Children replaced by robots in hi-tech boost for learning

Somerset County Council’s investment in the latest robot technology is helping to ensure absent pupils can continue to access education when not in the classroom.

The Council has invested in 50 AV1 robots to support students who can’t be in school – whether it’s because they are sick or overcoming physical or mental health challenges.

One of Somerset’s educational establishments that is reaping the benefits of these cyber assistants is Strode College in Street. Strode College initially started by renting two AV1 robots in 2020 and has since loaned eight more from Somerset County Council.

Amy Pope, Additional Learning Support Manager at Strode College, said: “We have used the AV1s with multiple students and most have engaged with it well. One particular student, whose mental health was particularly poor, joined lessons with the AV1 on the days he felt up to it.

“Other students have used them more continuously to help access their lessons remotely. This included one student, with complex medical needs, who needed to shield during the pandemic.”

The robots are carried from lesson to lesson by a ‘buddy’ classmate. The student watches a secure livestream of their lessons on a tablet or phone – being able to ask questions, hear answers and move the robot’s head to look around the room.

This means they can carry on learning and, importantly, stay in touch with their friends and classmates while making the difficult journey back into the classroom.

Mrs Pope explained the AV1 robots were able to allow students to have experiences at college they would have previously missed out on.

“We had a student who really wanted to attend a science trip and since they weren’t physically able to the robot went along instead,” Mrs Pope said.

“This gave them the ability to access the whole trip from home. I know this made a real difference to her. “We’ve even had students in school bring the AV1 down to the lunch hall so that they can chat to their friend as they normally would.”

Schools and colleges can request use of the robots to work alongside or instead of traditional home tutor support. The 50 robots came at a cost of £145,000 and schools pay a rental fee that covers running costs with any surplus being reinvested in more of the robots.

Since being introduced late in 2019, 63 schools have already asked to use a robot to support pupils who cannot physically be in the classroom, including through the Covid-19 crisis.  

Councillor Clare Paul, Somerset County Council Cabinet Member for Education and Wellbeing, said: “Every child deserves the chance to access their education, even they are unable to physically be in the classroom. It is wonderful to see how our investment in this technology is playing such an important role in our schools and colleges by helping students stay connected to their class, teacher, and friends.”

The robots are made by a company called No Isolation. Harriet Gridley, No Isolation UK Director said: “It is fantastic to see Somerset County Council taking a lead on inclusive education technology. By investing in 50 AV1 robots, Somerset County Council has paved the way for others to emulate their successful, self-sustaining model, and they exemplify how councils can reduce the negative effects of long-term absence.”

Nationally, there are an estimated 522,000 pupils who are frequently absent from school due to long-term illness. In Somerset, 35 children are referred for extra support for medical reasons every year.


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