Can AI in schools help keep learning personalised?


Aritificial intelligence (AI) is now helping teachers to identify issues such as dyslexia. Wendy Francis-White, assistant headteacher at Hawkedale Primary, discusses using AI in schools to assess pupils' needs more effectively…

The country’s primary schools are bursting at the seams. One in five primary schools in the UK is full or over capacity according to the latest government figures, in spite of the additional 59,000 primary school places created since 2017.  As a result, many schools are continuing to increase pupil numbers to meet the needs of local families.

Hawkedale Primary is one example of this. Having embarked on our own journey in 2015 when we were a single form infant school, five years later we are a primary school welcoming 210 pupils.

That’s quite a leap for us, but you can be sure that your school is growing in the right direction when one of your pupils describes it as ‘like a big family’ to Ofsted inspectors.

Personal approach AI in schools - children read with a teacher

A challenge for any growing school is to make sure the close community pupils have enjoyed continues to be nurtured as the school gets bigger.

A key advantage of working in a relatively small school is that you can really get to know your pupils well and you build close relationships with their parents too. The size of our school had always enabled our teaching team to understand individual pupils’ strengths and spot when they need support.

So it was important for us to keep that personal touch at the heart of the school and to be able to motivate pupils and inspire them to achieve their potential just as effectively in our newly expanded school.

It might surprise some to know that AI in schools has played a key role in helping us to achieve these goals.

A new vision

An influx of new pupils can change a school community and present a wide range of different issues to address. That’s where AI in schools comes in. When you have more children to focus on and support, AI can help provide information to teachers about how their pupils learn.

One such area was literacy.

Literacy equips children with a solid foundation for their education, and without a strong vocabulary, good comprehension and sound decoding skills, children can start to feel cut off from an early age, unable to access a textbook or enjoy a story.

Through our sudden growth, we noticed that more children were arriving in school with a weaker vocabulary and we saw an increase in pupils struggling to develop the literacy skills they needed. Although our teachers have a very good sense of what is behind the issues, the more help you can get to spot concerns early, the better, especially with a growing number of pupils.

With our new vision for technology, we started looking at how it could help and we discovered an innovative eye-tracking tool that follows a child’s eye movements as they read a set text and then compares it with 30 years of research on other children’s eye movements.

Within minutes, the tool from Lexplore Analytics spots if a child may be at risk of specific reading difficulties such as dyslexia, identifies if it’s phonics or another issue they are struggling with and helps teachers determine if they have developed the relevant reading skills for their year.

Targeted support

When one of our pupils had been scoring below average in literacy practice questions for her SAT assessment, it set alarm bells ringing. The AI identified that phonics and reading comprehension were the issue so her class teacher could focus the intervention accordingly. The child’s parents were brought in to help at home too and the pupil went on to achieve a higher than expected score in her SATs as a result.

Another pupil clearly loved reading but tended to choose books that were aimed at much younger children. Both parents and her teacher were concerned that dyslexia was behind their child’s behaviour.

However, when the pupil took the assessment using the AI tool it showed that in fact her reading ability was above average and that while she seemed to enjoy less challenging books, she was perfectly capable of reading a broader choice of topics.

This new information prompted parents and teachers alike to encourage the child to choose books she would enjoy, but that would also match her reading abilities. In this case, the AI helped us prevent a child from simply coasting and helped her achieve her full potential.

As Hawkedale grows it is almost inevitable that additional tools and different approaches will be adopted to help manage change. Advances in technology such as AI in schools can be used effectively to help schools understand the issues children experience and provide earlier intervention and support for their pupils.

Our methods may evolve as our school gets bigger and new innovations present new solutions. But no matter the size and shape of our school, meeting pupils’ needs will always remain central to everything we do and every decision we make.

For more information about how AI in schools can help to identify reading difficulties, download AI – the perfect teacher’s assistant from Lexplore Analytics.