Timetabling can be a time-consuming and challenging exercise, but with a little creativity, Edval is giving schools back the control they need to maximise efficiency.
When Moira Toohey, Edval’s State Manager Victoria, looks at a school timetable, she sees more than bell times, classroom numbers and teacher names. Instead, she sees a chance to give schools control through creative problem solving.
“Our core values at Edval are to empower school leaders to reach better outcomes through quality, creative solutions. This is what we feel timetabling can do,” Moira says.
Edval’s master planning service is one example of its creative solutions. The service is regularly used by new schools that are yet to be built, and Moira says this gives school’s the control they need right from the very beginning.
“We work closely with architects and managers on their building plans in these situations, taking into account factors such as the predicted number of school students, as well as advice on the number of rooms they’ll need to run programs, whether that’s Science rooms, Art rooms, or Physical Education spaces,” she says.
As an ex-teacher, Moira says what Edval brings in complex situations is exactly what she would want from a classroom if she were working there.
“We look at things like the foot traffic within the school, what impacts the layout will have on teacher movement and if it could lead to congestion.”
“If it’s a multi-level school with lifts, we’d be asking questions such as: what is the capacity of a lift moving students between lessons? This ensures the school runs efficiently.”
Moira says many schools aren’t in a situation where they need a timetable master plan. Instead, what many are looking for over and above the initial implementation of Edval’s timetabling software is basic assistance with timetable construction.
“Sometimes, the personnel in a school don’t have enough time to outline the timetable. They are often time poor, and if the construction is quite complex, it can take a bit of time to find the right way to put the puzzle together.”
In addition, there can also be a skills gap for teachers in understanding the methodology and its associated software.
“If you use software all the time you become proficient, but timetables are only done once a year. Many schools don’t have the advantage of working on it all the time like we do at Edval.”
Edval’s timetable construction service meets this need by allowing schools to effectively employ a team of experts, rather than a single staff member.
“We have a larger base of expertise and experience in a range of different scenarios,” Moira explains.
“Because our staff have come out of state schools in Victoria and NSW, and have some experience in the private sector, as well in different school sizes and handling different programs, we bring a wealth of experience to the table, compared to school’s who choose to assign a single role within a school.”
Moira says that some schools need a more holistic timetable overhaul. For example, Edval is working with a couple of schools that recently built their own timetable and subsequently identified problems, in the goal of discovering why they are occurring.
“Using Edval’s consulting services, schools experiencing difficulties can analyse their timetable and we can provide advice on what they could do differently, or how they could improve their timetable,” she says.
Edval’s consulting service is also on hand to assist teachers in selecting the right timetable for them. Often, schools who want to introduce a new program call on Edval to make the idea a reality.
“Schools may want to see what the effect of a program will be on the timetable before they have committed to it.
“For example, they may wish to turn a six-period day into a four or five period day, turn a one week cycle into a two-week cycle, or change the structure of a year level. Edval can model these and other changes in their timetable to see what it would look like and the effects will be.”
The means schools avoid regrets by locking themselves in for a 12-month timetable.
“A common problem we see is that some schools spend so much time getting a timetable done, and then find a problem they didn’t know about until it is up and running. Then, they may be stuck with it for the next school year.”
In one modelling example, Edval helped a school reduce a large number of shared classes, where two teachers taught the same class.
“They couldn’t fit it into the timetable without causing problems, so they asked us to investigate, and we provided advice. I’ve heard back from that school, and they have managed to reduce that number significantly by implementing some of our advice.”
Moira says a complete overhaul of a timetable, or construction of a timetable from scratch, is required by some schools, including new schools that are yet to open. That’s when Edval’s timetable master planning experience comes to the fore.
“Teacher’s assigned to develop timetables in schools are often busy with other roles, such as administration, or they are teachers without classes to teach, and they don’t have the time to sit there and model something as effectively as they’d like,” she says.
Since Edval has seen hundreds of different timetables and ideas, Moira says she says the organisation is a resource schools can use to gain more control over outcomes.
“We know what structures work and what won’t work. In the end, it’s our creative approach that gives schools the quality and control they need.”
Edval’s timetabling software will be used by almost 150 Victorian schools this year, up from 17 in 2013. As a former teacher, Moira says she knows how hard it can be to take on timetabling without assistance. Moira previously developed timetables as a teacher at Victoria’s Mooroolbark College in 2006. She taught senior Maths and Physics while organising her class’ daily timetables.
“When we went from a six to four period day, I took on the restructure without external advice or assistance. It was challenging to work out how we were going to do it, see through and work out any problems,” Moira says.
Although her efforts proved successful, looking back, Moira says it would have been much easier using Edval to model the timetable before it was up and running.
“I later helped other schools with how they could apply a similar methodology, so they were modelling change in the early stages, rather being in the situation I was in.”
“I was lucky I had an excellent principal who had advised making the change so that was really useful, and the timetable itself was an easier timetable, as it had less variables to watch out for. Even then, it still took an extensive amount of time.”