Timetabling for social distancing in schools

In these ever-changing times, the key to keeping your school running smoothly is your ability to create a safe environment for everyone that reduces the risk of coronavirus spreading through your community.

Whether you’re supporting the children of key workers and vulnerable pupils in school while other students learn from home, co-ordinating a phased return to help control infections, or focusing on measures to keep all staff and pupils in school, being able to manage these complexities by easily adapting your timetable will be central to your success.

Our powerful timetabling software, Edval Timetable, can help you with implementing a safe, socially distanced timetable, contact tracing, scheduling a phased return to school and staggering start, break and lunch times.

Arrange a quick no-obligation demonstration to see how we’re helping other schools like yours. Click here to request yours.



Staggering times throughout the day

Allocate classes to alternate starting periods

In this model, you would split your attending students into two groups. Group A would begin at the normal Period 1 time, but end the day at Period 5 (a period early). Group B would begin later at Period 2, and then finish the day as normal at the end of Period 6.  


Create alternative timetable grids

In this model you would run two grids with slightly different times, to limit movement and stagger break time numbers. It still involves splitting each group into two, but also enables you to differentiate break times and period changes. 


For example: 

Timetable A for Group A starts Period 1 at 8:30am and finishes Period 6 at 2:30pm

Timetable B for Group B starts Period 1 at 9:30am and finishes Period 6 at 3:30pm


This is a great option for those looking to lessen the load across all instances of student movement throughout the day. 


Use lunch breaks to create alternate periods

Without altering existing grids or adjusting bell times, create staggering by utilising your lunch break as a teaching period for a group of students. For example Group A might take their lunch in Period 4 and resume class at Lunch, while Group B runs to the normal timetable. 


Splitting students into smaller attendance groups

In order to maintain social distancing as best as possible, the requirement for NSW has been set for no more than 25% of students to be on campus per day. The allocation of smaller attendance groups can be arranged in a variety of ways.  


To assist Edval schools with this, we have developed a new feature, called Social Distance Scheduling. It allows schools to retain their current timetable, while easily scheduling a portion of students in each year to attend on any given day, while the remainder would remotely attend the same classes. Learn more about this feature here. 

By year level

This method ensures peer connection for students, but doesn’t favour a desire to bring families in on the same days. To timetable a division by year, allocate out the relevant years to each day. 


For example;

Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday
Year 7 Year 8 Year 9 Year 10 Year 11 & 12


Another suggestion for the division would be to offer some face-to-face for Year 12 every day, and space the other years out accordingly. You can see a NSW Department of Education example of this kind of structure here


If you structure daily attendance in this way, the easiest way to organise rooms would be to divide each year into groups of 10 (or the appropriate number for your classrooms) alphabetically. 


By house

If you have a structured house system at your school where siblings are in the same house, this can be a good way to divide students favouring families coming on the same days. Much like above, you would allocate houses to separate days within the week. Depending on your curriculum structure, you could then room smaller groups either in years or alphabetical divisions. 


This method would involve creating house ‘classes’ or year levels and enrolling the appropriate students in order to generate the timetable. 


By name – alphabetically 

Another method to group students is by last name alphabetization. This method favours family convenience over year groups. While this may work well for traditional families, consideration for blended families is needed to ensure you don’t favour those with the same last names as their siblings. 


Much like the house option, this would involve creating new classes or year levels inside your timetable, or structuring your current system for movement between years.  


By roll call class

If you want to have students from different year levels present each day, you could choose 1 or 2 roll classes from each year level or every second year level to attend. Having vertical roll call classes would make this easier as you could simply choose one or two roll classes to attend each day depending on numbers. 


Delivery of your curriculum

How you choose to divide and allocate the attendance of your students is inherently connected to how you choose to deliver your curriculum. For Australian NSW  Schools, the DoE recommends a single cross-curricular unit of work for Term 2 for students. There are a number of factors to consider when it comes to curriculum delivery, each with different timetabling and content ramifications. 


As you contemplate;

  • Ideal outcomes for all stakeholders
  • Educational quality
  • Wellbeing for staff and students
  • Distribution of core and specialist subjects
  • PLUS the COVID-19 restrictions and recommendations


We have laid out some curriculum options for you to consider. 


Continuing your remote learning timetable

Many schools may have already implemented an adjusted COVID-19 timetable to manage remote learning. In fact, we made some recommendations on this in a previous article. Despite the return to school, you may decide to continue with this timetable. In this case, you will be effectively running two timetables, one to dictate when and what learning occurs, and another to organise the face-to-face comings and goings of staff and students. 


The big benefit of this is consistency for teachers and students. Rather than creating another change in a time of chaos, you maintain the system they’ve likely already adjusted to. This positions the in-person days as helpful supervised days. That can be used to address student wellbeing or perhaps utilise time for practical specialist sessions. 


Additionally, maintaining this timetable enables you to timetable staff like students, in smaller 1 day a week groups. 


This arrangement also ensures those students who are unable to resume face-to-face school due to personal circumstances avoid being disadvantaged. All students, no matter their in-person attendance, will receive the same education and attention from their teachers. 


Modifying curriculum delivery for each year/stage

If your school is eager to provide regular face-to-face classroom teaching each day for your divided groups of students, modifying your curriculum delivery will be required. 


Firstly, consider the desired outcome for each in-person day, this may be different depending on the year group. Are you looking to deliver as much of the core curriculum as you can in high impact in-person lessons? Or would you prefer to preference specialist lessons (such as your Year 12 subjects that have major works components)? Depending on what you choose to focus your in-person days on, structure your remaining remote timetable accordingly. 


For example, if for Year 7 & 8 you’d like to focus on core units of English, Mathematics and Science, you might restructure your school days to have 3 long periods.  This could potentially involve fewer teachers as all disciplines could run simultaneously throughout the day, but is limited by how many teachers of each discipline you have. 


The benefits of modifying your curriculum delivery for regular, face-to-face lessons is the quality of education and connection you enable for each student. The downside however, is increased load for teachers, who would still be required to prepare and monitor whatever remote learning was happening during each day. This example has the potential to see core subject teachers doing double the workload. 


Running your original timetable with a mixed approach

A third option would be to follow your original timetable with a mixed delivery of online and in-person content. This would likely look like teachers live-streaming or recording their lessons in the classroom (think Eddie Woo style) and making them available for those not in on that day as immediately as possible.


The benefit of this model is some normalcy for students, and continued interaction with their teacher.  However, it is not at all suitable unless you can ensure all your students have stable internet service and technology to access it.


We know every school will be different and there will be no one approach that fits all. As things continue to change, we remain committed to owning the problem and finding the solution. If you need extra advice or support don’t hesitate to get in touch.