Artificial intelligence 'should be used to give children one-on-one tutoring'


Artificial intelligence should be used to provide children with one-to-one tutoring to improve their learning and monitor their well-being, academics have argued.

One-to-one tutoring has long been thought the most-effective approach to teaching but would be too expensive to provide for all students.

However, in a paper, academics from University College London’s Knowledge Lab argue that AI systems could simulate human one-to-one tutoring by delivering learning activities tailored to a student’s needs and providing targeted and timely feedback, all without an individual teacher present.

Instead of being examined in traditional ways, children could be assessed in a more complete manner by collecting data about their performance over a long period, providing employers and educational institutions with a richer picture of their abilities.

The report argues that AI could radically transform our education system for the better – but it is being held back by funding.

Proposals to use AI have been controversial. Professor Stephen Hawking and other leading scientists have warned of the dangers of it becoming “too clever”, and there are concerns about data security and privacy. Some teachers also fear their role could be diminished by this technology, or that it could be used as a “classroom spy” to monitor their performance. But the report’s authors believe there are huge potential benefits – and they argue it is essential the teaching profession is involved from the start.

The report says: “We are in no doubt that teachers need to be central agents in the next phase of Artificial Intelligence in Education (AIEd). In one sense this is obvious – it is teachers who will be the orchestrators of when, and how, to use these AIEd tools. In turn, the AIEd tools, and the data-driven insights that these tools provide, will empower teachers to decide how best to marshal the various resources at their disposal.”

It adds: “The increasing use of AIEd systems will enable the collection of mass data about which teaching and learning practices work best. This data will enable us to track learner progress against different teaching approaches and, in turn, will allow us to develop a dynamic catalogue of the best teaching practices suited to the development of different skills and capabilities, in particular the 21st century skills, across a range of environments.”

AI should also be used to tackle the achievement gap between the poorest children and their wealthier peers by helping low-income parents with parenting even before their offspring start school.

The report says: “Low-income parents may also have had limited education opportunities, meaning they may face serious challenges in providing at-home learning support to their children.

“AIEd systems can provide tailored support to parents in the same way that they can for teachers and students, improving education and outcomes for both parents and their children. Imagine, for example, providing parents with AIEd assistants that could advise them about strategies for talking to their child, sharing songs, and enjoying books. This could enable all parents to provide the right sort of support in those all-important early years.”

AI first appeared in a digital game in 1979, when Pac-Man used a technique known as state machine (transitioning between states depending on conditions) to control whether or not a ghost ran towards or away from a player. The AI in most modern digital games builds on this approach.

National Offer Day: One in seven parents fail to get children into chosen secondary school


Thousands of disappointed parents are having to face up to the fact that they have failed to get their children into their first choice secondary school.

Around one in seven parents were understood to have lost out as a result of National Offer Day – the day the parents of 554,000 11-year-olds know their children’s fate.

The figure is similar to last year – when a total of 84,200 parents were rejected by their first choice school.

There were wide variations across the country – – with parents in London, Bristol and Birmingham facing the hardest battle.

In London,  around one in three parents (68.52 per cent – 28,000) failed to get their first choice school.  The least successful parents were in Hammersmith and Fulham ( only 52.02 per cent).  Six per cent of pupils (around 5,000) did not get one of their top six preferences.

However councils argued that almost 3,000 additional pupils had been offered a place at one of their preferred schools compared with last year – because of a bulge in the birth rate.

In Birmingham, more than one in three children (5,990) missed out on their first choice.  Parents fared best in the East Riding of Yorkshire where 96 per cent got into their first choice school.

Justine Roberts, chief executive of parenting website Mumsnet, said: “How well the school admissions system works depends almost entirely on where you live, In some areas – parts of London, Bristol, East Sussex and Birmingham, for example – the admissions system is starting to feel seriously creaky.

“Stories abound of some families cheating the system, which only adds to people’s anxiety and sense of injustice.  Many Mumsnet users say that their children can’t get into schools that are a few hundred metres away from their front doors.”

