Ministers plan to appoint edtech evidence checkers

Experts to scrutinise classroom impact of technology tools as part of new AI training package for teachers worth up to £5m

Experts to scrutinise classroom impact of technology tools as part of new AI training package for teachers worth up to £5m

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Ministers plan to appoint edtech evidence checkers to help schools and colleges work out which products deliver the best impact as part of an artificial intelligence “training package” for teachers worth up to £5 million. 

This will include a proposed “online resource that covers essential training for all teachers” and a tool kit to support leaders rolling out and “embedding of effective” AI practice. 

Government is seeking a provider to run the scheme and “help education professionals take advantage of AI’s potential”, a tender document states.

A consultation on AI last year showed “the number one request from educators is further training and guidance on its safe use”.

The Department for Education said the plans are in the “early stage of development”. It is currently “judging interest from potential suppliers” for the multi-year project, worth between £1 million and £5 million.

But Rose Luckin, a professor of learner-centred design at University College London, said the plans are a “critical and welcome step forward”. 

“As AI becomes more prevalent in education, it’s crucial that teachers have the knowledge and skills to leverage it effectively, confidently and responsibly.”

Edtech evidence claims scrutinised

The DfE tender document outlines plans for a “project team to facilitate the running of an edtech evidence board of experts”, who will “quality assure evidence of edtech product efficacy against set criteria”.

The plan would help schools and colleges know which products are “grounded in evidence”.

Education secretary Gillian Keegan has previously called on edtech firms to be “transparent” with schools and colleges about the evidence behind their products, adding: “We should have the same expectations for robust evidence in edtech as we do elsewhere in education”.

Under the plans, edtech firms would be asked to “submit evidence of product efficacy”, which “area-specific committees would [then] assess”. 

“Their decisions would be scrutinised and ratified by an overarching board, before being published,” the DfE added.

The project team, board and committees would create the criteria against which to assess the evidence.

AI help on the way

Meanwhile, the training offer would likely include a website and “the opportunity for trainees to start ‘having a go’ at prompting a simple AI system”.  

Five to 10 grants would be dished out to teachers or organisations to “develop case studies on effective practice in successfully implementing widely available AI tools in schools and colleges”.

And extra training would also be offered to support teachers in “developing more advanced skills through a series of live webinars covering different techniques for the use of AI”.

Ministers are keen for schools and colleges to take advantage of the AI revolution by using it for purposes such as streamlining administrative tasks to slash workload, while being alive to the risks. 

But the DfE’s policy paper on generative AI in education says content created can be inaccurate, inappropriate, biased, out of date or unreliable.

Edtech investor Richard Taylor, who is managing director of MediaTaylor, said that if a school or college was “really interested” it could do “half the stuff” being proposed already, such as by googling how to do a prompt for AI tool such as ChatGPT.

“You’ve got to work out how you’re going do it in a way that doesn’t add more pressure on teachers or on the very scarce amount of professional development time they’ve got,” he added.

He questioned how the project will “get beyond the enthusiastic…early adopters” of AI and cut through to the “meaty middle” of the teacher workforce. 

AI ‘unreliable’ to assess student work

A YouGov poll of 1,012 teachers in the UK in November found almost two thirds think AI is too unreliable to assess students’ work or help with resource or lesson planning.

Jodie Lopez, an edtech business consultant, said training teachers on AI use in education is “definitely welcomed and needed”.

But she added: “There is also a lack of CPD more widely in technology use in education too and for some educators a sudden leap to AI is premature.”

Some schools and colleges still “struggled to get decent wi-fi”, she added.

Taylor suggested the DfE would be better of running “a consultation process first to work out what schools, colleges and teachers want, what do they know and what are people doing elsewhere”.

The DfE did not want to comment.

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