About Nesta

Nesta is an innovation foundation. For us, innovation means turning bold ideas into reality and changing lives for the better. We use our expertise, skills and funding in areas where there are big challenges facing society.

From digital natives to digital creatives

Children today learn to swipe before they learn to write. They are avid consumers of digital technology: screens, apps and devices are now woven into the fabric of everyday life. But to fully harness the opportunities presented by these new technologies, we need to ensure that the digital environment is not just a place of passive consumption, but also creative expression.

At Nesta, we’ve long championed the idea that we should teach our young people to create with, not just consume, technology. Our landmark NextGen report in 2011, for example, successfully made the case for the reform of the ICT curriculum across UK schools, and found a significant creative digital skills gap across the creative economy. And our Digital Makers programme aimed to encourage a generation of young people to understand and create, rather than just use, technology.

The importance of digital creativity in education is being increasingly recognised

This was also a key recommendation from the Durham Commission on Creativity in Education, which last year called for England’s education system to “support young people to engage creatively and critically with the digital technology”. The culmination of a two-year research partnership between Arts Council England and the University of Durham, the Commission recommends that England’s schools should prioritise ‘teaching for creativity’ across the school curriculum.

The report’s recommendations come at a time when the importance of creativity to the future lives of young people is being recognised on a global scale. Education systems in Canada, Australia and Finland – as well as international organisations like the OECD – are increasingly focused on how creativity can be embedded in learning and assessment frameworks. Nesta research, too, has focused on how skills such as creativity are more difficult to automate and likely to be more in demand in the future workplace, especially when combined with digital skills.

The Commission specifically calls on Nesta to “manage a pilot programme working with education, business and the cultural sector to explore how digital education in schools can develop the creative digital skills most in demand by employers.”

For us, this prompted some questions: Which creative digital skills should be prioritised? How can the education system be supported to build these skills in young people? What can we do to help test or scale effective approaches, and who do we need to bring on board?

To explore these questions, Nesta and Arts Council England recently co-hosted a roundtable with around 40 representatives from across the education, business, academic and cultural sectors. We were extremely fortunate to have an incredible line-up of experts from industry bodies such as the Creative Industries Federation, Animation UK, Ukie, and the UK Screen Alliance; representatives from leading creative and digital companies like Lego and BT; headteachers of schools and colleges; and even Charlotte Church, who has founded a radical new creative school in Wales, as well as many more.

Five key insights emerged from the discussion

  1. There are significant disparities between disadvantaged and advantaged pupils in terms of the opportunities available to develop creative digital skills, as well as between geographical regions, that need to be addressed. And it was noted that children from disadvantaged backgrounds are far less likely to access extra-curricular activities.

  2. There is a skills gap in both specific creative digital skills, as well as social and emotional skills, such as resilience, communication and interpersonal skills. And we know both these so-called ‘createch’ skills and social and emotional skills are going to be more in demand in the future.

  3. Teacher capacity can be a real challenge. Education practitioners may lack confidence and experience in developing young people’s creative digital skills, and we need to support them with adequate time, training and professional development.

  4. Parents and teachers, as well as young people, often lack awareness about the relationship between creative digital skills and future career opportunities.

  5. We need a common language and definition for what we mean by digital creativity and creative digital skills. While employers often ask for software-specific skills, discussions with industry experts and labour market researchers suggest that focusing on developing technical skills may not be the best solution, given technology and software changes so rapidly. We also need to describe skills in a way that is accessible and meaningful for schools, drawing on best practice examples such as the OECD’s framework for fostering creative and critical thinking in schools.

So what next?

Over the next few months, Arts Council England and Nesta will be scoping and designing a new programme to test innovative models and approaches to developing creative digital skills among young people.

As part of this process, we want to continue talking with you and others in the education, digital and creative sectors to get your thoughts on where Nesta’s efforts will be best focused.

We’re aiming to launch the new programme around May, and we’re open to all ideas at this stage, so please get in touch with us if you:

  • have ideas for what we should focus on;
  • know of great examples we should be aware of;
  • know people we need to should speak to; or
  • you’re a funder and interested in working together with us to design a new programme.

If any of the above apply, or you have any other suggestions or ideas related to this area, drop me an email on [email protected].


Emma Sutherland

Emma Sutherland

Emma Sutherland

Assistant Programme Manager

Emma was an Assistant Programme Manager in Nesta’s Education team.

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Will Bibby

Will Bibby

Will Bibby

Senior Programme Manager, Government Innovation

Will was a Senior Programme Manager working on Nesta's people-powered public services and education programmes.

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