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The cost of timetabling

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What is the cost of your timetable? A simple question perhaps – but the answer is complex. When asked, most schools immediately think of either the cost of timetabling software, or else the cost in staff time and expense in performing the task of ‘doing’ the timetable. This is a very common but large misconception.

The true cost of timetabling is the solution. The cost of RUNNING your timetable is far more important than the cost of constructing it. The school must pay for their timetable every single day of the year, with the costs being many millions of dollars. What many schools misunderstand is that the running cost of a timetable is not a fixed quantity and can vary wildly based on the quality of the solution and how well trained the staff are that manage the ongoing timetable. Many think timetable running costs are largely fixed and known, but nothing could be further from the truth.

Timetable structures

Optimisations can be made in the structure of a timetable by setting the number of core classes, or how core and (smaller) prac classes merge together. Careful analysis of timetable structures to maximise class sizes within acceptable limits may well cut your costs by thousands. Do you need to build that extra science lab? Or instead just change your curriculum structures to improve occupancy rates on your existing lab rooms and other resources, at no extra cost?

Which elective classes should run?

Many schools are unaware of the huge impact that determining classes to run has on their bottom line, as well as educational aims. If enough students ask for a subject, it will usually run, but this is far from best practice and costs schools thousands, as well as affecting students’ educational opportunities.

What matters more is the preferential weight of students who can be granted these subjects, together with the likelihood they will actually complete the subject. If 15 students want Art, and 12 want Biology, and you had to cut one of these classes – which should go? If the group of 12 was much keener on Biology than the 15 are for Art, would this matter? What if five of the Biology group were suspected to leave next year anyway, and others in this same group were poor academic students? What if line structures were unable to grant any more than say 10 out of the 15 requests for Art? Would you still run Biology over Art?

Collapse classes

All schools know they can run two classes on a line so they can easily collapse to one class if numbers drop later in the year. But it is not ideal to run both classes in one line, as it reduces access to choice. Clever timetablers and clever software tools allow collapsing of classes ‘across lines’. This can be achieved in several ways, such as swapping students through subjects they take in other lines where there is more than one class of that subject, or by adjusting the lines themselves. So few know this is even an option yet it may just be a few clicks away given the right tools. How much could this save your school?

Save money on casual teachers

There are many ways to significantly reduce the expense of casual teachers with clever timetabling tools, and the right experience. Some clever cover systems support automatic covers of classes, as a good start point for smaller manual adjustments, and can ensure casual staff are utilised more efficiently. Active system prompting of on-call staff or available internal staff also helps schools cap their casual staff expense, as it is easier – or even automatic – to make best use of staff which don’t cost any more money. On-call rosters which are constructed efficiently will promote equity in subsequent allocations, as well as faculty diversity. This approach encourages better educational matching of covers to all subjects.

Many schools have special cover schemes in term four when Year 12 leave and these staff are free. Artificial restrictions on the class placement hinder the use and equity in these covers, but new approaches redistribute allocated ‘Meadowbank’ periods to better suit both staff and the school alike. This increases savings on casual expenses, but also provides better equity and cover placement to teachers – e.g. not on their busy days. Active prompting by a system of merge class opportunities also leads to great savings, as it reduces the number of classes which need to be covered.

‘Timetable’ cost of ownership

Big business always focuses on ‘total cost of ownership’ (TCO), but schools often don’t. TCO analysis includes total cost of acquisition and operating costs. The cost of a timetable is related far more to the solution quality, not the timetable software or labour costs to produce it. With more complex tools and well-trained and experienced timetablers, the TCO can be so much lower. The few areas of potential timetable savings listed above are just some in a long list. It is surprising how many different areas, or how significant the savings can really be, if you know how.

Timetabling: The black art

Oddly, there is no formal, independent certified training for timetablers. It is a black art, only handed down to a trusted apprentice every decade or so. Understood by very few, yet – like an air-traffic controller – they direct millions of dollars of school resources, and shape the educational lives of thousands.

You’d imagine educational entities would mandate standards for their school ‘air-traffic controllers’, in training, in software, in timetabling best practice – as published policy – and with organised conventions to bring school knowledge and industry together. Sadly there is no such focus. It remains a black art, which allows inefficiencies to foster. Who would know what opportunities are being lost in our schools, both financial and educational. This is the hidden cost of timetabling.

Where do I start?

There are simple, relatively inexpensive solutions to leveraging your existing resources for significant financial savings. Review your timetabling software, review your legacy scheduling practices. Get rid of the age old ‘we’ve always done it that way’ mentality – or even worse – a mindset that the timetable is a ‘job to be done’ rather than a creative opportunity to really make a difference. Focus far more on the quality of the solution, instead of just completion of a task. The timetable directs the sum total of all schools resources – scheduling makes all the difference.

