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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.

Ten ideas to tackle key education challenges

Nesta’s flagship education event, Acting Now for Future Skills, explored how policymakers and educators can respond to growing demand for future skills.

In advance of the event, we asked for your help. We wanted to showcase innovative ideas to address key challenges related to future skills - so we hosted an open call for entries.

We set out two challenges

1. We asked for ideas on how we can support lifelong learning to help people make the most of their potential and continue to acquire new skills throughout their careers.

With technology changing the nature of markets and the workplace across sectors, and in politically and economically uncertain times, finding innovative ways for adults to learn new skills or develop their expertise is going to be important in creating a more prosperous Britain.

2. Our second challenge was around how teachers can be supported to help pupils develop key skills for the future workplace. Schools are under huge financial pressure, and are charged with delivering a new curriculum (almost every year), whilst teachers continue to carry intense workloads.

If we want students to develop as well-rounded individuals ready to thrive in higher or further education and in a demanding job market, it’s important we find innovative ways to support children to develop a wide range of skills - alongside excelling in exams.

We were deeply impressed with the diversity and quality of the entries. Submissions came in from start-ups who have already built a delivery model and have brought their ideas to life, to entries with brand-new ideas in need of testing and exploring.

The top 10 entries presented their ideas to delegates at a Live Pitching Showcase session, including to our two presenters, Dr Debra Kidd, teacher trainer, teacher and author, and Rebecca Garrod-Waters, Chief Executive of the Ufi Charitable Trust. You’ll find the 10 innovations at the bottom of this blog.

Key learning

Having reviewed the entries and having seen the pitches, there’s a few learning points I have taken away on generating solutions for big challenges in education. They aren’t groundbreaking, but will be learning points the education team at Nesta takes into its future work with innovators:

  1. The session underlined how new social enterprises, start-ups and innovators can bring fresh thinking to some of our oldest problems in education. When you’re teaching, leading teachers or delivering programmes in schools (I’ve done all three) it can be difficult to see problems from new angles. Innovative social enterprises, charities and for-profits can all develop solutions to big problems, and it’s crucial that high-potential new ideas are provided with opportunities to test, pilot and find long-term sustainable models to scale. This should happen in a variety of contexts and locations, not just London.

  1. The best ideas were those that met a pressing need for their target audience - whether it be teachers, parents or businesses. It can be surprising how many new ideas - including for-profit start-ups - develop ideas that sound like a good idea and bring something exciting to the sector, but actually don’t solve an important problem. Many such experimental ideas will go on to develop into amazing, world-changing inventions, but lots will also fall by the wayside: because the product or service hasn’t been suitably focused on delivering a solution.

  1. High-potential ideas and strong pitches demonstrate a) they have done their homework - and have a detailed understanding of the problem they wish to solve; and b) can demonstrate that their idea has the potential to make an impact - using existing research and/or a simple impact model.

It’s so important new ideas engage with the stakeholders they aim to help - whether parents, teachers or school leaders - and ensure their products and services have a demonstrable impact.

We should back innovators and entrepreneurs to experiment and generate creative solutions, but only the best new innovations, that are backed by sound thinking and good evidence, should make it into our classrooms at scale.

The top 10 ideas

The solutions pitched at the event were a diverse group - from an idea to utilise AI to support lifelong learning, to an online platform to support lesson planning for teachers.

Here’s 10 of the best, all of whom presented at the event:

Challenge One:

Ed Aid

Ed Aid works to make funding for learning more accessible. They have built a community-funded, interest-free loan mechanism that helps students fund their education, and also enable employers to share that cost equitably.

Enrol Yourself

A programme that seeks to open up access to lifelong learning by connecting learners together into ‘Units’ for six months of project based learning and skills exchange. Enrollers work with and for each other, pooling their resources, networks and creativity to accelerate their development.

Skills Angels

One of the concept-stage ideas presented at the event: using augmented reality hardware and bespoke software, it would be possible to create "Skills Angels" to help learn on the job. Beginning with specific programmes (e.g. Excel), this could be scaled to broader sets of skills.

Empowering Futures

A skills development programme, matching university students with start-ups to collaborate on 12-week projects: boosting students’ skills and start-ups’ capacity.

Career Ear (from the Student Development CIC)

A mobile app called Career Ear, enabling young career-seekers to ask professionals career-related questions so they can make well-informed decisions about their futures.

Challenge Two:


A collaborative online platform designed to take the pain out of lesson planning for teachers: enabling teachers to instantly use and modify existing lesson templates.

Teacher Xchange (from Learn More)

An innovative programme matching teachers and private sector leaders: supporting them to share key leadership skills on an equal footing.

Rocket Fund

An online fundraising platform for schools: seeking to reduce educational inequality and empower teachers to innovate in their classroom, by enabling them to buy the education technology they think will have the biggest impact on their class.

Enabling Enterprise

Award-winning not-for-profit social enterprise, set up by a team of teachers in 2009. Their mission is to equip young people with the skills, experiences and aspirations they need to succeed in life through enterprise programmes.


Runs STEAM Co. Days in schools - ‘school days like no other’ - that include creative activities across the STEAM subjects.


Jed Cinnamon

Jed Cinnamon

Jed Cinnamon

Senior Programme Manager, A Fairer Start

Jed was a senior programme manager in the fairer start mission at Nesta.

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