Schools Week Article – How trusts can support schools to adopt AI safely

Businessman using a computer to document management concept, online documentation database and digital file storage system/software, records keeping, database technology, file access, doc sharing.

This article has been taken from the Schools Week website. To read it on the Schools Week website, please click the link below.

View this article on the Schools Week website

How trusts can support schools to adopt AI safely

Executive teams have a responsibility to ensure their schools can benefit from new tools while minimising the risks

Leigh Academies Trust (LAT) was using AI in many background systems before the launch of ChatGPT 3 in November 2022. When that event brought generative AI into greater focus for the sector, we quickly began to draw our leaders’ attention to understanding the technology and some of its capabilities.

We adopted an open but cautious stance. We were keen to explore improved efficiency and productivity, enhanced learning experiences and increased accessibility but also to avoid plagiarism, cheating and other ethical issues.

Over the months that followed, we neither blocked sites like ChatGPT nor endorsed any one platform for use. We gave our staff and pupils guidance about using AI, particularly in relation to uploading personal information. Our goal was to not focus on ChatGPT alone, but to see how the technology and other tools developed, ultimately looking for solutions that were integrated into existing platforms.

During this time, we required our academies to update their academic integrity policies. These needed to reflect potential student use of AI and to maintain our expectations of attributing work appropriately and ensuring they submitted work that was their own.

As we created guidance and resources, we shared it with staff via our internal microsite. This helped them to understand what to use and how to use it. In September 2023, we began to focus our AI strategy on marking and feedback, resource creation and independent learning. We created our own ‘AI Toolkit’ based on the research carried out by our AI Strategy Group.

At the same time, we launched a training module on our online professional development platform and adopted Canva, a creative tool with many strong generative AI features. This added to existing tools we were using such as Adobe Express, Google Workspace and Sparx Maths.

“Our aim is to assess these tools and promote those that will have the most impact”

The LAT AI Strategy Group carried on its work to investigate the best AI products available. This culminated in feedback to leaders in November 2023, where the focus was narrowed to a few specific tools we considered of most value.

In January 2024 we began user acceptance testing on TeachMateAI, Google Bard and These tools predominantly focus on co-pilot support for teachers and resource creation.

Many of our academies included training on AI into their staff training day in January. We are also beginning to see academies integrate modules on AI into their curriculum for pupils.

We are starting to integrate more AI tools into our existing systems such as our shared Trust-wide management information system: Bromcom. We recently upgraded our Google Workspace platform from Fundamentals to Plus, which gave us access to AI-integrated tools such as Practice Sets. We are seeing other tools added to this platform on a regular basis. Our aim as a trust team is to assess the tools and promote those that will have the most impact for our academies.

We are not seeing a breakthrough yet when it comes to marking tools, but we are continuing to monitor this space. We are evaluating other tools such as Sparx Science and Sparx Reader that have AI integration, but the ability to mark open-ended assignments well is not there yet. We are also monitoring the development of some AI tutor tools to see how they can support independent learning for our students.

Next, we are looking at the possibility of developing our own AI tool that has greater integration with our systems as a co-pilot for all staff to support them to do their jobs more effectively and easily.

One of the big challenges facing us is the rate of change. Many new tools are emerging and the technology is developing at great pace. We want to ensure we are moving at the right speed to benefit our staff and students while also ensuring their safety, the security of our systems and data, and being aware of the ethics of using these emerging technologies.

One of our big foci over the coming months is to ensure we are using the technology as part of a joined-up pedagogical approach. We will be looking to our own Digital Leadership Team to share best practices and ensure AI is used in an effective pedagogical way that supports our teachers and pupils across the board.

Simon Beamish is chief executive of Leigh Academies Trust