At the Global Education and Skills Forum in Dubai, Sir Michael Wilshaw took part in a debate, arguing for the motion: “This House welcomes the rise of the robots to replace teachers”.
It was an unexpected position for the former Ofsted chief to take, but his speech was even more unexpected – the “robots have already risen and have been evident in our education system and our schools for many, many years,” he said.
He then set out for types of “robot” teacher which he said “most of us” can recognise:
1. ‘The I don’t need help robot’
“One of the earliest and clunkiest of robots, when you charge it up it says in very Dalek fashion, ‘I’ve always done it this way, I don’t need to be told, I don’t need any help or training… if these children don’t learn it’s their fault, not my fault.’
“These robots are more often found in grammar schools and rely heavily on programming chips bought by their parents to update their system.”
2. ‘The union robot’
“This robot needs constant servicing and oiling otherwise it whines a lot at a high pitch with the other robots.
“It never looks bright and shiny but screeches a lot and says things like: ‘Workload! Pressure! Ofsted!’ It’s a very miserable looking robot who likes to keep the company of other robots in what is known as the Grand Union of Robots.”
3. ‘The smart new robot’
“There is also the smart new Apple Mac robot, who whistles, and whirrs and lights up, and is a joy to behold. Young people love this robot and go home and say to their mums and dads: ‘I’ve had a good day with my bright new smart and shiny robot and I wish there were more of them in my school.’”
4. ‘The senior principal robot’
“Then of course there’s the big powerful robot – the senior principal robot. This is a robot which is kept in a storeroom and only comes out occasionally.
“When it does people say something like ‘is that the principal robot?’ To which comes the answer usually: ‘I believe it is but I’m not sure, I’ve never seen it in a classroom or wheeled down the corridors.’
“The senior robot though loves being dusted off now and again, and regularly being wheeled out of the school to attend jolly work parties, principal robot round tables and robot conferences.
“When this robot returns to the cupboard, people say: ‘It’s back in the cupboard again, but we didn’t miss it did we?’ Others say the principal robot enjoys being in a cupboard because it doesn’t like showing that it’s not working that well.
“The shinier version of this robot says things like ‘personalised learning, every child matters, distributive leadership and blah blah’, and is programmed by none other than the government. This robot is very flash, but falls apart very quickly because the government programme keeps changing, and confusing the senior robot, who then has to go off and be reprogrammed in the factory called the Common Sense Factory for Senior Robots.
“The smartest and shiniest of all the senior robots is the one who loves being outside the cupboard, loves being with the other computers and has a microchip which allows it to solve problems, multitask and adapt to different situations. This really smart senior robot works really well with the smart apple junior robot. They both go out of their way to make and develop lots of other smart robots.”