It goes without saying that technology is impacting every aspect of both our personal and work lives. In particular, the rapid development of artificial intelligence (AI) in recent years has changed the way we live and work. Due to this, many employers are introducing AI to develop and accelerate their workforces, and this is no different in the education sector. 

When lockdown hit in 2020, education institutions were forced to embrace technology to ensure that pupils could continue learning, and teachers could continue teaching. Since then, the use of tech in the classroom has continued to skyrocket, whether that is through apps for parents, tablets in lessons, or digital learning software. However, there is much debate on whether the role AI brings to education is a positive or a negative one - Generative AI tools such as ChatGPT and Google Bard are already making a difference in the classroom, but what are the risks that this could bring to the sector?

Opportunities are two-fold: the impact on pupils and teachers.

In June 2023, the Education Secretary used London Tech Week to launch a new call for evidence on finding out how AI can be used to transform education in a positive way, which ran until 23 August 2023. This essentially means that the government has sought views and experiences from education professionals across the schools, colleges, universities and early years sector, on how this tech impacts pupils and teachers. The findings have yet to be announced, but it clearly marks an important starting point on how AI could be used in education to: 

  • reduce workload
  • improve outcomes
  • run operations more efficiently
  • work around misuse such as essay bots and cheating in exams

But what do education professionals think?

The answer is, unsure. According to those surveyed by Randstad in our latest Workmonitor Pulse Survey, nearly half of educators (45%) told us that they think AI will impact their role. In fact, with nearly a third of respondents (32%) saying they’re excited about the use of AI, but a quarter (25%) saying that they’re worried about it, it is clear that opinions are divided across the industry. 

One teacher who has 30 years of experience in the sector, says:

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An issue for me is that the speed of the development of AI has left both teachers and school leaders struggling to know how to respond. At the point I am in my career, it’s something that’s quite alien to me, and not something that I’m sure I’m ready to embrace. However, I don’t want to change jobs, so I really need training and support as soon as possible.

Building confidence.

According to our survey, only 4% of workers employed in education have been offered training about AI in the past 12 months, which is lower than the all-sector UK average of 7%. Added to this, 22% said that they would leave their job if their employer didn’t offer any learning and development opportunities on the topic in the next 12 months. 

This highlights a clear need for institutions to educate the educators on what is coming in the future, not only to enable employee upskilling, but also to improve retention. According to the World Economic Forum, large-scale growth is expected in education, with jobs expected to increase by about 10%, leading to 3 million additional jobs for Vocational Education Teachers and University and Higher Education Teachers: the opportunities are there, but employers need to work hard to ensure the talent is also there. 

4% of workers employed in education have been offered training about AI in the past 12 months.

Changing mindsets. 

According to our survey, a quarter (25%) of respondents in education would prefer to change jobs or careers rather than learn how to use AI, which suggests that a key part of managing any change is understanding why, and changing mindsets. In fact, across any sector, effective adoption of any technology hinges on people’s comfort level working with new tools. Employers in the education sector need to be clear about the impact of AI for their staff, whilst thoroughly communicating expectations, goals and timelines for change: it is not an overnight process. 

There could also be an opportunity for those within the sector who welcome the introduction of AI to support those who feel differently: our survey results showed that a third of educators actually think that learning how to use AI will result in promotion opportunities and career growth. For example, when asked to contribute to the government’s call for evidence in June, Chris Goodall, Deputy Headteacher, Epsom and Ewell High School stated that his staff welcomes the opportunity to share experiences and insights in the hopes of shaping the future of AI in education.

Risk vs reward.

A key role of education professionals when it comes to AI, is managing how pupils use it. With tools readily available and easy for anyone to access, teachers need to be able to understand how to help pupils use it positively.

For example, UCAS has published a list of recommended ways for pupils to use AI to support with personal statement writing when applying to university, which includes:

  • Brainstorming ideas - asking AI for ideas about topics that are relevant 
  • Helping with structure - asking AI how a personal statement should look
  • Checking readability - asking AI to suggest ways to rephrase sentences to make them more concise, while maintaining their meaning

However, UCAS clearly also advises what AI should not be used for - for example, copying and pasting large chunks of text.

Examination boards have also published advice for schools on how to support the use of AI, which include things like:

  • Regularly reviewing pupils’ work to check for consistency, for example in writing style and quality of work
  • Monitor ‘speed of completion’ (e.g. pupils suddenly produce significant quantity of work in short spaces of time)
  • Increasing the use of discussion and reflection in class

26% of respondents in education would prefer to change jobs or careers rather than learn how to use AI.

Future proofing the sector.

It is clear that for AI to add true value to the sector, the risks and rewards need to be fully understood by all stakeholders. Employers in the education sector can work to achieve this by:

  • Understanding the opportunities - take the time to fully digest the results of the government’s call for evidence once published
  • Creating a clear AI policy that sets out boundaries - it is the responsibility of the individual institution to create this, but the Department for Education has provided extensive guidance 
  • Investing in learning and development for staff - even just discussing the topic can go a long way to eliminating concern and uncertainty
  • Gathering feedback from the workforce - giving people a say in how they use AI is essential to support change management. For example, regular surveying of staff
  • Getting pupils on board - take the time to ensure that pupils understand how they can use AI, and the risks associated with misuse
  • Getting parents on board - ensure that parents and guardians of pupils are aware of the institution’s standpoint on AI

By doing all of this, not only will staff and pupils benefit, but employers can also work to retain existing employees and attract new ones to the sector. If done correctly, there is huge potential for staff to develop their careers and increase their fulfilment at work, but if done incorrectly, there is a risk of staff leaving the sector. With 35% of educators aged under 35 already considering leaving the profession due to poor wellbeing, it is crucial that all staff feel supported through the introduction of AI.

If you would like a discussion about your institution’s approach to AI, don’t hesitate to reach out to the Randstad team.