Truly value your timetabler. Give them respect. Listen to their advice. Give them allowance time to do their job properly, or embrace assistance from external consultants in support, or curriculum reviews. Encourage staff to engage in ongoing industry training courses. Treat any costs for this as a sound investment paying real financial rewards, as well as delivering improved educational outcomes. Why not schedule in some discussion time now, and start changing your bottom line!

Chris Cooper is a director of Edval Timetables, and active in educational scheduling research. He is also the author of a government accredited textbook. Visit www.edval.com.au for more information.

Alcohol and drug resources for schools

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The Australian Drug Foundation’s Shop stocks the latest information to assist primary and secondary school teachers deliver new or complement their existing alcohol and drug education programs.

The Australian Drug Foundation (ADF) is one of Australia’s leading bodies committed to preventing alcohol and other drug problems in communities around the nation.

The Foundation reaches millions of Australians in local communities through sporting clubs, workplaces, health care settings and schools, offering educational information, drug and alcohol prevention programs and advocating for strong and healthy communities.

Educating students on alcohol and other drugs is as important as ever with research showing that one in five 16 and 17 year olds drink risky amounts of alcohol at least once a month. Another 36 per cent of 12 to 17 year olds drink to get drunk every time they consume alcohol.

Teachers are one of the greatest influences on children, second to their parents. They can talk about the risks and harms of alcohol and other drugs, and stress the importance of looking out for friends, avoiding risky situations and planning ahead.

ADF Shop resources aim to complement the delivery of state based education curriculum across Australia. Pamphlets and information on alcohol, caffeine, ecstasy, GHB, ice, tobacco, cocaine, cannabis among others provide an outline of the substance in an easy to read and visually attractive format. Resources include information about:

  • What alcohol or another drug is;
  • What it looks like;
  • The effects of the drug;
  • The law surrounding the drug; and,
  • Treatment options.

The ADF also has a SMS-based drug information service (0439 835 563) that provides information about the effects of drugs in a confidential and accessible way via mobile phone. The Shop stocks bundles of these wallet cards which outline the phone number students can text, any time of day, to get the effects texted back to them.

Teachers may find other services from the Australian Drug Foundation useful when hosting parent information sessions. TheOtherTalk.org.au encourages parents to openly discuss alcohol and drugs with their children by providing information on how to start the conversation, the law surrounding alcohol and drugs and safe partying tips.

You can view these resources and order online at shop.adf.org.au

References

Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2011). Australian School Students Alcohol and Drug (ASSAD) survey.

 

What’s wrong with school chaplains?

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What is wrong with having Chaplains in schools? As Liberal Senator Corey Bernardi recently said on the ABC program Q&A:

The ethos of our community, the guiding principles of our law, are based and built around Christianity. Now, you don’t have to be a Christian to recognise there are inherent benefits to that.

One thing that is common across all our states’ and territories’ education systems is their commitment to public schools being free, compulsory and secular. So what role is there for religiously trained people – chaplains – to be endorsed by the federal government as the only personnel that they will fund to provide advice and care to children from diverse cultural, religious and ethnic backgrounds in need – to young people struggling with issues of sexual orientation and identity, with bullying or family violence, death and trauma?

Australia however is not and never was a Christian country as is claimed. From the beginning of human habitation through to White colonisation until today, Australia has been overtly secular. The first formal church service was held eight days after Phillip landed in Botany Bay on a Saturday. It was remarked then that there were more important things to do than hold a church service on Sunday, like starting a colony! The Australian Constitution prohibits the Federal Government making a particular religion a condition of employment:

The Commonwealth shall not make any law for establishing any religion, or for imposing any religious observance, or for prohibiting the free exercise of any religion, and no religious test shall be required as a qualification for any office or public trust under the Commonwealth. (Section 116)

The Chaplain program’s essential fault is its compulsory religiosity. As one commentator put it, “the assumption [is] that someone who isn’t religious can’t also be as caring and helpful. Why is the government making it compulsory to put a RELIGIOUS person in this position to get access to funding? The state and the church are supposed to be separated, so state schools will miss out on funding if they refuse to use a religious person as their counsellor/chaplain”.

Peter Garrigan, president of the Australian Council of State School Organisations, which represents the parent bodies of public schools, said the funding was money badly spent. “There is a strong need across the board to be supporting students with disabilities … and putting another $245 million into a chaplaincy program certainly isn’t providing the educational outcomes that we as parents would be expecting.”

The Australian Psychological Society described the decision as “appalling”. “There are no reasonable standards of quality of training for people who take on essentially counselling roles in the school situation,” spokesman and psychologist David Stokes said.

