Teaching in subject blocks…how flexible is your timetable?

How’s your timetable looking?

Does it meet your requirements or are you struggling to get everything in? Unfortunately it’s  mostly the latter, as we as teachers struggle with an overloaded curriculum….too much and too little time -what suffers?

Well everything does

  • The quality of teaching and learning
  • The children who are pressurised to complete work rather than actively be a part of the learning process
  • We as teachers – in every aspect.

So let me ask you a question that you might not have considered – or indeed your school might have not considered….(or used to but not any longer?)

Does your school still require you to present a BALANCED CURRICULUM reflected in your timetabling?

Its a pretty straight forward question but my guess is that many schools are now losing sight of this in the drive towards Maths and English accountability.

I am going to write more of this another time – but the need for a balanced curriculum across all subjects has got to be a non negotiable in school terms and OFSTED are quite rightly now starting to check that this is occurring!

Here is the original recommended teaching hours as set out by the DFE – the latest guidelines allow some flexibility to schools to rearrange breaks and lunchtimes and of course changes to the start and finish times at school are possible (although a little more complicated to change!). But despite all this the latest recommended times all seem to be based around the original times set – so we can use this as a current baseline.

The above structure is based around a 10 week planned term.

Now you are going to ask me why only 10 weeks when the Autumn term is approximately 15 weeks and the Spring and Summer terms are 12 weeks.

Well it’s quite simple really – in school it seems that we never have straight weeks where there are not interruptions to the timetable. We may have guest assembly speakers, it might be photograph day or we may be having a dress up day for charity.

In my experience these add up to about 2 weeks in every term – so if we aim to complete our terms planning in 10 weeks for Spring and Summer then everything will fit. As for The Autumn term…well of course we have the Christmas build up….it is the same deduction for term extra’s – 2 weeks and then if we allow about 2 weeks for the Christmas build up then we are looking at 10 / 11 weeks of planned teaching. Naturally this can vary but its a rough guide!

Take a look at your timetable and your planning

If we look at the guidelines for subject delivery each term, we can see how much time we have to plan for. In consultation with the National Curriculum we can also see what subject areas and in particular units of work we need to include in each term dependent on our topics.

So here’s the question…..on looking at both of these is there any particular need for us to teach these on a week by week timetabled approach?

Of course that’s the way that most people approach the curriculum. A set timetable which plods through the set units of each subject on a weekly basis…but it doesn’t have to be that way.

Re-jigging things

If we take for example Science in KS2 – we can see that we have allocated 25 hours teaching time for this subject and if we look a little deeper into our planning we can see which units we need to be teaching across the year and as such each term.

Term planning and timetabling – There is the flexibility within your timetabling to teach subject units in blocks. This is perhaps harder to do for Maths and English due to the size of curriculum content and its very nature, however it is perfectly possible for this to occur within the other curriculum areas.

If we again look at Science and focus for example on “Forces”….it would be possible to teach this quite extensive unit as a concentrated block. This means that instead of chipping away at it perhaps over 3 or 4 weeks it could be timetabled in as a block of teaching time. This naturally means suspending and replacing other areas of the curriculum to allow this to happen – but it is quite easy to do.

The above example shows a record keeping sheet (partly complete) that sets out hour by hour the time allocations for all the subject areas minus Maths and English. This is done for each term and as time is used from the allocated amount it is simply crossed out on the above sheet.  Once the time allocation has been used then from a teaching aspect that subject has completed its allocation and all units planned should have been covered.

Here’s the flexibility

By using such a record keeping system it now allows us, as teachers, to now teach in blocks of time if we wish and to track the time allocation as we go.

Again looking at Science and the Forces unit – it would now be possible to do forces for say 3 full afternoons and cover theory and all the practical work in a continuous block. This of course allows you to focus completely on the unit as a whole – presenting the key skills and knowledge in a concentrated block of study rather than fragmenting over a few weeks.

This could also be applied to, for example, a large Art project where an exhibition or more complex and involved collaborations are being undertaken….rather than “chipping away” at something like this, it is far better to focus in and allow the children to really get involved in what they are aiming to achieve.

The sky’s the limit really and it is simply down to you as the teacher.

I would suggest that opportunities for this would be identified at the planning stage for each term – where you can look at the units you are planning for each subject and perhaps identify one or two in the term that might lend themselves to this.

Its all about creating the best learning environment …some units just lend themselves to this way of concentrated focus.

Yes it’s a change from the normal timetabled approach; but it offers a versatility and chance to create exciting opportunities for both us as teachers and and also the children in their learning experiences….and let’s face it – isn’t that what it’s all about?


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