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 Do Away With Bells and Timetables - Principal
 Posted: Nov 8 2017, 08:47 AM

Rana Capillum

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Award winning Scotch College headmaster calls for overhaul in schooling

Bethany Hiatt, Education Editor
Wednesday, 8 November 2017 4:30AM

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Students Alexander Russell-Weisz, Benjamin Roberts, Austin Palassis and Josh Spadanuda with headmaster Alec O’Connell.Picture: Simon Santi

The head of a prestigious private boys’ college says he would like to see schools move away from their reliance on rigid timetables and bells.

Scotch College headmaster Alec O’Connell, who last night received the Australian College of Educators highest accolade, said schools were structured to deal with big groups of students and had changed little from the way they were run 100 years ago.

“So you have days divided up and bells go and everyone moves every 50 minutes,” he said.

“What I’m saying is we should challenge the current structure of schools and have a look at other different ways to do it.”

Dr O’Connell said requiring students to learn set subjects in timed periods before switching focus to another subject was “anachronistic” and did not reflect real life. But schools were constrained by curriculum requirements to get through the set content.

“I think we should look at a different structure for the school day, not breaking things up into bite-sized units,” he said.

If schools could reduce the number of subjects students had to cover, they could potentially go into more depth or teach other things that mattered, such as creativity and thinking skills.

“We know those things are important, but we’re restricted by subject content,” he said.

Dr O’Connell said the teaching profession had changed significantly in the nearly 40 years since he started his career in education.

He said society now placed higher expectations on teachers and parents at some schools were not as supportive as they once were.

The Australian College of Educators award recognises the outstanding contribution of an individual to educational theory and practice in WA.

College chief executive Helen Jentz said Dr O’Connell had shaped the lives of thousands of students for the better and his passion for learning was infectious.

“It’s not just the students who benefit, rather his colleagues and the entire school community,” she said.

Dr O’Connell has also been the assistant director of Catholic Education in WA, the head of Trinity residential college at the University of WA and an executive director at the University of Notre Dame.

He said he was humbled to be nominated by his peers for the award.

Dr O'Connell's suggestions may sound good in theory but could be very hard to implement. Different subjects require specialist teachers at the Secondary Level and a certain amount of time is required to cover the content of some subjects. Breaking the day into timetable periods allows for some sort of balance during the day. I can appreciate that at times having a successful, smooth-running lesson can be rudely interrupted by a bell can be frustrating but who is going too decide when it's time for a lesson change?

I agree that the development of creativity and thinking skills are very important, but these skills also rely on basic literary and numeracy skills. These are the building blocks of education and without them success in other areas is difficult/impossible. The 3 Rs require a structured day to develop these skills and a timetable provides the necessary balance. At the Primary level, where one teacher covers most subjects, a timetable isn't so rigid and the only bells that intrude are those for recess breaks and the end of day. At the Secondary level the co-ordination of lesson changes and movement of students from one classroom to another is important. An alternative might be to have teachers rather than students changing room but most subjects require purpose supplied classrooms (eg Science labs, Music rooms, Arts and Craft areas etc).

Perhaps Dr O'Connell has an administrative and theory based background but he makes no attempt to address the practicalities of teaching. But then again, I may very well be out of touch with today's education practices.

"Show respect to all people and grovel to none. When you arise in the morning, give thanks for the food and for the joy of living. If you see no reason for giving thanks, the fault lies only in yourself." - Tecumseh (March 1768 – October 5, 1813) Shawnee Chief
 Posted: Nov 8 2017, 09:47 AM

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He must be an adherent of the Chaos Theory.

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 Posted: Nov 8 2017, 11:59 AM

Rana Capillum

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The military look at a 40 minute lesson plan. That is the amount of time they have found where pupils start to switch off. Also it give instructors a break.

Not sure what timing there is in the school system.

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 Posted: Nov 9 2017, 05:04 PM


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As Dr O'Connell said, ....."schools were structured to deal with big groups of students and had changed little from the way they were run 100 years ago."

"Dr O’Connell said the teaching profession had changed significantly in the nearly 40 years since he started his career in education."

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Computers, calculators, buses for school students, parents delivery & pick up their kids, incorrect spelling and sentence structure ---- including teachers, more holidays than people who have regular jobs, heated and air-conditioned classrooms, and I am yet to see a student or teenager hold a pen or pencil correctly, then add the swearing, backchat, ill-manners, disrespect and abuse toward teachers, with meagre or no punishment for the guilty students.
(Experience I had as a trade teacher in work environment and pre-job training.)
The system has certainly changed in the last 100 years, the quality of education is on a downward slide, and many parents need to remove their own 'digits'.

The statistics can't be incorrect!

Equality among humans is a myth, individuality is a fact of life and obliterates equality.
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Natural laws can never be over-ruled by man-made laws, the law-makers become greater fools by trying.
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