New robots

TWENTY five schools in Somerset are already making use of new robot technology which helps connect children to the classroon.

Last month, Somerset County Council announced it had invested £145,000 into 50 robots which could help children who cannot be in school, for a range of reasons including illness or mental health struggles.

Since its launch, 25 children from 4-18-years old are now enjoying a classroom connection once again.

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

Councillor Faye Purbrick, cabinet member for education and transformation says she is delighted with the way the new technology is being embraced.

She said: “This isn’t just about helping children keep up with work, it’s about them still being part of the school community while they are out of the classroom and that is hugely important.

“We’re proud of this project and proud to be leading the way nationally in our investment in this technology. It’s great to see the appetite that there is to incorporate these avatars into classrooms across the county, and how quickly the students and teachers adapt to interacting with the robots. Having experienced the isolation of a long period away from the school environment when I was at secondary school, I’m delighted to champion this approach which can help children through difficult times."

Originally developed in Norway, national research in UK schools and hospitals has shown how successful this innovative technology can be. So have initial trials in Somerset and the authority expects to see the investment lead to increased attendance and attainment.

Schools pay a rental fee that covers running costs with any ‘profit’ being reinvested in more of the devices.

Nationally, there are an estimated 72,000 pupils who are frequently absent from school due to long-term illness. In Somerset, 35 children on average are referred for extra support for medical reasons every year.