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Should AI be used to help Ofsted school inspections?

Using AI to analyse failing schools has been criticised by Unions, but Ofsted could be swayed.

By April Slattery

The latest plans in artificial intelligence (AI) have been criticised after a data science unit has attempted to use algorithms to identify failing schools.

A data science unit, part-owned by the UK government, has been training and developing algorithms to rate schools on their performance using machine learning. The aim is to analyse data records of past results and attendance to formulate whether a school is ‘failing’ or not.

Future plans for the unit aim to work alongside watchdog Ofsted to prioritise which schools are inspected first as well as being able to predict which schools are most likely to ‘fail’ in the future.

However, the National Association of Head Teachers has criticised the plans saying that inspections of schools should not be based on data, but what is seen on physical inspection as it has been for years.

Should AI be used to help Ofsted school inspections?

The technology will be used to determine whether a school is expected to fail.

In a statement, the union said: “We need to move away from a data-led approach to school inspection. It is important that the whole process is transparent and that schools can understand and learn from any assessment.

“Leaders and teachers need absolute confidence that the inspection system will treat teachers and leaders fairly.”

The algorithm training would take data from previous Ofsted inspections, other schools and census information that is all publicly available and make a prediction based on this collection. Additionally, it will analyse responses parents have given following inspections from Oftsed’s own data.

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Data produced from each school would not be shared with the school itself, but instead the education watchdog in order for them to prioritise which school needs inspecting first in order to improve its current status.

Lead author Michael Sanders told the BBC: “If it was put in the field, it would be used to prioritise which schools should be inspected, and Ofsted inspectors who do holistic inspections are in a much better place to provide advice.”

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Although using data could bring a wider, clearer picture to what is happening on a day to day basis in schools it also takes away the individuality of schools and how children are responding in classroom environments not just on data records.

Despite the National Association of Head Teachers is against the technology move, it could be beneficial to Ofsted to identify which schools need attention first. However, it comes with the question as to whether analysing previous years’ data could predict a realistic outcome for the future as pupils change year on year.

Sanders said: “Using data to give a better picture might be a better way of helping young people in their education. We are hoping to work with Ofsted over the next 12 months to improve the algorithm and tailor it to suit that purpose.”

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