Today Nesta, the innovation foundation, in partnership with the Department for Education, launch their new EdTech R&D programme as part of the Government’s response to COVID-19. This programme aims to support schools, colleges and EdTech providers to deliver remote teaching and meet the needs of students facing a variety of disadvantages, from socioeconomic to special educational needs and disabilities.

The programme includes £440,000 in funding for the seven selected EdTech providers, in addition to bespoke support for participating schools and colleges. Participants will also be guided through evaluation cycles so that feedback from school leaders and teachers can inform product development that better aligns to their needs and the needs of their students. Each of the seven grantees will be working with 10 partner schools, and learnings will be shared with the wider sector throughout the programme and finalised by December 2021.

COVID-19 has led to school closures around the world, resulting in accelerated adoption of EdTech and increased reliance on remote education tools. Alongside the programme launch, Nesta is publishing a new analysis of EdTech use before and during lockdown. The analysis Use of online maths learning resources during the COVID-19 lockdown shows differences in engagement with and access to a selection of EdTech tools between disadvantaged students and their more affluent peers.

Produced by Nesta and SchoolDash, in collaboration with EdTech industry partners, the analysis shows that, for both primary and secondary, schools seem to be engaged with technology, but pupils much less so. This was particularly the case for schools with high levels of deprivation; for example one product used by primary schools in more deprived areas showed increased usage during lockdown by 17%, but pupil engagement at those schools fell by 10%. This is striking when compared to a 5% increase in pupil engagement with the product at more affluent schools during schools closures. When they were engaged in online learning, pupils at high-deprivation schools were also more likely to use phones rather than computers. This highlights the importance of supporting the adoption of technology not just by schools and teachers, but also by individual learners, who may lack the knowledge and resources to make full use of them.

With concerns growing over a second wave of Coronavirus, the innovators of the EdTech R&D Programme will be tackling the challenges revealed by lockdown and quantified through this analysis. Proposals range from considering how to engage with parents with a low literacy level, to developing display enhancements and visual feedback for pupils with dyslexia or who don’t have English as their first language, to improving smartphone user experience for those who don’t have computers at home.

Joysy John, director for education at Nesta, said, “By analysing the use of EdTech products during the lockdown earlier this year, we were able to identify trends and challenges and better understand how to reach disadvantaged students - all without putting any burden on schools. We now have a responsibility to use this information to develop remote learning products that can meet the needs of a wider range of students.”

Universities Minister Michelle Donelan said, “We must do all we can to ensure that no-one is left behind as a result of coronavirus, which is why projects like this – helping schools and colleges make informed decisions on remote education for disadvantaged students – are so important.

“This programme will complement the range of support already in place for schools, colleges and young people, including our £350 million National Tutoring Programme – targeted at those children and young people who need the most help – and an initial 150,000 laptops and tablets available for schools to support children if face-to-face education is disrupted locally.”

Full list of EdTech R&D grantees below.


Pobble provides teachers with everything they need to teach, improve and assess writing. Funding will go towards developing features to support EAL learners and to help engage parents who have low literacy levels, such as teacher voice features and more accessible peer-to-peer feedback tools.

Seneca Learning

Seneca is a homework and revision platform covering 95%+ of the exams taken in the mainstream UK education system for KS2, KS3, GCSE and A-level curriculum. Funding will go towards increasing the involvement of parents of students on Free School Meals with the aim of improving these students’ learning outcomes.

Texthelp - WriQ

WriQ provides tracking and automated marking of student writing, assessment of spelling, punctuation and grammar and allows teachers to quickly provide personalised feedback along with objective marking through rubrics. Texthelp will widen the reach of WriQ to ensure accessibility and specific support for SEND students, in addition to targeted support for EAL students with the aim to develop English language writing skills, vocabulary and fluency.

Learning by Questions

Learning by Questions improves learning outcomes by supporting teachers with feedback and real-time lesson analysis. Funding will be used to focus on improving their product for students with low literacy (e.g. EAL and dyslexia).

Learning with Parents

Learning with Parents aims to narrow the disadvantage gap by supporting all parents and carers to engage in their children’s learning. Funding will go towards gathering insight on how to better reach parents from socio-economically disadvantaged families.


Integral offers high quality support for AS and A level Maths and Further Maths. Funding will go towards extending accessibility, including enhancements to using the website on smartphones.


Sumdog is an online games-based maths & English practice tool. Funding will focus on their high deprivation users and their home learning environment.


For more information contact Juliet Grant in Nesta’s press office on 020 7438 2668 or 07866 949047, [email protected] or [email protected]

Nesta_Press [email protected]

Notes to editors:

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. We've spent over 20 years working out the best ways to make change happen through research and experimenting, and we've applied that to our work in innovation policy, health, education, government innovation and the creative economy and arts. Nesta is based in the UK and supported by a financial endowment. We work with partners around the globe to bring bold ideas to life to change the world for good.

About SchoolDash
SchoolDash is an education data analytics company that provides information, analysis and insights to enable better understanding of schools and education systems. We support schools, government, charities, policymakers, media organisations, companies and families in their educational activities and decisions with the ultimate aim of improving education for all.

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