The former Minister of Education Peter Garrett, a devout Christian has changed his mind about Chaplains in schools:

The line between chaplains acting to support students in the provision of general pastoral care and proselytising was too easily crossed… The umbilical cord between churches with their mission to evangelise and chaplain providers who shared this same commitment required significant guideline changes to ensure chaplains did not overstep the mark.

Taxpayers’ money spent in education should employ the best people available to help students, not just the religious.The preferencing of the religious, over the non-religious, for no reason other than their religiousness, is unacceptable in government policy, particularly at a Commonwealth level. At the very least all schools should to given the choice employ non-religious counsellors or welfare workers under this program, not just those that cannot find a chaplain. The National Schools Chaplaincy Program breaches the spirit of the Australian Constitution. It undermines the separation of church and state.

Michelle Grattan concluded that “taxpayers’ money should go to a scheme to employ only those attached to a religion is discriminatory. Discriminatory against non-believers, for a start. And against government schools.”

There have been many complaints about the NSCP with over 40 percent of these substantiated, most relating to the performance of the chaplain. Concerns about chaplains preaching to students however are hard to verify. But the providers of Chaplains in schools are on the record as stating that their role is to:

Facilitate Christian activities on school campuses with voluntary student participation and connect students with local Christian churches with parents’/caregivers’ permission.

Or as Lawrence Kraus renowned theoretical physicist suggested that:

It seemed that they’re not supposed to proselytise. It’s like paying a quarter of a billion dollars to invite clowns into the schools and tell them not to be funny.

Scott Ryan, the parliamentary secretary to the education minister, said student welfare was “core” business for schools. What is the point of having a chaplaincy program, rather than a student welfare scheme, if workers were banned from preaching, proselytising and converting?

If that is the case then the Federal Government should be supporting the employment of fully-qualified and professional welfare officers, and psychologists and not well-meaning unqualified missionaries.

As a former teacher and principal, and now education researcher, I find it unbelievable that our taxes are being used to put religious (and overwhelmingly Christian) men and women into our mutli-cultural public schools to “help young students as they grow and struggle to find their place in life”. If parents opt to send their children to a public secular school then that is what they should get. This is the role for professionally-trained social and welfare workers accredited by the appropriate professional organisation and not a fundamentalist Church organisation like the Scripture Union and Access Ministries.

Dr David Zyngier is a senior lecturer in curriculum and pedagogy at Monash University, Australia.

High school students demonstrate passion towards gaining real work experience

 

 

WEOLT - MIKE SCHUMANN (HONDA)
Mike SCHUMANN

A recently-held online competition has demonstrated that Victorian high school students are passionate about gaining access to work experience in order to take charge of their own career path.

Victoria University’s Work Experience of a Lifetime competition – open to Year 10 and 11 students across the state – saw creative entries from students vying to win a high-profile work placement and mentoring opportunity with some of Australia’s top companies, including Mushroom Group, Leo Burnett, Nova FM and Honda.

Launched in partnership with agency Leo Burnett Melbourne the initiative aimed to help open doors for high school students who often struggle to identify their career passion and gain meaningful work experience.

Vice-Chancellor and President of Victoria University, Professor Peter Dawkins, said that school students should have the same opportunities as university students when it came to work experience.

“The opportunities presented through this competition gives students invaluable insight into what it’s like to work in some of the most exciting local industries and then make an informed decision about what they want to study or do after school,” Dawkins said. “Most Year 10 and 11 students try to secure two weeks of work experience each year which means that, in any given year, there may be more than 60,000 kids undertaking in excess of 4 million hours of work experience.

“We believe it’s important to help ensure that every hour of this is well-spent and that participants get the real world experience they need to succeed in their future professional lives.”

One of the competition winners, Mike Schumann from Camberwell Grammar School, undertook a week-long placement in July at Honda to work in the marketing field. He said the experience has furthered his interest in pursuing a marketing career and also helped him understand what he would and wouldn’t enjoy about being a marketing professional.

“Work experience was fantastic, because not only did it give me the opportunity to work with those directly involved in marketing, but it gave me a chance to see the tasks which they do on a weekly basis and the work that is involved,” Schumann said. “As a result of work experience, I acquired a great understanding of the work ethic, but more importantly, the type of personality required in marketing to be able to negotiate with a range of people.

“I learned that in marketing you have to be able to work as a team, listen to each other, and be open to creative, fresh ideas.”

Professor Dawkins said the quality and quantity of competition entries received demonstrated that Victorian high school students are passionate about gaining access to real world experience and to help support this determination Victoria University will be looking to make the Work Experience of a Lifetime competition an annual offering.