Concerned parents hit out over half-day Friday plan for high schools

Parents are concerned about how secondary children finishing early on a Friday should be supervised in light of the Highland Council's plans

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Changes to secondary school timetables in Lochaber will have a major impact on personal and working lives, according to concerned parents.

High schools across Highland, which have not already done so, will move towards a 33-period week when students start to work on the 2017/2018 timetable.

The changes are part of a decision made by Highland Council (HC) in 2014 designed to ‘allow headteachers to maximise the teaching capacity of their staff and therefore maximise the curricular provision for its pupils’.

Some schools have already made this change but a second phase is now expected to be implemented which will see students work a four-and-a-half day ‘asymmetric week’.

Christopher Miller-Craig, head teacher at Ardnamurchan High School (AHS), told the Lochaber Times AHS introduced a 33-period week in 2014/15 which has allowed it to operate an integrated senior phase with S4-6 accessing the same curriculum structure and subject offer.

He added: ‘In principle, this works well, but to do this, we have had to operate with a timetable of varying period lengths – asymmetric periods – with two days having six periods and three days having seven periods.

‘The new HC structure will operate on an asymmetric week and a shorter Friday, which allows us to move to fixed period lengths. This, we believe, will be more straight forward for pupils and staff. While ensuring we implement the new Highland model, we have also done our best to minimise the impact on the earlier start to the day for our farthest flung pupils and have consulted parents on this.

‘In line with what appears to be an emerging model with many other schools, we aim to start at 8.50am and close at 3.40pm. This will allow the school to close on a Friday after a short lunch break. I would stress, however, that our proposed times are not yet confirmed until deemed realistic from a transport perspective.

‘We also look forward to the benefits to the curriculum and what we aim to offer our pupils through the ‘virtual school’ curriculum made possible with many schools now planning to operate on more closely aligned timetables.’

Currently, the weekly timetable at Lochaber High School is made of 30 55-minute periods. In June the plan is for the school to adopt the new structure, meaning a shorter week and 33 periods of 50 minutes each.

According to head teacher Jim Sutherland, this will result in more teacher/pupil contact, increasing the amount of time teachers spend in the classroom from 24 to 27 periods per week.

Despite this parents have raised concerns about how the students will get to and from school, and how they should be supervised on a Friday when their parents are at work. A parent from Lochaber High School, who preferred not to be named, told the Lochaber Times the new Monday to Friday schedule is manageable for most, but Fridays will cause problems.

They said they were ‘gobsmacked’ at the lack of transparency from the school and HC and added: ‘The Parent Council at Lochaber High School seem to know about the changes but have not released information.

‘There has been no information from the Highland Council and looking at its previous consultations, this is right up there with that – a fiasco. Are families not under enough pressure without adding additional costly car journeys, disgruntled primary pupils, as well as an additional two hours of trying to keep teenagers out of trouble?’

The Lochaber Times put these questions to the HC’s head of education Jim Steven who said head teachers will play a key role in this move, adding:

‘Ten secondary schools have operated this system for the last two years. It is due to the positive response from schools we are now rolling this out across Highland.’

A major concern has been the lack of certainty over bus times in and around Fort William because of Highland Council changing contracts.

Mr Stevens emphasised: ‘There is a new bus contract in place and we are working closely with schools to ensure bus times work best for our pupils.’

The Lochaber Times understands letters will be sent out to parents of pupils at LHS once timetable changes are confirmed, hopefully by the end of the month.