Primary Curriculum Timetabling

As I look to timetabling in the new school year, I reflected on the work Tom Sherrington did a few years ago about secondary timetables. Unfortunately, the primary curriculum timetable is not so easy to analyse, given that very few schools stick to a simple programme of x lessons of equal length per day, and few teach every lesson every week – or even every fortnight, as would be common in secondary.

Because of this, it’s much harder to get a sense of how much time schools are giving over to each subject, particularly given the changes of recent years and those on the horizon. So, I set out to try to find out as much as I could, through another of my Google surveys.

It’s impossible to present all of that information tidily, since every school’s situation is unique, but here I’ve tried to draw out some key things.

Weekly subject hours

Different schools take different approaches. Three different schools might offer 36 hours of Art each year, with one offering a weekly 1-hour lesson, another having two hours every other week, with a third having two-hour lessons every week, but only every other half-term. Yet another might mainly use Art days each term to reach its quota. So we’re not comparing like with like, here, but the table below attempts to show the average number of hours taught for each subject if evened out over 36 weeks of term (allowing a couple of weeks for being off-timetable) – all rounded to the nearest 5 minutes.

I don’t imagine anyone being massively surprised by any of those figures, but it certainly gives an indication of the narrowing of the primary curriculum. When the QCA last recommended teaching hours in 2002, it suggested an average of 55 minutes a week for the majority of foundation subjects. We’re now struggling to get above 30 for Geography!


Perhaps more surprising is the fact that although there is more time given to the tested subjects in Year 6, the decline in ‘breadth’ is not huge. It seems that the curriculum is fairly limited across the whole of primary.rangeThe greatest breadth in curriculum, at least in timetable terms, appears to be in Year 3.


Some years ago there was a clear government target for primary pupils to have at least 2 hours of timetabled PE each week. It seems that the target has achieved something, as it is the only foundation subject which has ended up with significantly more than its previously recommended amount (which was 1 hour 15 minutes in 2002). It’s also one of the few subjects with weekly slots, with 98% of responses saying they taught PE every week, with nearly 90% having more than 90 minutes of PE each week.


The only subject that comes close to regular weekly slots is Science, with around 2/3 of respondents saying they taught Science every week.


At the other end of the scale, Design & Technology is very rarely taught on a weekly schedule. This is perhaps not surprising given the amount of resource required for the subject. Nearly a third of schools appear to use standalone days each term or half-term for the subject instead:


Exceptional Cases

I didn’t collect exact data, but only in categories, so of those schools who said they had 7½ or more hours each week of English or Maths, I could only count the 7½ hours. In the end, more than half of responses (52%) gave an answer of 7½ hours a week or more for English. It seems, therefore, if anything that the above are under-estimates of the time given over t o English.

Only about 10% of schools gave a similarly high answer for Maths, but this is still quite a significant number. Those figures rise to 57% and 16% each for pupils in Year 6.

At the other end of the scale, approximately 5% of responses said that they gave over no time to PSHE. The subject is not yet statutory, so presumably that figure will fall over the coming year or two. Around 4% of responses said they taught no Computing at all; I wonder if that’s more a confidence issue than a planned decision. Who knows?



8 thoughts on “Primary Curriculum Timetabling

  1. Tom Burkard 8 July 2019 at 6:39 am Reply

    Secondary Science teachers I’ve talked to assume that pupils will arrive in Year 7 utterly ignorant of KS2 material. I seriously doubt there is any point in teaching science in primary school–pupils lack sufficient knowledge or skills to study it on any but the most superficial levels, and what little they do learn is not retained.

    I’m sure most subjects suffer from our over-ambitious NC–and in Maths, the only area I’ve studied, the NC’s spiral structure dooms less-able pupils to retaining almost nothing in primary school. We tested 212 Year 7 pupils at an urban comprehensive last year, and 15.4% were unable to answer a simple subtraction problem. It really is that bad. It’s time our Maths Hubs were scrapped and NCETM guidance abandoned–until primary schools take Roshenshine seriously, we will continue to waste less-able pupils’ time by failing to consolidate learning.

    • paulmartin42 8 July 2019 at 8:22 pm Reply

      “I seriously doubt there is any point in teaching science in primary school–pupils lack sufficient knowledge or skills to study it on any but the most superficial levels, and what little they do learn is not retained.”
      Seriously ? …. I have taught science across many different age groups and Primary are by far and away the most enthusiastic.

    • Rob 9 July 2019 at 9:36 pm Reply

      I think that secondary school teachers who make comments like yours should spend some time in primary schools to see what actually goes on before making sweeping generalisations such as this. I would also suggest popping down to the maths department because your very specific example of Year 7s not being able to answer a simple subtraction problem doesn’t really add up. 15.4% of 212 is not a round number of children which kind of undermines your entire point and questions your evidence base. Many of our Year 6 children could have told you that!

  2. Danny Yee 8 July 2019 at 3:10 pm Reply

    How many schools responded to the survey, just out of interest? Obviously getting a representative sample is hard, but it would be good to know if there were obvious sampling biases.

    • paulmartin42 8 July 2019 at 8:21 pm Reply

      I imagine most Heads north of border are too busy to reply. Second, Primary timetables seem to me to have more personal details and as a result are unlikely to be shared.
      Further, as almost pointed out in the article, the Primary timetable is far more at the mercy of such as weather, local initiatives, funding – we have lost a £1million off school budgets in Aberdeen, etc

  3. […] recent survey by Michael Tidd has documented the huge proportion of lesson time in primaries that is now devoted to maths and […]

  4. sabahnoor0021 4 October 2019 at 3:41 pm Reply

    informative 🙂 ❤ thanks for worth sharing

  5. […] Back in 2019, just before the introduction of the new inspection framework, I asked teachers to share information about how they timetabled their curriculum in Y1-6. At the time, I was interested to see if there was a shift following the focus on deep dives in foundation subjects; I had no idea what else might happen in the interim. I’d venture that any shift in that direction might have been affected by the covid closures, but who knows? The results from that survey are here. […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: