Rota, roster or schedule are the most commonly used words for organising care staff to attend appointments. We talk about scheduling staff rotas, rostering (as a verb) and collectively having a roster of who’s delivering what care when.  So, what exactly is the difference between these words?  And where did they come from?

Use of Rota, Roster or Schedule in Home Care Management

Firstly, there’s a commonly accepted use for each of these words in the context of home care and healthcare in general.  More broadly speaking, rota and roster are often used interchangeably; but within the home care industry we tend to adhere to the following meaning.


A rota is a list of appointments and the time (more often day and time) they should be attended, often repeating after a specific interval – e.g. monthly.  This is generally represented as a calendar.

In the context of an individual home care worker, they would typically receive a rota for the following week, or perhaps month, of the appointments they need to attend.

With modern electronic rota scheduling solutions, such as CarePlanner, a carer may receive this directly in an app on their mobile phone, or log in to view it online from any device.  An electronic rota, like this, allows the carer to click on each appointment to find more details such as medication requirements, service user notes, location and even travel advice via Google Maps integration.

A rota could also be considered from a service user’s perspective.  Each service user will have a rota of care requirements which need to be met.  These requirements are addressed by scheduling appointments to be attended by specific carers, through the rostering process.


A roster is a single location where various appointments and who is attending them is stored.  In the context of home care, this enables a care manager to allocate individual carers to a range of appointments each day.

Rostering is the verb used to describe the process of allocating carers to appointments in the roster.  With modern rostering solutions, such as CarePlanner, allocating carers to a roster automatically builds each carer’s individual rota.  For each appointment, on each day, the care manager will be able to see which carers are available and even who is the best fit – based on proximity, skills, preferences and other factors.

The roster is the definitive mapping of which carers are assigned to which calls on specific dates.


Whilst rota and roster are the most commonly used terms for organising carers to attend care appointments, schedule is a more general term for what is happening and when.  Schedule can refer to an individual’s rota (their schedule of work), or the care agency roster (which carers are scheduled for which appointments over the coming weeks).

More specifically, the schedule tends to be used to describe an ongoing, repeating pattern of calls and the assignment of carers to these.  Schedules may have call patterns which repeat weekly, fortnightly, monthly or by some other number of weeks.  

With shift patterns, common in social care, there is often a need to have one week on and one week off, or perhaps a more complex on/off repeating pattern of shifts.  Electronic scheduling solutions should offer ways to support these repeating patterns and make it easy to schedule ongoing repeats at in the desired manner.

Like rostering, scheduling is a verb commonly used to describe the allocation of carers to appointment requirements in a roster.

The origins of the words Rota, Roster and Schedule

English is a fascinatingly rich and etymologically diverse language.  English has evolved with influences from Latin, French, Dutch, Norse and more sources over the centuries.  We thought it would be fun to trace the roots of each of these words and understand a little bit more about their history.

Origins of the word Rota

The use of the word rota stems from it’s original use in Latin.  The same word, rota, means wheel in Latin.  Recurring appointments can be considered as cyclic in nature, therefore could be plotted on a wheel.  Perhaps centuries ago rotas were literally written on wheels, rather than calendars, to demonstrate how one appointment follows another until the pattern repeats again?

Origins of the word Roster

Roster appears to be a more modern word, stemming from the Dutch noun Rooster.  This Dutch word was derived from an older Dutch word Roosten, which was the word for an iron grid used to cook over a fire.  Going back even further, Roosten was also the Dutch verb for cook.

The Roosten grid used to cook with has obvious parallels with a grid used for rostering – which is where the adoption of this term came from.  Perhaps some of the earliest rosters were created for Dutch cooks?

Origins of the word Schedule

Schedule comes from the Latin word Schedula which meant a leaf of paper.  This lead to the French word Cedule which then led to the English word Schedule we know today.  The soft sch start of schedule is a result of the French inheritance (they pronounced the C of Cedule as an S).

More recently, it has become common for English speakers to adopt the American way of pronouncing schedule, the hard c pronunciation.  This schedule pronunciation was brought into being by the American Noah Webster who sought a way to pronounce words differently to (or is that than) the British original pronunciation.  Noah reverted to the original hard Greek K pronunciation of the c in words beginning with sch.