils to experience each subject and decide (with
guidance) which subject to study in depth. Rotation may take
place throughout the course or for a limited period of time
in the first few weeks in these particular subject areas.
At the end of the first year, pupils, with guidance, opt
for the Certificate subjects they will study. Pupil choice,
within the other parameters we have identified, will help
to determine the character of the timetable.
In a two year senior secondary school programme pupils enter
the final stage of their secondary course immediately. Subject
choice would then be governed by:
leaving results from the junior secondary school
external examination requirements
local regulations (for example, in Botswana students
should offer Setswana, a Science and Mathematics)
availability of staff and specialist rooms
pupil aptitude and interests.
The time frame
Length of periods
The 40 minute period fits well with recent research that the
attention span of the average secondary pupil begins to decline
after 30/40 minutes. Double periods of 80 minutes reduce the
amount of work for timetablers but their desirability must
be carefully considered, taking into account the amount of
project and practical work in a subject. Multiple periods
suit practical subjects but create problems when dealing with
Length of day / number of periods per day
Usually the morning hours are timetabled for teaching and
learning with the afternoons devoted to individual study and
co-curricular activities. Climatic conditions are a major
factor in deciding this arrangement. Eight 40 minute periods
fit well into the morning session beginning at 07.00 and ending
at approximately 13.00, depending on the number and length
of intervals. However, a timetable based on nine 35 minute
periods gives greater flexibility for the timetabler.
Instead of the conventional five day week, it is possible
to have six, seven or eight day weeks, an arrangement which
gives more flexibility in subject/period allocations, and
also means that teachers/pupils are not tied to a particular
subject for Fridays and Mondays throughout the term or year.
Timetabling devices for alternative pupil grouping
This occurs where certain classes are timetabled together
throughout the timetable for key subjects such as Mathematics
or English. The number of groups created depends on the number
of subject teachers available. Given this arrangement it is
possible to :
form ability groups or mixed ability groups of different
change teachers according to the topic being taught
cover for absent teachers with the minimum disruption
form smaller or larger groups according to teacher
This device can only be used in larger schools where there
are sufficient classes in the same year and sufficient subject
For an example, see Fig 4 (E = English; M = Mathematics).
Mathematics and English have been blocked on the timetable
for Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.
Make out your timetable grid and complete the blocking for
Thursday and Friday.
This device is used to provide alternatives for pupils within
the slot on the timetable. It is essential where classes have
to be half the normal size, for example, Design and Technology,
Art, Home Economics. A number of classes within the same year
can be timetabled together throughout the timetable and offered
a number of options. A pupil chooses one from the selection
of optional subjects on offer. There is no reason why the
same option group cannot be offered twice on the timetable
affording the pupils a second alternative. Option columns
may contain more classes than the nominal number of classes
having access to them, permitting the creation of small classes
in certain practical subjects without overloading other subject
classes. Adjustments can be made from year to year in the
contents of these option columns. Thus if the demand for Geography
falls and that for Development Studies rises, Geography can
be replaced in part by Development Studies provided the school
has teacher capability.
In the example given in Fig 5, Design and Technology (D &
T) is set against Home Economics (HE); with half the class
taking one subject and half the other.
Geography (G) is set against Development Studies (DS) and
In which of these subjects is the number of pupils likely
to be class size or less than class size?
Draw a timetable grid and complete the timetable in D &
T, HE, H, G, and DS for the rest of the week.
Both blocking and setting are infinitely better than streaming
where whole classes are decided on the ability levels of pupils.
Step 1: Complete all preparation exercises outlined
on pages 14 to 16 ('Timetable preparation in secondary schools').
Step 2: Decide on time allotments in compliance with
Ministry of Education directives, including whether the timetable
should cover five, six, seven or eight days. Give reasons
for your choice of times and length of teaching day.
Step 3: Work out a first year programme which will
meet pupil needs. Translate the programme into timetable form.
Step 4: Do you intend to block certain subjects in
the upper two classes? If so, which subjects and why?
Step 5: List the option groups you intend to form,
indicating subjects and size of classes in each subject. What
freedom of choice do pupils have? What are the limiting factors?
It is imperative that each school head selects or devises
a pupil-centred timetabled programme which is most appropriate
to the school's circumstances.
A school timetable should give full information in three distinct
areas, namely: teaching stations, teaching staff and class
distribution, and subjects taught at certain times for each
In order to compile a meaningful timetable the school head
must be aware of the necessity to consult others so as to
make full preparations and collect all the relevant data.
He or she must command the expertise to direct the production
of a timetable which will serve the needs of all categories,
intellects and aptitudes among the school's pupils. Finally,
the head must know and be able to apply such timetable devices
as blocking, setting the extended day and week, and double
sessions, in order to meet the special circumstances which
may prevail in the school.