Block scheduling

Very low or no impact for very low or no cost, based on limited evidence.

Cost Per Pupil Cost estimate: Less than £80 per pupil per year. cost per pupil
Evidence Rating Evidence estimate: At least one meta-analysis or review. evidence rating Average impact: 0 additional months. Impact  0 months

What is it?

Block scheduling is one approach to school timetabling in secondary schools. It typically means that pupils have fewer classes (4-5) per day, for a longer period of time (70-90 minutes). The three main types of block schedules found in the research are:

  • 4x4: 4 blocks of 80–90 minute classes in one day, students take 4 subjects in one term
  • A/B: classes of 70-90 minutes each for 3/4 different subjects on every alternating day
  • Hybrid: 5 classes per day, between 55 and 90 minutes in length. 

How effective is it?

There is no consistent pattern in the evidence. The most recent systematic review concluded that 4x4 seemed to produce higher overall achievement than traditional schedules, though this may mask differences between subjects. More detailed analysis suggests that in science the A/B block scheduling approach resulted in higher results than traditional schedules (two to five months of additional progress); in mathematics and English the evidence was unclear with studies showing both better and worse results for any type of block scheduling compared with traditional scheduling.

The evidence suggests that how teachers use the time they are allocated is more important than the length of lesson or the schedule of lessons, and hence that the introduction of block scheduling is unlikely to raise attainment by itself. It may also be that when different timetable patterns are introduced, the changes will only be beneficial if teachers alter the way they teach to get the best from the time allocation. Teachers and students often perceive that timetabling changes are beneficial, especially when it appears to increase one to one interaction. However, these perceptions are not clearly linked with improved learning outcomes.

How secure is the evidence?

There are a reasonable number of studies and one systematic review which looks at the quantitative evidence of the impact of timetabling and scheduling changes on students’ learning.

Timetabling mainly affects secondary schools, though the time spent on different areas of the curriculum is also relevant at primary level. The research has mainly looked at impact on mathematics, English and science.

For full references, click here.

What are the costs?

The costs of making alterations to the timetable are mainly in terms of organisational effort and time and involve minimal financial outlay.

What should I consider?

  • Timetabling changes alone are not sufficient to improve learning.

  • Teachers need to alter the way that they teach and should plan and organise different kinds of learning activities to obtain benefits.

  • Have timetabling changes been matched to curriculum goals and teaching and learning objectives (such as longer lessons for science experiments)?

  • Have you considered how longer lessons may provide opportunities for other promising approaches such as improving the amount of feedback that students get from the teacher or from each other (see Feedback)?