Education writer James McEnaney talks to Gemma Clark, a primary school teacher and the author of a forthcoming book on the use of AI in the classroom.

Lots of people are worried about potential impact of AI in education, with some warning it is going to be hugely disruptive to schooling as we know it. What was it about this area that piqued your interest?

I think like anything else, you know, whether it's social media when that was new, or anything new that comes along really, it's here now and young people are going to use it. I think like anything else, we need to understand how it works as well. So I think it will have its downfalls, it will have its problems, but I also think there's a lot of potential for it. So I think just like anything else new that comes along, I think the adults are better learning about it and learning how to use it so that we don't get left behind it and end up having to try and help young people with problems that we haven't even imagined yet. I think that's what got me interested in it.

And then from there, you’ve ended up writing a book, but it isn’t some sort of philosophical musing on the nature of AI – it’s a practical classroom guide for teachers. What made you decide to go ahead and have a go and doing something like that?

I think because I saw the potential of AI as something that could actually cut our workload. We get all this well-intentioned advice about how to manage the workload and so on but I saw the potential for something that actually could be practically useful. I'm dyslexic as well, so as a dyslexic teacher I saw a lot of potential and I could think very quickly about all kinds of ways that I could use it to save myself time, whether it's through proofreading to check things for me or to come up with tasks for class. It could just be something that takes a lot of that mental energy out of all your everyday tasks and frees you up to do other things.

Read more: Edinburgh University pioneering research on safe use of AI

It’s interesting that the problems with workload are what drove you to write a book about AI. How serious are the workload issues for teachers in Scotland?

Yes the workload is a massive problem for teachers right now. I've actually dropped a day to make my workload more bearable for me, and it is making a difference, but AI is helping a lot as well. You know a lot of the things that you do every day actually take up a lot time - for example, in writing lesson, you need an example for the children to look at, and even writing that example takes up quite a lot of your time. And then that's all on top of all your paperwork and planning and all the other documents you've got to fill in.

I'd say almost all teachers would put workload is one of the biggest issues in teaching just now. And the 90 minutes a week the government promised us apparently might come in 2026, but it seems to be pie in the sky just now, so I'm not optimistic.

So in the face of that workload crisis, you’ve written a book with 101 ways in which teachers can use AI in their classrooms. What are your personal favourite uses of AI for education?

Using it as a literacy tool is one of my favourites because as a primary teacher that is probably one of your most time consuming things as well. As someone that's really interested in social justice and education, I think it's a good tool and a point that I try to make is that AI is biased, that will default straight to a sort of male, hetero-normative narrative, but if you understand that about AI you can actually use it as a tool for inclusion.

So it can recommend inclusive books or anti-racist practice, or help develop a less European-centric narrative on topics like World War Two - in that case it can quite quickly bring up lots of interesting information on things that are often missed, like the Indian Army, or Ethiopa's role. So I see a lot of potential and if you understand that AI has bias and you work around that you can actually use it as a tool of anti-racism and inclusion.

Do you think there is a risk of AI reducing teachers to little more than technicians? Could we see a situation where AI is deciding what happens in classrooms, and assessing student progress, and teachers are in effect just there to hand out the worksheets?

No, I don't think AI I will ever replace teachers. I think you'll always need the human being in front of the young human. I think teacher judgment is really important because you know yourself is a teacher that a test isn't always the best reflection of what our people can do and what they're capable.

I think as well that we learned through Covid and online learning that it is a very useful tool but can never replace the classroom experience and it can never replace the face-to-face interactions. So no, I'm not worried that AI is going to take my job.

Even if AI doesn’t threaten teachers’ jobs, it is still going to be disruptive and there must be some risks involved. You’ve written a book about using AI for good, but some teachers are more worried about the potential harm it might do. What would you say to them?

I have seen some secondary teachers, for example, concerned that you could get AI to write an essay for you and it would pass, but I think again it's about us being ahead of the curve with that. Also, there was software developed back when I was at university to detect plagiarism because copy and pasting off the internet was a concern at that stage, so I don't think it's too different from that. I think it's just about society adapting and finding ways to check that essays haven't, for example, just been downloaded straight off of an AI. I think AI, like the internet, can also be a really good research too and it's about teaching young people the difference

between just copying and information and properly understanding it, and where to find good information and how to check it. It's about adapting to this new technology that I think is ultimately going to be good, but I think, as with anything, that new things will crop up and it's about how we learn about these things and how you adapt to them.

Artificial Intelligence in the Primary Classroom: 101 ways to save time, cut your workload and enhance your creativity is published by Crown House Publishing and is available to pre-order.

The Herald: Book cover: Artificial Intelligence in the Primary Classroom by Gemma Clark