DfE’s technology strategy kicks off with EdTech fund

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The UK Government has recently doubled down on its commitment to using technology to support education, this took the form of a new EdTech Innovation Fund, which is run by Nesta on behalf of the Department for Education (DfE). This fund is designed to boost the development of technology that can help schools provide better education and assist students and teachers.

The funding available comes mostly from the DfE, which provided £3.5 million, but Nesta has also contributed £1.1 million. No doubt, as the fund evolves, the DfE will hope that this initial funding will de-risk future investment by the technology suppliers themselves, as well as schools, and kick start innovation in this field. A further aim of the project is to measure the degree to which individual technologies support education, and collect evidence for their impact.

This programme is part of a wider Government push to invest in EdTech, detailed in the DfE’s education technology strategy announced in April, and similar initiatives supporting the use of technology in the education sector, and the companies innovating in this field. The DfE has set a few specific aims in the strategy, which include cutting the time teachers spend on preparing and marking assessments and homework, improving parental engagement (but reducing the time teachers need to spend on it), reducing time spent on marking mock GCSEs, and improving timetabling to enable flexible and part-time work. The Nesta fund supports some of these, with the use of technology.

Zooming in on the detail of the fund, this first stage will fund 20 or so projects, each receiving up to £100,000 over a period of 18 months. Nesta also promises funding advice and other forms of support as part of the process. To be eligible, those seeking funding will need to use digital technology to support the four “challenge areas” prioritised by the fund, namely formative assessment, essay marking, parental engagement and timetabling. The funding is also only available if the project is delivered in England, and is restricted to technology applied to primary schools, secondary schools and further education colleges. Finally, the funding is available for solutions that are either already in use or ready to be used—excluding R&D and new product development.

The funding will support improvements and testing for early stage products, implementation and scaling up, as well as collecting evidence to establish how to best tackle the four priority challenge areas.

Nesta has already opened the first round of applications, and it will remain open until 15 July, in the meantime, interested parties can join one of three webinars to learn more about the fund. Shortlisted applicants will then be informed on the 29 July, and will have until 30 August to submit their final application. Successful applicants will be announced at the end of September.

The competition is not open to individuals, but charities, schools, or companies can all apply (or perhaps ideally, partnerships including all three). While the value of the funding available is relatively small, it can be very useful for technology suppliers and start-ups, allowing them to develop new relationships and reach a wider audience, in addition to getting a boost to their innovation budget.

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