Can software generate the school timetable – Part 1

 Any thoughts or comments are welcome – just email

I sit here wanting to just answer the question and talk timetabling, timetabling and more timetabling!  But before I do let’s take a huge step back and ask why do schools have a timetable?  I’m sure you can come up with many definitions but typically a response would be along the lines of:

The school timetable is a mechanism or a framework that delivers and supports the school curriculum offering by organising teachers, students and rooms.

Please don’t get hung up on a precise definition we can start to re-define it in later articles.

The big takeaway is as a timetabler you are going to be working with (organising) Teachers, Students and Rooms.

Can software handle teachers, students and rooms – absolutely they can.  But the question is, can it generate the school timetable?  Once again let’s take a step back and have a bit of fun.

Some people see the timetable as:

  • A large Sudoku puzzle
  • A large jigsaw

Although I understand that viewpoint my responses might be along the lines of:

  • When you buy a jigsaw, you know how pieces it has, you know what it is supposed to look like and most importantly you know there is a solution!
  • When you open a Sudoku puzzle book, you might not know where the numbers go but you know the rules of the game and with some time and patience you know there is a solution!

The big takeaway from my two examples is you know there is a solution!

Let’s test my theory.  Although I can’t give you a jigsaw to solve let’s try the following Sudoku puzzle

Sudoku puzzle - easy

Take five, minutes or ten minutes to complete the Sudoku – hopefully you enjoy completing it!  If it takes a little longer, that isn’t a problem.  Just for completeness the answer is shown below

Sudoku puzzle 1 answer

Last one I promise – but how about the following Sudoku puzzle:

Sudoku puzzle hard

You might find it harder, but you still know there is a solution!

When you or the software are scheduling, you don’t even know that there is a solution, yet you are trying to find one!

To use the Jigsaw analogy, it’s like getting a box of jigsaw pieces, without a picture and not even knowing you have the right number of pieces!

In our next article I’m going to start looking to classify these problems.

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