Will Falkirk’s school timetable changes work?

Pupils in Falkirk Council schools face a 33-period week from next month
Pupils in Falkirk Council schools face a 33-period week from next month

A classroom ‘revolution’ has brought wide-ranging changes to schools in recent years: Curriculum for Excellence and a new exam system among the most high profile in the shake-up of Scotland’s education system.

However, the latest innovation to be introduced by Falkirk Council is already under fire from parents with some feeling it is a move too far.

A 33-period week will begin in all secondary schools next month, three more than previous timetables.

It involves changes throughout the school day with earlier starts, shorter lunchbreaks and different finishing times across the week.

Education officials have said it is necessary to improve both the curriculum and efficiency.

But parents have hit back, claiming the varied changes, particularly at the start and end of the day, could lead to chaos for families as they try to pick up their children.

Some have also criticised shorter lunch breaks, saying it is not conducive to a youngster’s ability to learn because it does not give them long enough away from their desks.

Falkirk Council’s decision to move to the 33-week timetable came after lengthy consultation with parents, pupils, teachers and their unions with the move agreed in May last year.

Schools have a statutory requirement, set out in the McCrone agreement, to provide 27.5 hours of schooling for pupils and 22.5 hours of contact time for teachers.

It is up to each school management team – made up of the head, deputes and resource manager – to draw up its own timetable within the education authority’s guidelines.

Alex Black, quality improvement manager, said: “While looking at the new timetable I know one school was unhappy with the proposed three-period block in the morning because they felt some young people would be coming to school without breakfast, therefore lowering their concentration levels, and that was taken into consideration.

“The 33-period week gives flexibility and meets government policy. It is already being used successfully by many other authorities across Scotland, including East Renfrewshire, North Lanarkshire, Glasgow City, Inverclyde and North Ayrshire.”

He said the previous timetable did not balance the teachers’ contact time with the amount of time pupils should receive schooling, but the new system would by allowing 33 periods of 50 minutes.

Steve Dougan, who is currently on secondment from his depute head role at Bo’ness Academy to be senior phase/opportunities-for-all co-ordinator, said the new set-up would bring benefits for pupils.

He said: “Having additional periods allows some flexibility and gives young people more opportunities.”

The education officials also said teachers might be more encouraged to get involved in running after-school activities, particularly on days when there were early finishes.

Mr Black added: “We are being asked to make financial savings and deliver a new curriculum which is quite a difficult circle to square. The 33-period week goes some way to meeting requirements but, of course, the advantages to the curriculum are more important than the savings.

“However, we will continue to monitor and review the changes over time as we always do.”