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.”]]>
Ensuring every school is a great school is the most important thing in both primary and secondary education. At the same time, there must be a school for every child to go to. This sounds obvious and easy, but rapid changes in demographics mean that it has been harder than it sounds (and US-based results from online charter schools are so poor that full time e-learning is not a viable option).
Online learning alternatives do exist and the education system continues to be disrupted by new technologies, but there is as yet no evidence to suggest online learning can act as an adequate substitute for the physical place of learning: the school. Recent research in the U.S. showed that “the majority of online charter students had far weaker academic growth in both math and reading compared to their traditional public school peers.”
The challenge for Australian policy makers – and parents – is that our population continues to grow in extremely variable ways. Some densely-populated areas will see high growth in demand for schools, particularly inner-city Melbourne and to a lesser extent in the North Shore of Sydney, as well as Western Sydney. Other areas are witnessing rapid growth around greenfield sites, such as Melbourne’s outer growth corridors.
My analysis of population projections shows the incredible pace of this growth in some areas. For example, the local government area of Wyndham (between Melbourne and Geelong) will need around 100 new classrooms every year for the next decade. In Queensland, the outskirts of Ipswich are seeing new suburbs – doubling the size of the city – spring up over the coming years.
In contrast, many middle-ring suburbs are now seeing very low population growth. Regional cities, which depend on regional economies, cannot be easily generalized: some are growing strongly, while others have relatively flat populations. And outside their regional hubs, many regional parts of Australia have shrinking populations of school age children.
We have a patchwork quilt of the growth in education demand, yet education still needs to be delivered locally. So, how do we ensure there is a school available when students need it?
Underlying this general challenge are three specific challenges for schools that exist in three very different contexts.
1. High Growth, Little Room
The first challenge can already be seen in the fast-growth areas of the inner-city, where land is already at a premium. Where there has been a failure to put land aside for schools when an area goes under development, such as can be seen at Fisherman’s Bend in Melbourne, the Government (or private interests, in the case of private schools) has to then pay over the odds to acquire the necessary land, which has been known to quadruple in value over a short timeframe.
In inner-city areas with only small blocks available for schools, we need to develop different models for what schools should look like. The education departments in Victoria, New South Wales and South Australia each have vertical schools under development – the first government schools of their kind in Australia – in South Melbourne, Parramatta, and Adelaide parklands. These will be multi-storey buildings with outdoor spaces at multiple levels. Even at schools like these it’s of vital importance that kids have access to outdoor spaces in which to play, as this has been shown to be critical for physical and mental development.
When schools become overcrowded, as enrolment rises above the intended capacity of the school, the evidence suggests that students learn less effectively. Overcrowding can therefore be a real problem for educators and school planners, more so than the size of the school per se.
The growth we’re now witnessing in inner Melbourne and Sydney is the result of a ‘mini’ baby boom that occurred around 2006. The first children of that boom are currently in Grade 5. Planning was further complicated by the fact that young families often choose to stay in inner city apartments rather than moving out the suburbs.
As night follows day, primary school children become secondary school children, so from 2018 onwards we know that secondary schools in those areas will become increasingly crowded unless new schools come online. This is complicated by the fact that affluent inner-city parents are avoiding some inner city schools that are not perceived to be ‘good schools’, leading to schools that have lots of capacity nearby other schools that are over-subscribed.
2. High Growth, New Communities
The second challenge occurs in the brand new suburbs such as those in outside of Ipswich in Queensland, the new developments to the south of Perth and in Melbourne’s growth corridors, and some parts of Western Sydney. These areas will see long-term population growth and so new schools will absolutely be needed, not just temporary classrooms.
The complication is that the location, design and culture of schools in a brand new area can greatly influence the integrity of that community. The local primary school in particular should become the beating heart of the community, bringing people together, and developing community spirit with fetes and similar events. Given that there are few pre-existing community services, these primary schools should be designed to include early learning and childcare facilities – even maternal health services. State Governments are aware of the importance of the school as the heart of the community, and have been trying some new models, such as community hubs, that integrate a range of services with schools.
However, the evidence around what models work best is still mixed, and it will be a continuing challenge to ensure we get these right. If a new suburb doesn’t develop a sense of cohesive community as the first generation of children grows up, it will face much bigger challenges further down the track.
3. Low Growth and Shrinking
In some regional areas, where the population is shrinking, some schools will face eventual closure. Just as challenging, they will need to find ways to adapt to shrinking class sizes and fewer resources to offer a diverse and rich curriculum in the intervening time. Yet, no less than any other young Australians, students in these schools deserve a high quality of education the entire time.
Long-term planning is essential, especially in selecting the right sites for new schools. That is to say, school planning needs to ensure schools are becoming available at the right time, before current schools become overcrowded. Being half a step ahead in planning is probably cheaper and better in terms of education outcomes than being two steps behind and needing to catch up. How well this has been done so far varies by state.
Victoria and New South Wales had, overall, no growth in the school-age population11 for around 20 years, from the mid-80s to the mid-00s. They are now playing catch up, because their new normal is high population growth.
To deal with these changes, both Education Departments (which do the planning) and Treasury (which approve the funding) must operate in new ways in order to scope new projects and approve investments, as well as engage with the community on a different level. The launch in May 2016 of the Victorian School Building Authority is a sign that planning is getting more high-level attention, and New South Wales has also announced record investment in school infrastructure.
In comparison, Queensland and Western Australia have had somewhat more consistent growth in population. This allows more of a ‘continuous build’ mindset, which is intrinsically more efficient than a reactive approach that occurs in fits and starts when pressures become too much to bear.
