Edval’s new Timetabler-in-Residence service provides a new model for school timetabling by pairing decision-makers with timetabling experts to deliver efficiency and long-term cost benefits, writes David Elliot-Jones.
The Timetabler-in-Residence (TIR) service is available to existing Edval customers and schools who intend to use Edval software for their timetabling needs. Edval will initially consult with interested parties to design a package and a price that reflects the size and complexity of the adopting school. A dedicated TIR consultant will attend necessary meetings and work mostly offsite to construct the initial timetable and will be available throughout the year to maintain the timetable according to shifting needs.
Edval consultants have a wealth of experience gained through working both in and with a wide variety of schools and are timetabling year round. As such, they are often able to see alternative solutions to tricky timetable situations. They also have an in-depth knowledge of the software itself – solutions can be modelled quickly and easily for a school with the result that the school will have a higher quality solution that benefits all: students, teachers and the budget.
Schools also benefit from the ‘hive mind’ of the larger Edval team. Edval consultants use their combined experience to solve tricky problems, and should the dedicated consultant fall ill or be momentarily unavailable, other Edval consultants will step in.
Why Outsourcing the Timetable is More Intuitive
A good school timetable should balance factors such as student needs, teacher requirements and resource availability, without losing sight of school priorities. The problem is that each of these factors are subject to change – especially during peak timetabling times – and in-house timetablers don’t always have the flexibility to adjust.
Typically, schools allocate the timetable duty to teachers or non-teaching support staff. There are pros and cons to each of these options.
Teachers can relate to school dynamics, such as student wellbeing, teacher needs and educational outcomes to deliver a realistic (and hopefully balanced) timetable. But equally, their ‘on-the-ground’ status can limit their timetabling capacity. Tough timetabling decisions can be disrupted by friendship or loyalty, and teaching can often take priority at crucial times when extras hours are required to test and action changes in the timetable.
On the other hand, support staff can deliver relatively unbiased outcomes and are better placed to focus on the timetable during peak periods, but significantly lack the on-the-ground ‘know-how’ of teachers. For each of these options timetabling training incurs a cost and there is always the risk of staff turn-around or reallocation.
Edval’s Timetabler-in-Residence service streamlines the timetabling process. Key-decision makers, paired with an Edval consultant, can have changes tested and actioned promptly (usually within 24 to 48 hours). In addition to their timetabling expertise, Edval consultants understand schools (most have worked in them) and will take extra care to understand individual school needs. Converting timetabling to work completed by a service is also more economical, since more hours can be applied when needed, such as during peak timetabling periods. Moreover, the offsite nature of the service eliminates structural issues such as the approval-process, bias and limited contact hours.
Christian Brothers College: Early Adopters of Edval’s Timetabler-In-Residence Program
Christian Brothers College, an R-12 Catholic school based in Adelaide, decided to trial the Timetabler-in-Residence service after Edval helped construct a successful 2016 timetable at a late stage in Term 4 last year.
For the 2017 school year, following the resignation of the regular school timetabler, Assistant Principal of Learning Dr Sean Mangan assumed the timetabling responsibility in a decision-making capacity, pairing with Adelaide-based Edval consultant Debra Allen.
“Deb’s strength is that she can dedicate her whole time to [timetabling], whereas my time is often pulled in lots of different directions, and I might not get the concentrated time that she can put in,” Dr Mangan said.
“To have someone purely focussed on the best possible timetable for a school is a real advantage. Deb largely works remotely, so I’ll email her things and ask her to do them for me, and then she’ll get back to me fairly promptly.”
At the time of writing, Christian Brothers College are holding student re-counselling for subject choices. With Debra on-hand to log prospective changes in real-time, the process has been markedly swifter than the previous year.
Drawing from her extensive timetabling experience, Debra is also able to foresee any problems that may emerge with proposed changes and offer a broader insight to help inform the timetabling direction.
“We have fortnightly meetings with executives where she puts on the screen what the line structure’s looking like, how many students have enrolled in these classes and which classes therefore are viable and which are not. She’ll give us a briefing and then we’ll discuss whether to combine classes to ensure their viability,” Dr Mangan said.
Dr Mangan regards the Timetabler-in-Residence service as an investment to help cut staffing costs in the long-term. Even though the college is only three months into its year-long trial, he says that Debra is “already demonstrating” such savings.
“Staffing is always your biggest cost in a school. Not that you want to reduce staff, but at the end of the day you have to run effectively and that’s probably the biggest economical saving we’re going to make [with the Timetabler-in-Residence service],” Dr Mangan said.
A timetabler himself, with over ten years’ experience in previous roles, Dr Mangan was initially sceptical about outsourcing the timetable.
“ I thought ‘I don’t want someone else doing our timetable, they don’t know the school, they don’t know the ins-and-outs and the politics and the part time needs and the different needs that staff have’,” Dr Mangan said.
“But Deb has really gotten into the skin of the school by coming as often as she can to meetings and we’ll walk around the school and we’ll look at which buildings are going to be for which year levels – so she’s not just blindly timetabling.”
The biggest benefit for Dr Mangan, however, has been the overall quality of the timetable, which he sees as enhancing student and teacher satisfaction, and improving efficiency.
“The timetable is the engine room, operationally, for a school. If a timetable is running well, then generally the students have the subjects that they want, teachers are generally in the right subjects as well.”