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Trade Union Worried About AI-Driven School Inspections

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelance and long standing contributor to TechWeek Europe

National Association of Head Teachers cautions against machine learning scheme for school inspections

A teaching trade union, the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), has cautioned against the use of artificial intelligence (AI) to rate schools and prioritise Ofsted inspections.

The union said that school inspections should not result from a data-led approach, after it emerged that a government data science unit has been developing algorithms to rate schools, using machine learning (essentially a form of AI).

The development comes amid growing concern over the use of AI in everyday life, as evidenced by warnings about its dangers from the likes of Bill Gates, Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking.

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Less Data

The criticism from the National Association of Head Teachers comes after a report from Behavioural Insights Team (BIT), which is described as ‘social purpose company’.

BIT is jointly owned by the UK Government; Nesta (the innovation charity); and its employees.

The Behavioural Insights Team report details how data science has great potential to be used in public policy. One of its subject areas, is how machine learning can be used to better target regulatory inspections in schools, care homes, and GP practices.

“We found that 65 percent of ‘requires improvement’ and ‘inadequate’ schools were within the 10 percent of schools identified as highest risk by our model,” said the BIT report. “Increasing this to the riskiest 20 percent, our model captured 87 percent of these schools.”

BIT intends to work England’s education watchdog Ofsted to help prioritise inspections. Essentially BIT will use a variety of data to train the algorithm, which includes past Ofsted inspections, other data from schools and census information, all of which is publicly available.

But NAHT has objected, after the trade union reportedly said effective inspection of schools should not be based on data.

“We need to move away from a data-led approach to school inspection,” the union told the BBC.

“It is important that the whole process is transparent and that schools can understand and learn from any assessment,” the union added. “Leaders and teachers need absolute confidence that the inspection system will treat teachers and leaders fairly.”

Silicon UK asked NAHT for a statement, but it did not respond at the time of writing.

AI Concern

NAHT is not the only organisation or person concerned about the arrival of artificial intelligence.

Professor Stephen Hawking has previously said that a thinking machine could “redesign itself at an ever-increasing rate” and “supersede” humans.

Elon Musk, the South Africa-born inventor and entrepreneur best known as the co-founder of PayPal and chief executive of both SpaceX and Tesla Motors, has called AI “our biggest existential threat”.

And Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates has said he was “concerned” about AI and that he agreed with Musk’s view.

In October Google’s DeepMind division announced a significant breakthrough after its AI system became even smarter without any human input at all, after it learnt how to defeat the leading system playing the ancient Chinese game of Go.

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