Education Secretary tells teachers to use less email and more AI to reduce workload

Profile picture for user ddpreez By Derek du Preez January 22, 2019
Damian Hinds also announced a £10 million fund to support EdTech in schools and colleges across England.

GCSE A level school results
In July last year, the Institute for Fiscal studies revealed that the amount per pupil spending in England’s schools has fallen by 8% since 2010, leaving teachers and schools under increased pressure.

However, today, Education Secretary Damian Hinds told the technology education Bett Show in London that teachers should be spending less time on email, and adopting more AI technologies, to reduce their burdensome workloads.

Hinds also announced plans to launch an EdTech strategy later this year, which will be backed by a £10 million fund to support “innovative uses of tech” in schools and colleges across England.

Addressing more than 800 delegates, the Education Secretary told teachers and school leaders to make smarter use of technology, both inside and outside of the classroom, to make sure that it does not add to teachers’ responsibilities.

He said:

“More than half of teachers’ time is spent on non-teaching tasks, including planning, marking and admin, and that workload is one of the most common reasons for teachers leaving the profession.

“Education is one of the few sectors where technology has been associated with an increase in workload rather than the reverse. And let’s think why.

“Back when I was at school there was an annual parents evening and a report at the end of the year. May be a letter home if there was a school trip. That report still happens and so does the parents evening, but email has revolutionised parent, teacher communication. Email hasn’t replaced much; mostly it has just added.

“I’m sure none of us now could imagine a life without email, but do we ever stop to think how much of our day is actually spent reading or replying to them?”

Hinds said that email takes up a lot of time and that MPs have seen a step change in correspondence and contact through email. He added that the situation for teachers is even more intense, with a huge volume of emails incoming from parents and senior leadership. He added:

“Many schools are already reviewing their school practices to reduce workload – and to those who haven’t already, I encourage them to look at what they can do to shift away from an email culture in, and into, school to free teachers up to spend more time in the classroom.”

An example

The Department for Education has provided an example of a school in Dorset, St Edward’s secondary school, which developed a communications policy after its head teacher realised that staff were spending too much time engaging with emails. The school banned emails to an ‘all staff’ distribution list and started a short weekly bulletin.

The Education Secretary also cited Bolton College, which is using artificial intelligence to allegedly reduce the hours teachers spend on administrative tasks. Hinds said;

“At Bolton College, for instance, they have used IBM Watson, an artificial intelligence programme, to build a virtual clerk they call ‘Ada’.

“Ada helps deliver personalised learning and assessment for 14,000 students [and] queries about attendance or curriculum content.

“It has saved Bolton’s staff hours and hours of time they would have spent on admin either at college or in their own spare time.

“This is showing tech at its most transformative and enabling.”

The Department for Education is also supporting proposals in Ofsted’s new inspection framework that will focus on reducing teacher workload, including considering staff workload as part of the leadership and management judgement, looking unfavourably on schools that implement burdensome data practices and refusing to look at internal assessment data.

My take

This feels a little like a ‘throw AI at the situation’ strategy, rather one that’s been thought through based on evidence delivered by teachers and schools. Yes, AI and digital technologies will no doubt have a place in education and will likely continue to revolutionise the way schools and teachers operate. However, to simply say ‘less email, more AI’ doesn’t exactly fill me with confidence - nor do I think it will inspire teachers.