Rotas and 'Cyclical School'

Rotas. Don't you just love them? As both a teacher and a churchgoer I must be well up on the list of people whose lives are controlled by timetables, lists and schedules. At school I'm on the Duty Rota and the Detention Rota. At church I'm on the Worship Rota and the Junior Church Rota. Every Friday morning my dear wife eagerly awaits (a bit of an exaggeration, perhaps) her rota from Age UK, telling her which of her elderly clients she is to shop for. She just hopes it isn't the guy who gets through a crate of 24 cans of beer every week as, at 4' 10", it's a struggle for her to cart that up several flights of stairs. She's on the Worship Rota and the Coffee Rota, too, although what passes for 'coffee' in a Baptist Church wouldn't pass muster at your local Costa. We've got more plates spinning than they have at the circus.

Rotas are now being suggested as a way of getting schools to function in a limited way as we come out of lockdown. Various models have found favour, depending on the school. For some, it's going to be so many in school one day, another group the next and yet another group the day after that. For some, it'll be mornings for everyone whose name begins with a letter between A-M, while those with names from N-Z will have to wait until the afternoon. Abigail Abrahams? We'll see you at 7.30am. Zareena Zygote? You can stay in bed until tea time. Still others intend to set up a kind of everlasting parents' evening where students turn up at fifteen minute intervals to be grilled on where all the assignments they are supposed to have done over the past three months have actually gone. A kind of Spanish Inquisition. Nobody expects that.

But can a school function at 20% or 40% of its capacity? Probably. Just like you could, if you wanted, drive a Lamborghini down the crawler lane of a motorway behind a juggernaut doing its best to reach 40 mph. Certainly, a school with a fraction of its students on site would pass the social distancing test. 200-400 students on a site for 1000 would all be able to swing their virtual cats with abandon. But what would the others do? We'll, as Baldrick would say, "I have a cunning plan!"

I came across this diagram when I was drifting about in cyberspace this morning. Five stages in the 'learning cycle', namely Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate and Evaluate. Which phases, I wondered, requried the physical presence of the student and the teacher in the same place? And which could be completed with them physically distant from one another? After a bit of thought I concluded that 'Engage' and 'Evaluate' probably had to take place at a fixed point in time and space (but that even this wasn't the case for older students with a degree of self motivation) However, with 'Explore', 'Explain' and 'Elaborate', you could be much more flexible. You could do these at 3.00am in the morning if you wanted; and, as for where, who cares? I'll do my Maths in the bath on my waterproof tablet, if that's OK with you

But wait, you say ... this all assumes that everyone has a high speed internet connection and the latest technology. No. If all students are required to attend at the 'Engage' stage they can be given all the materials that they need for 'Explore', 'Explain' and 'Elaborate' in printed form, or as a video on a CD ... even as an audio file on a voice recorder or - and here we're going back to the 1980s - a cassette tape. Then they come back four days later to 'Evaluate', bringing their work with them.

I've decided to call this Cyclical School. Admittedly, on 'Engage' and 'Evalulate' days, students would have to do all their subjects. But if the 'Engage' part of a one hour lesson is only, say, 15 minutes spent introducing new material, lessons on 'Engage' days could be much shorter - maybe twenty minutes? And you'd get around wasted chageover time by having the staff be the ones that moved around. So, you'd cover 13 Key Stage 3 lessons in 4 hours and 20 minutes. Add some break and lunch time, say 50 minutes and you're still finishing earlier than you used to. Want to be home in time for Tipping Point? Come to Cyclical School!

Staff would have to be in for part of every day, but would only spend 20 minutes with each class, so they would have lots of time to engage online with students who were on 'Explore', 'Elaborate' or 'Engage' to answer their questions and provide feedback in real time. A timetable of 90% contact and 10% non-contact would probably become about 20% face-to-face contact, 50% digital contact, 20% PPA and 10% supervising those who need to come to school to remain engaged.

Any thoughts? Anyone brave enough to give it a go while we wait for this pesky virus to go away? Please get in touch via I'd love to speak to you.

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