A whole-school calendar is an annual project that needs to be successful; like a curriculum, it is based initially on intent as opposed to reality, but it also carries significant weight; the smooth-running of the institutional machine relies on the clarity and accessibility of the information it shares.

The core of progress is knowledge of the intended destination – that’s relatively obvious. By starting with the end in mind, the journey can be more flexible, more responsive; it also allows for what Mitchell et al (1989) referred to as a ‘pre-mortem’; the use of ‘prospective hindsight’ to identify reasons why a project might fail, and thereby putting in steps to prevent this.

Teachers may think – why me? I’ll teach my timetable and then I’ll be told what I need to do differently if anything crops up. This is not the best approach; schools are not shopping centres full of siloed classrooms, but complex interconnected webs of experience – a microcosm of life itself. In a shopping centre, if one store closes early it has no effect whatsoever on the store next door selling a different product; in a school, if one classroom is disrupted for any reason then this causes massive ripples across the whole institution; rooming adjustments, collateral, staff issues, curriculum disruption – a Butterfly Effect.

In a world of tight timetables and a slight misalignment between the suggested coverage hours according to their specifications and the realities of teaching this content in classrooms, not a minute can be wasted. A carefully-considered whole-school calendar makes the process of planning curriculum implementation far easier, as leaders and classroom teachers can anticipate pinch-points, manage workload and be realistic with expectations, both of staff and the students.

Teachers are humans too; they have the same cognitive functions defined by working memory capacity and ability to adapt to change. They too need to optimise their load to ensure their efficiency and therefore their increased effectiveness. The more informed a teacher is, the more weight they can place behind their decision-making and their judgments; they can be more confident, and therefore more competent. When teachers know that the calendar has been designed in a way that is sensitive and empathetic to the needs of all those invested in, they are happier in their work; competency comes from clarity, and is enhanced by a developed craft that makes certain actions automatic. As Brian Eno once said, craft is what enables you to be successful when you aren’t feeling inspired.

A sensible, empathetic calendar is a mark of a strong professional culture in which all individuals can thrive; it is no easy feat to get right.

The calendar is the school, on paper (or online); it encapsulates everything that will, or should, be happening across the swathe of the Academic year; thereby, as a documentary prediction or anticipation of to-be-enacted events, it must encapsulate the aims and ethos of the school and, perhaps, without being too grandiose, education itself.

Education doesn’t just qualify students; it socialises them, it subjectifies them in the wider world (Biesta, 2009). Now, if – as Biesta argues – the foundation for education is the formation and transformation of the person, then that too can be seen as the overriding purpose of the calendar; not in practical terms, but in laying the sequence of opportunities for each individual to access.

In Biesta’s view, subjectification is turning students into ‘subjects’, i.e. coming into presence as individuals – independent agents shaping the society they inhabit (Murris & Verbeek, 2014). It is a personal quality – the existence of the unique person outside becoming part of existing social orders. When we – or our students – are ‘subjectified’ we make wiser decisions, we take responsibility, we make informed judgments. In essence, the calendar gives us a framework in which to make these decisions; the calendar is the social order in which we can subjectify our students.

What we want within our calendar is the opportunity to inspire, to be curious, to give all students a chance to shine. In some cases it might be what Shimamura called ‘taking a trip around unfamiliar terrain’ (Shimamura, 2019) to motivate students and get them to attend, to engage.

However, beyond the abstract there is also the pragmatic – what does the calendar need to contain? Every school has its own unique deadlines that align with internal policies, funding agreements, articles of association, schemes of delegation and School Improvement Plans (SIP). But they also must pay attention to national issues and deadlines, all of which must be factored in.

There’s how the Academic year is organised, internal duties and deadlines, school events and meetings; each of these can be broken further down into sub-categories, all of which carry implications. It is a highly complex, high-stakes process that needs support and careful consideration.

Take, for example, the placement of INSET days; it is not just a case of when they should fall, but also what will be covered therein and whether or not that is the appropriate time of year to address those issues and provide that training – what immediate benefit will it be to staff and therefore students? Certain aspects, such as Safeguarding and PREVENT have to be covered annually at the start of the Academic Year in September, but when do you factor in the other days?

An INSET day in school hours is a day when students aren’t at school – is that the best thing? Could a lot of INSET time be rejigged into twilight sessions, or disaggregated across the year in other forms? However, if that is the case, how invested will staff be in sessions that ask them to stay later at school? In essence, how can we best develop our staff within our shared school culture, and when is the optimal time to help that happen? This then has to be aligned to whatever performance management or review structure operates within the setting to ensure that there is authenticity and validation of the process, and staff have the chance to achieve.

When should Open Evenings happen? Is it a cross-Authority bun-fight where each school wants to get in first to snag the best? Or is a more harmonious and collaborative approach to ensure there are no clashes or conflicts?

Internally, what deadlines are being set, for what, and why? Take, for example, reporting of data; we know from much research and evidence that in terms of assessment there is always a trade-off; assessments set require marking and feedback, both of which take time; data entry requires time as well, and unless the data is purposeful and useful, informing decision-making, is it worth gathering it at all?

There is an ever-present danger that what is measurable isn’t always meaningful, and what is meaningful isn’t always measurable – this must be carefully considered when plotting the deadlines for data entry.

Add to this the need to couple this with reporting to parents and the proximity of these against the reporting deadlines; after all, what we send home in a report is a strong message to our parent communities about what we as schools value; whatever that is, we have to be sure it is accurate, relevant, pertinent, useful – it can’t be outdated. These decisions then, of course, influence the design of curriculum; assessment validates the curriculum and is its servant, not its master, but when working with numerous subject curricula across more than one Key Stage, how true is this as a maxim when looking at whole-school practice?

There has to be an element of give-and-take, with curriculum design being built around summative assessment reporting deadlines, otherwise teaching would go on and on ad infinitum. The clarity and accuracy of this calendar also allows curriculum designers and implementers to harness the benefits of interleaved and spaced practice, having a clear understanding of the journey students will take and the milestones they have to reach.

Anything that may impact on the day-to-day of the standard timetable structure has to be factored in: school photographs; special assemblies; vaccination dates; the dreaded ‘collapsed days’ for revision (see my previous HWRK article Drop The Drop-Down Days) or PSHE; trips and visits; enrichment; Sports Days, and so on – all of these have an impact not just on those involved but, as cited before, the Butterfly effect and ripples into other things.

At its heart, the design of the calendar is a complex, multi-agency process with many tangled factors and inputs; on its surface, it is the document around which school life evolves and revolves, and affects all those within it. It is the ultimate set of predictions and projections – not a complete determinant of what will happen but a strong anticipation of what is most likely. Through the security of the calendar, subjectification can take place; there is shared accountability and individual development, all of which is a pretty desirable outcome in any situation.

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