South Australia and Tasmania have seen and slowly shrinking of school populations so they’ve been weathering the impacts of the third scenario as described above. Their big challenge is how to keep schools thriving even as enrolment naturally shrinks.
Turning Challenges into Opportunities
For the educators themselves, it’s important to gather relevant data that can inform on the size of each local cohort and when they’re expected to arrive in schools.
But doing this planning school-by-school is the wrong answer. Ultimately, the education system is interconnected, regardless of how we might see it from time to time. This means that the entire system will benefit from greater levels of communication between Government schools, Catholic schools and independent schools of all kinds. A consultative, rather than purely competitive, approach should be considered between these various groups in the interests of gaining the best results for the entire student body.
Existing schools will also be affected. Some schools will need to rethink their catchment areas. This is particularly true of popular secondary schools in high-growth neighbourhoods who are expected to be hit with a wave of enrolments in the next two-to-three years as the 2006 baby-boomers start high school.
In the longer term, existing inner-city schools blessed with extensive grounds should expect to come under pressure for their space to be used to benefit the broader community, representing an operational and design concern for them. Under what terms will those spaces be used and how does the school manage the situation? Some schools may see it purely as a challenge, while others may grasp it as an opportunity to demonstrate additional value. In cities that are becoming more densely populated, land becomes increasingly more precious and needs to be used efficiently.
The Next Decade is Vital
While there is always uncertainty in population projections, Australia’s total population as well as the number of births is forecast to grow over the long term. That means the next decade is an opportunity to experiment and learn how well different approaches work. All of us in the education space must take on board this opportunity, because we’ll need that experience for the next decade and the one after that.
Growth in Australia’s population is higher than we’ve seen since the 60s and 70s. Now is the time to begin systematically planning, implementing and testing new approaches and new designs for schools, for the benefit of future generations of students.
This article was originally published in Education Matters Primary, October 2016.
- Anon, (2015) Online Charter Schools Students Falling Behind Their Peers. Media Release. Center for Research on Education Outcomes, Stanford University
- Goss, P. (2016) Should you worry about a schools shortage? It really depends on where you live. The Conversation
- Cook, H. (2016) Schools shortage crisis hits Victoria. The Age
- Queensland Government population projections, 2015 edition; Australian Bureau of Statistics, Regional population growth, Australia, 2013-14, (Cat no. 3218.0)
- Goss, P. (2016) Schools crisis comes with massive waste of tax dollars. The Age
- Anon. (2014) Do Crowded Classrooms Affect Learning? Frontiers Academy
- Harradine, N. (2011) Mini baby boom puts pressure on education system. ABC News
- Jacks, T. White flight: race segregation in Melbourne state schools. The Age
- See The National Community Hubs Program, an initiative of Community Hubs Australia, supported by the Scanlon Foundation and the Australian Government Department of Social Services.
- McDonald, M., Moore, T., Sanjeevan, S. (2012) Primary schools as community hubs: A review of the literature. Murdoch Childrens Research Institute.
- Australian Age Structure in 2015. Australian Bureau of Statistics, Australian Demographic Statistics and Population Projections, Australia, 2012 (base) to 2101 (no 3101.0 & 3222.0).
- New South Wales Department of Education (2016). $1 Billion boost to school infrastructure in record education spend. Media release.
- Projection Results – Australia (last updated 2013). Australian Bureau of Statistics.
Dr Pete Goss is School Education Program Director at Grattan Institute, an independent public policy institute. He is the lead author of its two recent reports Targeted Teaching: How better use of data can improve student learning and Widening gaps: what NAPLAN tells us about student progress.
Pete is passionate about developing school education systems that maximise the learning growth of every student. He brings to education a perspective of how to deliver change, based on over 10 years’ experience as a strategy consultant in the UK and Australia, most recently with the Boston Consulting Group. He originally trained as a scientist, with a PhD in genetics from Harvard University.
The Federal Government has released its budget for the year ahead, announcing a total spend in education of $33.7 billion, yet not all areas of education are set to benefit.
Despite the spending, the government announced cuts of $152.2 million over four years to the Higher Education Participation Program, as well as $20.9 million over four years from the Promotions of Excellence in Learning and Teaching in Higher Education Program.
By comparison the $33.7 billion in spending includes an increase of $1.2 billion of school funding, to be delivered between 2018 and 2020, as well as $118.2 million over the next two years going towards students with a disability.
As pointed our by Senior Lecturer in Education Policy at the University of Melbourne, Glenn Savage, the increase in funds falls ‘short of the $4.5 billion promised by Labor between 2018-19 as part of the Gonski reform model’.
However, the increase is nevertheless likely to be warmly received by educators who have been fearing cuts, with the government previously hinting it might cease all funding to public schools altogether.
‘The funding increase is out of step with education minister Simon Birmingham’s repeated claim that funding does not matter as much as other features of schooling such as curriculum or quality teachers. If this were truly the case, then why the funding increase?’ Savage questions in a brief letter to SBS News.
What funding does exist for schools is expected to be delivered on a needs-based plan. which may require students as young as five or six facing tests in order to determine whether they qualify for extra assistance.
Education Minister Simon Birmingham said these changes have been introduced to improve student performance.
‘It is completely unacceptable that the performance of our students in fundamental skills like literacy and numeracy continues to slip even while our funding continues to significantly increase,’ Birmingham told the Sunday Telegraph.
The changes also include minimum standards for students to pass Year 12, as well as changes to teacher pay structure, with performance set to be rewarded over length of service.
Several issues have also been deferred in this budget, with higher education reform pushed back one year and little to be seen for early learning.
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