The Future Ready Fund and Covid-19: why social and emotional learning matters

When Nesta’s education team launched the Future Ready Fund in October 2018, we did so out of recognition that social and emotional skills are essential for young people’s long term life outcomes and the future of work. We wanted to support early-stage, high-potential organisations that aim to build these important life skills in young people.

18 months later, the COVID-19 crisis has radically reshaped education in the UK. For our ten Future Ready Fund grantees, the temporary closure of schools has forced many to rapidly pivot and find innovative ways of delivering their programmes online. Despite these challenging circumstances, some grantees are seeing increased demand from schools for programmes that develop social and emotional skills in young people. Khulisa, for instance, will be extending their online therapeutic support, webinars and resources to over 400 students at Manchester Communications Academy with Nesta’s support.

Beyond school closures

There has already been much discussion in the education community about the legacy of COVID-19 as young people gradually return to classrooms over the coming months. Much of the conversation has focused on the likely widening of the attainment gap between disadvantaged and non-disadvantaged pupils. An equally concerning legacy will be the lasting impact of the pandemic on young people’s emotional wellbeing and resilience. In the US, some researchers are already drawing parallels between the current pandemic and the lasting trauma of Hurricane Katrina for children in New Orleans.

When UK schools return, young people will undoubtedly need a range of support: from targeted mental health interventions through to more universal programmes that build social and emotional skills and resilience. CASEL - the leading international authority on social and emotional learning (SEL) - has acknowledged that “SEL will be critical to re-engaging students, supporting adults, rebuilding relationships, and creating a foundation for academic learning”.

Supporting the sector

Yet the responsibility of offering this kind of support cannot fall solely on the shoulders of already overstretched classroom teachers. As we transition to a ‘new normal’, there is a clear role for organisations that work in partnership with schools to support the social and emotional development of young people.

The Foundation for Positive Mental Health, for instance, aims to build resilience, self-esteem and motivation in young people using their sequence of NHS-endorsed audio tracks. With the support of the Future Ready Fund, they have transitioned their programme into secondary schools across England and Scotland and will continue to expand their work in the 2020-2021 school year. Programmes like this - which are evidence-based and committed to testing their impact - offer a valuable avenue of support for both teachers and students, particularly as they negotiate a return to face-to-face learning. You can learn more about the Future Ready Fund and the work of our grantees in the video below.

The work of these and other organisations will be all the more important as young people transition back to school, and they will need continued support from the sector to both scale and measure their impact. In our latest project update from Professor Robin Banerjee, you can read more about how Nesta is working with the University of Sussex to support our Future Ready Fund grantees to evaluate their impact.

More information about the aims of the Future Ready Fund project is available here.


Emma Sutherland

Emma Sutherland

Emma Sutherland

Assistant Programme Manager

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

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