Oak gets another £2m to expand AI quizzes and lesson planner

First step to 'providing every teacher with personalised artificial intelligence lesson-planning assistant', says government

First step to 'providing every teacher with personalised artificial intelligence lesson-planning assistant', says government

Ministers will hand Oak National Academy up to £2 million as part of a pledge to provide every teacher with a personalised artificial intelligence (AI) lesson-planning assistant.

The new cash will help the online school expand its AI-powered quiz builder and lesson planner for use of all teachers after a recent pilot.

Edtech companies experimenting with AI will also have free access to Oak’s lessons, allowing them to “innovate and create their own products”.

Cash can ‘supercharge’ workload push

Oak’s interim chief executive Matt Hood said “we believe we can supercharge” workload reduction “by harnessing safe AI – giving teachers even more scope to adapt their resources and freeing them up to spend more time directly with their pupils.”

Government said it is the first step towards “providing every teacher with a personalised AI lesson-planning assistant”.

The cash will be handed directly to Oak through grant funding. Because it is an arms-length body, there was no requirement on government to follow open procurement rules.

Oak said it would use in-house expertise for the AI work, but look at external support where needed.

Officials are due to publish the results of a call for evidence on how AI can improve education next month.

Ministers hope advances in technology can help achieve their aim of slashing teacher workload by five hours per week over the next three years.

Education secretary Gillian Keegan said: “Whether it’s drafting lesson plans or producing high-quality teaching resources, I am confident that by tapping into the benefits of AI we will be able to reduce teachers’ workloads so that they can focus on what they do best – teaching and supporting their pupils.”

A two-day “education hackathon” bringing together teachers and leaders from schools and trusts across the country to experiment with AI will start today.

Ministers are keen to test out whether artificial intelligence could help schools provide careers advice and propose interventions for vulnerable children, amongst other ideas.

‘Railroad through common sense’

Prime minister Rishi Sunak, who has been described as attempting to take global leadership over AI, said it has “extraordinary potential to reform our education system for the better, with considerable value for both teachers and students”.

Oak’s work was a “perfect example of the revolutionary benefits this technology can bring.

“This investment will play a defining role in giving our children and the next generation of students a better education and a brighter future.”

But Geoff Barton, general secretary of the ASCL school leaders’ union, questioned handing Oak more money on top of the £43 million already committed to deliver online lessons, rather than “develop this technology through the UK’s existing education technology industry”.

“These are important questions because schools and colleges are struggling to stay afloat as a result of a decade of government underfunding and they deserve to have clarity on exactly how and why this money is being spent on Oak.”

Caroline Wright, director general of the British Educational Suppliers Association, added awarding a contract with “no tender or any evidence that [Oak’s AI] works” goes against “one of Oak’s ‘guiding principles'” of being evidence-informed.

“This entire project continues to railroad through common sense… The Government has handed the stage, not to the UK’s world leading edtech companies with a proven track record of working as trusted, quality school partners, but instead to a department with a dismal back catalogue of project delivery and procurement.”

BESA is pursuing a judicial review against Oak, claiming it poses a “existential risk” to the publishing and edtech sector.

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Samantha Booth

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