Artificial Intelligence (AI) has both significant risks and enormous potential, but whichever side of the fence you sit on, it is undoubtedly a catalyst for change.
This is particularly pressing for the education sector, where, as school leaders, we must respond by acting swiftly and effectively to overhaul our exams system. I believe that scrapping all written exams and coursework and replacing them exclusively with oral and practical exams will ensure we accurately assess pupil knowledge.
“AI should not be feared, but evolution is required.”
Some educators fear that AI, such as ChatGPT, will stunt pupil learning and independent thought. In truth, I think that AI should not be feared, but evolution is required. As we know, today’s pen-and-paper exams are marathons and can consist of significant factual recitation.
The current exam system is also ineffective, with a shortage of exam officers, a ranking system designed so a proportion of pupils fail and, according to author Dennis Sherwood, one in four grades awarded are wrong. When you add to this the context of AI providing access to sophisticated generative information which wholly undermines the credibility of coursework, from my perspective it’s clear the exams system needs to be entirely revised.
I envision that assessments should consist of 20-minute oral exams with pupils verbally answering a series of comprehensive questions in front of a small panel of invigilators. This would be a much more effective way of assessing pupil knowledge and critical thinking.
“In maths, pupils could be given fifteen minutes to study a problem and then present their solution.”
In history GCSE, for instance, pupils could speak for five minutes without recourse to notes on the causes of the First World War or the impact of the suffragette movement, before answering bespoke in-depth questions from the panel.
Or in maths, pupils could be given fifteen minutes to study a problem and then present their solution. Equally, coursework should solely focus on applied knowledge through practical examinations, for example, titrations in chemistry or baking in food technology.
As school leaders, we know that the recording and moderating of oral and practical assessments already run effectively in arts subjects and languages. I am confident that this approach would counteract concerns essays have been produced by AI and would make clear pupils hold the knowledge, regardless of whether the information was learned via AI, search engines, textbooks or in the classroom.
“Year 9 pupils now choose two extension projects assessed through verbal communication.”
At Haileybury, we already embrace oral assessment through the International Baccalaureate (IB), for which presentations and oral components are part of the grading process. We also ensuring our A-level pupils participate in academic extension projects which culminate in oral assessment.
Similarly, lower down the school, we are now asking that Year 9 pupils choose two extension projects which are assessed through verbal communication on topics such as medical science, coding or global civilisation. We also increasingly foster oracy in Years 7 and 8. This is essential to both ensure our pupils hold important knowledge and that they can speak fluently about it, developing the sophisticated oracy skills that are needed to thrive in the current and future workforce. Something all school leaders are and should be striving for.
“New methods of engaging with AI are needed to unlock its potential.”
Aside from examinations, I believe that AI is undermining setting essays for homework as a suitable method to assess pupils’ understanding. New methods of engaging with AI are needed to unlock its potential to assist learning. We are supporting our sixth formers to develop sophisticated prompts to use as part of the IB and asking our lower school pupils to use AI to research information at home, before writing up their findings in the classroom. We are even exploring how AI can support analytical thinking, using AI to produce an essay that pupils can then dissect and improve using their skills and subject knowledge.
The key for schools and school leaders across the country is to work with our classroom teachers to discover what best practice looks like and then teach AI so pupils are set up to succeed. As educators, we must work hard to be ahead of the curve and instead of shying away and fearing change, we must embrace it wholeheartedly, adapt as we have always done, and evolve our practices to prepare our pupils for the future.