Did a school in the UK appoint an AI robot as its principal?

By October 26, 2023 Education, Technology

We came across a post on X claiming that a school in the United Kingdom (UK) had appointed an AI robot as its principal. As the X post did not cite or reference its information source, we searched for more information online about any school in the UK appointing AI robots.



With AI quickly becoming integrated into our everyday lives, the claim that an AI robot is now a school principal might not seem too farfetched to some.

Our searches revealed that a boarding preparatory school in West Sussex, UK called Cottesmore School has recently appointed an AI chatbot as its “principal headteacher”, which appears to be a role akin to a Vice Principal. The chatbot’s function is to assist the school’s present headmaster – Tom Rogerson – as opposed to replacing him or automating his tasks.

The AI chatbot, which has been named Abigail Bailey, was created by an artificial intelligence developer in collaboration with Cottesmore to support the school’s headmaster in his duties. It operates similarly to ChatGPT – an online AI program where users receive answers, based on algorithms, to questions they ask.

Abigail was programmed to have “a wealth of knowledge in machine learning and educational management, with the ability to analyse vast amounts of data”, and Rogerson stated that he is using the AI chatbot to advise him on a variety of issues such as writing school policies and helping students with ADHD.

Moreover, Abigail is not the first AI staff to be appointed by Cottesmore. Before appointing Abigail, the school had appointed another AI chatbot named Jamie Rainer – “a highly trained adviser on generative AI” – to aid with AI strategy and planning.

Will AI be replacing human educators?

Despite appointing two AI chatbots as staff, Rogerson stated that robots will not be replacing teachers and in fact, the school presently has the most employees it has had in its 130-year history. He averred that “[t]he introduction of AI is not about replacing our dedicated educators but about augmenting their capabilities and ensuring our students receive the best education possible”.

Rogerson also opined that students will need to learn how to work together with AI and robots. In exploring AI’s role in education, Cottesmore hosted a free conference in May this year that was open to international audiences through a live stream broadcast and had educationalists from around the world, including from Singapore, joining in.

However, it is important that we also acknowledge that with further AI integration, there will be some challenges we will face too. Earlier this year, Black Dot Research contributed a commentary to CNA on the current challenges of integrating Large Language Models (LLMs) to automate the process of fact-checking.

While LLMs can aid fact-checkers in processing vast amounts of data and identifying potential falsehoods, they lack the critical thinking abilities, contextual understanding, and domain expertise that human fact-checkers possess. Hence, if we take a step back about AI integration as a whole, it is important that we understand not only the advantages, but the potential limitations of AI so that we can optimise AI in the coming years.

Circling back to the claim that a school in the UK has appointed an AI robot as its principal, it might be misleading to say that the AI chatbot – Abigail Bailey – was appointed the principal of Cottesmore School, especially if “principal” is being used interchangeably with “headmaster”. Hence we rate the claim that a school in the UK has appointed an AI robot as its principal as false.

Cottesmore School appointed an AI chatbot as “principal headteacher” to support the existing headmaster. An AI chatbot will not be replacing the existing human headmaster or automating his duties.

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