Growing number of parents are mounting legal challenges to refusals.  Matt Richards, of legal advice firm, said: “A few years ago out of 10 ‘phone calls to us, maybe two would pay for some help.  Now it’s more like 50 per cent.”

Schools Minister Nick Gibb said the Government was investing billions of pounds creating new school places, adding:  “Through our free schools programme we want to open 500 more new schools during the five years of this Parliament.”

Last year there were 54,600 appeals made by parents – one-fifth of which (22.8 per cent) were successful.

Growing number of children self-harming as mental health problems amongst pupils rise, says new survey


Growing number of children are self-harming or harbouring suicidal thoughts as mental health problems amongst pupils rise, says a newly-published survey of headteachers.

A survey of 338 schools revealed more than half (55 per cent) said they had experienced a large increase in cases of anxiety and stress – while more than 40 per cent reported a big increase in cyber-bullying.

The survey, conducted jointly by the Association of School and College Leaders – which represents secondary school heads – and the National Children’s Bureau – also reported that nearly eight out of 10 schools (79 per cent) reported an increase in the number of pupils self-harming or having suicidal thoughts.

At the same time as mental health problems were increasing, nearly two-thirds of schools (65 per cent) reported that it was becoming more difficult to access mental health care from local services.

In addition, 53 per cent of schools that made a referral to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services reported that their effectiveness had been “poor” or “very poor”.

“Our survey shows a serious gap in mental health services beyond the school gates,” said Malcolm Trobe, acting general secretary of ASCL. “

”The fact is children today face an extraordinary range of pressures.  They live in a world of enormously high expectations, where new technologies present totally new challenges such as  cyber-bullying. There has seldom been a time when specialist mental health care is so badly needed and yet it often appears to be the poor relation of the health service.

“Early intervention is essential before problems become entrenched and start to increase in severity. These services are a vital lifeline that many young people cannot do without.”

The survey’s findings were supported last night by mental health campaigners with Lucie Russell, director of campaign at the mental health charity Young Minds saying: “We shouldn’t underestimate the huge amount of pressure young people today face: family breakdown, stress at school, body image issues, early sexualisation, 24/7 online networking, bullying on and offline and uncertainty about the future after school are all piling on the stress.

”To make matters worse when young people are struggling it can be extremely difficult for them to get the support they need. “

she added that services were ”a postcode lottery with unacceptably long waiting times in many areas.“

Anna Feuchtwang, chief executive of the NCB, added:  ”It is alarming that teachers are seeing ever-growing numbers of children self-harming or having suicidal thoughts.  For these young people, and many others like them, their psychological states are almost too much to bear.

“While schools are doing their best to help, in cases where children are in acute need they require specialist mental health services to step in and provide support. Unfortunately, teachers say that limited capacity in these services often makes referrals very difficult.”

The survey’s evidence comes on top of concerns expressed by the Commons select committee of health that many schools were finding the threshold for triggering action to help pupils was “unreasonably high” .

“The results of the survey support concerns that there are worryingly high levels of mental health and well-being issues among young people and that the prevalence of  these issues has increased during the past five years,” the report concluded. “It is also noted that the prevalence of the relatively new phenomenon of cyber-bullying has significantly increased over that time.”

Meanwhile, Mr Trobe will be urging his members not to push themselves too hard when he addresses them at the association’s annual conference in Birmingham this morning.

“Our own well-being feeds the wellbeing of the organisations we lead,” he will say. “If the leadership team is exhausted or failing then so will the school be.  You need to look after your leadership team and most of all you need to look after yourselves.

”This isn’t being selfish.  We need strong, healthy, confident leaders if we are going to continue to raise standards in our schools and colleges.“

He will warn there is a danger that headteachers could become ”slaves to bureaucracy“ with the increasing pressures of exam league tables and targets for individual pupils.

A Department for Education spokeswoman said the Government was investing £14 billion into children’s mental health services, adding:“ Schools have an important role to play in tackling children’s mental health issues but teachers are not mental health professionals and they should have the support of specialised services.”