AI's 'severe risks the greatest threat UK schools have ever faced'

A teacher presents to her class of students

AI represents a significant threat to education, a group has warned

Ben Chapman

By Ben Chapman

Published: 20/05/2023

- 12:21

A group of leaders from some of the country’s top schools have issued a warning

The Government is responding too slowly to the dangers of artificial intelligence, which poses the greatest threat to education, according to head teachers.

A group of leaders from some of the country’s top schools have issued a letter warning of the “very real and present hazards and dangers” being presented by the technology.

They have called on schools to collaborate in order to ensure AI works in their best interests and those of pupils, amid fears it is being used as a shortcut by pupils across the country for completing work.

The group, led by Sir Anthony Seldon, the head of Epsom College, also told the times they are launching a body to advise and protect schools from the risks AI poses.

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The head of the Association of School and College leaders, Geoff Barton, is backing the initiative, as well as the master of Magdalen College School in Oxford, Helen Pike.

Seldon, a former university vice-chancellor and a biographer of Boris Johnson, said that while AI could bring the biggest benefit since the printing press, the risks are “more severe than any threat that has ever faced schools”.

Rishi Sunak told reporters at the G7 summit that “guardrails” would have to be put around AI as the threats posed by the tech are increasingly recognised by those in power.

Education secretary Gillian Keegan told a conference this month that AI may transform the day-to-day work for teachers, removing the “heavy lifting” of marking and making lesson plans.

While AI could assist cheating, head teachers fear it could go even further and impact children’s mental and physical health, while also having an impact on the future of teaching as a profession.

Their letter says: “Schools are bewildered by the very fast rate of change in AI and seek secure guidance on the best way forward, but whose advice can we trust?

“We have no confidence that the large digital companies will be capable of regulating themselves in the interests of students, staff and schools and in the past the government has not shown itself capable or willing to do so.

“AI is moving far too quickly for the government or parliament alone to provide the real-time advice schools need.

“We are thus announcing today our own cross-sector body composed of leading teachers in our schools, guided by a panel of independent digital and AI experts.”

The Department for Education told The Times: “The education secretary has been clear about the government’s appetite to pursue the opportunities — and manage the risks — that exist in this space, and we have already published information to help schools do this.

“We continue to work with experts, including in education, to share and identify best practice.”

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