01 November, 2023
On 30 October 2023, the Department for Education (DfE) publicised a fresh wave of support for the use of generative Artificial Intelligence (AI) in the education sector, by announcing £2 million worth of investment in Oak National Academy in its development of a lesson planning assistant for school teachers.
This announcement follows the Education Secretary's 'call for evidence' earlier this year in relation to the use of AI in education and her commitment to ensuring that the education sector is not left behind in embracing AI, alongside other developing technologies.
Following this announcement, we consider what this means for schools and how we suggest they can prepare, particularly from a data protection perspective.
Oak National Academy is an organisation established to provide teachers with online curriculum resources for schools. On its website, Oak National Academy describes itself as working "in partnership to improve pupil outcomes and close the disadvantage gap by supporting teachers to teach, and enabling pupils to access a high-quality curriculum." Amongst its work, Oak National Academy also states it has a "freely available suite of practical AI tools, designed to help save teachers time," following a pilot product which comprised of an AI-powered quiz builder and lesson planner.
The funding has been described by the DfE as a means to providing Oak National Academy with a "boost" to improve its AI tools further, before being in a position to make them available to teachers across England, for free.
In providing her support for the decision, the Education Secretary, Gillian Keegan, comments:
"Throughout my career, I have seen the positive impact that technology can have, which is why it is great we're harnessing the potential of AI and supporting Oak National Academy to develop new resources for teachers."
The new technology is expected to allow teachers to increase their planning efficiency and create innovative means of quizzing pupils' knowledge, intended to create more personalised learning experiences and to reduce workloads. The project is also anticipated to allow access to Oak National Academy's resources for edtech companies, experimenting with AI, in the hope that content provided through these resources will be "accurate, safe and high-quality."
Whilst this announcement highlights that AI resources and tools very much remain in development, it does indicate a willingness by the DfE to remain proactive in embracing AI technology, and the potential it has to revolutionise the delivery of education. Therefore, we are now recommending that school leaders should now turn their attention to preparing for the adoption of generative AI technology, to ensure schools are modernising in a safe and secure way, in line with their legal obligations.
The advancements in generative AI technology means that schools must reflect on their legal obligations, most significantly their safeguarding obligations, in relation to the content pupils are exposed to; their equality commitments, with preventing AI bias; intellectual property rights and their data protection obligations. For the purposes of this article, we are specifically concerned with the implications of this type of generative AI on schools' data protection obligations, in consideration of their role as a 'Data Controller' of personal information.
At present, there is no specific AI legislation adopted in the UK, meaning the main authority in relation to schools' data protection obligations remain those listed within the Data Protection Act 2018 and the UK GDPR. Of particular note is that as a Data Controller, schools must demonstrate their continued commitment to maintaining the following principles:
Specifically when considering AI, schools' should be able to demonstrate that they have reflected on these principles and identified the potential risks to personal information by engaging with generative AI products.
In our view, this will mean schools continuing to create an audit trail of their assessment and safe adoption of AI, through the use of appropriate contractual agreements with providers of AI products and via specific data protection impact assessments, addressing the risk factors and mitigation measures considered when adopting AI. Furthermore, schools should reflect on their existing IT security or acceptable use policies, to educate staff as to the safe use of generative AI.
Given this, our recommendation is that schools get ahead of the curve when planning for the adoption of AI, by thoroughly assessing potential products prior to use and seeking further advice where they remain concerned about the security of personal information.
At present, there is no indicative timescale for when Oak National Academy's resources are expected to be available, though it is anticipated that this boost funding should help expedite their efforts to improve and refine their products.
In the meantime, we recommend that schools thoroughly engage with updates and advancements from the DfE, as part of understanding AI and being proactive about appreciating risk factors associated with its use.
Where schools are concerned about their imminent adoption/ current use of generative AI and would like further information about maintaining their data protection obligations, please contact Bethany Paliga in our Governance, Procurement and Information team via email at Bethany Paliga or via telephone at 01254 222347 or Laura Rae via email at Laura Rae.
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