Education ‘hackathon’ could test AI role in EHCPs and careers advice

The artificial intelligence firm linked to Vote Leave campaign wins £350k government contract to run first-of-kind event

The artificial intelligence firm linked to Vote Leave campaign wins £350k government contract to run first-of-kind event

Ministers are keen to test out whether artificial intelligence could help schools provide careers advice and propose interventions for vulnerable children as part of an education “hackathon” run by a firm linked to the Vote Leave campaign.

Gillian Keegan, education secretary, believes AI could have “huge potential to transform” education including personalised support for pupils and helping with teacher workload. 

To test ideas, the Department for Education has announced a “hackathon” later this month working with leading school trusts and the National Institute of Teaching.

Tech firm Faculty AI will help run the events under a £350,000 contract to “understand possible use cases for generative AI in education,” according to contract documents seen by Schools Week.

The Guardian reported the firm’s first high profile contract was supplying data science services to the Vote Leave campaign, which Dominic Cummings ran before becoming Boris Johnson’s chief adviser. 

Former academies minister Lord Agnew also has shares in the company. The Guardian estimated these were worth £90,000 in 2020. 

The company’s contract states it will collaborate with DfE and pedagogical experts appointed by the department to create a series of 20 “use cases” to be tested at hackathons.

DfE ‘interested’ to try AI in EHCP process

While DfE and Faculty will agree on the details, the department included some examples of what they “would be most interested in” testing.

For management and administrative processes, this could include whether AI could “summarise an EHCP and make recommendations for interventions” or “create a policy document on phone usage on school premises”. 

For teaching, DfE is interested in whether it could “mark a piece of year 12 English coursework” or “produce an end-of-unit formative assessment for ‘The Vikings’ in year 4”. 

Finally for pupils, example uses could be “careers advice for someone selecting the subjects they intend to take for their GCSEs” and “act as a historical figure to explain historical event in context”. 

It will build a “proof-of-concept” generative AI tool and test it with users before analysing the results.

For those scenarios that were unsuccessful during the hackathon, Faculty will see whether AI can be trained to complete those tasks. 

The DfE told Schools Week that any examples at this stage are just “illustrative”. They would not support the use of AI to “draft personalised plans or guidance without expert human involvement”.

Solutions shared with workload taskforce

In a press release, DfE said the best of the solutions will be shared with its new workload reduction taskforce and a demo of the tools will be made available to schools to test.

Faculty’s contract states the project “has significant ministerial and prime ministerial interest” and was “therefore highly important that we can conduct this research in a timely and comprehensive manner”. 

They were contracted through the Crown Commercial Service framework. DfE said it was a “fair, open and competitive tender process”.

Roger Taylor, former Ofqual chair, will be a senior advisor on the programme.

Faculty AI said it has never been political. It decided after the referendum to stop working in politics because it was distracting from its work to help organisations harness the power of AI.

The National Audit Office found “no evidence” Agnew had been involved in the awarding of contracts to Faculty during the pandemic.

Tom Nixon, director of government at Faculty AI, said AI is “the defining technology of our generation – and now is the time to safely bring its vast benefits to schools”. 

“From creating timetables and lesson resources, to supporting students with personalised feedback, AI has the power to cut workloads and improve young people’s education”.

‘Time to bring AI benefits to schools’

NIoT will also work on the project, which will bring teachers and leaders together including from Harris Federation, Star Academies, Outwood Grange Academies Trust and Inspiration Trust, DfE said.

Dr Calum Davey, NIoT’s executive director of research, said it is “proud to work with Faculty to connect the experts in AI technology with the experts in the classroom. Our researchers will be listening to those involved and sharing what we learn”.

Hackathon results will be published alongside evidence from DfE’s call for evidence on AI in November. 

Keegan said to “reap the benefits” of AI in education “we need to improve our understanding of how AI works and safely”.

“Participants of the hackathons will be supported by Faculty AI and the National Institute of Teaching to experiment and put forward solutions, paving the way for the future.”

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