The Academies Enterprise Trust, a non-profit, educational charitable trust, has partnered with private schools to test the use of artificial intelligence tool AS Tracking in tracking the mental health of pupils.
This month, 50,000 schoolchildren at 150 schools will take the online psychological test, including 10,000 Academies Enterprise Trust pupils. It is hoped the tool, which can predict self-harm, drug abuse and eating disorders, will help teachers identify vulnerable students in their classrooms.
However, a leading technology think tank has raised concerns that AS Tracking could be misused to stream pupils and limit their educational potential. AS Tracking, according to some teachers, offers support to teenage pupils struggling to deal with both social media and academic pressures.
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Sky News reported that the bi-annual test, which costs a school with 1,200 pupils up to £25,500 a year, asks students to imagine a space they feel comfortable in, then poses a series of abstract questions, such as “how easy is it for somebody to come into your space?” The child can then respond by clicking a button on a scale that runs from “very easy” to “very difficult”.
The results are then sent to STEER, the company behind the tool, which compares the data with its psychological model. Following analysis of the data, students are then assigned a red, amber or green label to identify and flag to teachers vulnerable students.
STEER co-founder Dr Jo Walker said: “Our tool highlights those particular children who are struggling at this particular phase of their development and it points the teachers to how that child is thinking.”
Neil Woods, who led part of the Academies Enterprise Trust pilot of AS Tracking, said that in Tendrig Technology College in Essex the test had already helped reduce self-harm by 20%.
He said: “We’ve had a number of students where this has really significantly helped. There is a mental health crisis, we know that. This tool is not going to solve it, but it’s going to help us identify those students who may need the support.”
Carly Kind, director of the Ada Lovelace Institute, which has voiced concern over the use of AS Tracking, said: “With these types of technologies there is a concern that they are implemented for one reason and later used for other reasons.
“There is the scope for mission creep, where somebody in a school says this would be a great tool to sort children into different classrooms, or decide which students should go on to university and which shouldn’t.”
The National Education Union tentatively welcomed AS Tracking’s growth.
Its deputy general secretary, Amanda Brown, told Sky News: “Exploring new ways for students to ask for help might be valuable, but aren’t a substitute for giving teachers time to know their students and maintain supportive relationships.”
Mr Wood, who also oversees art and music therapy at Tendring Technology College, agreed. “It’s the wraparound interventions that you give to students that are important,” he said.
“It’s not just that we are looking at the data in one context, we are looking at their academic profile, we’re looking at their pupil voice, we’re looking at what parents are actually saying to us and AS Tracking is just another part of the puzzle.”