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Education Industry badge.png This article is part of the Spinwatch privatisation of Schools Portal project.

Nesta is a UK-based 'innovation' charity, formerly known as the National Endowment for Science Technology and the Arts.[1]

It describes itself as a 'hub for innovators the world over' and is seen useful for bringing together lots of different interests: government, corporate, technology etc.

Its main focus in on reforms to public services, particularly through the use of technology, including the NHS and the education system. For example, Nesta supports the widespread reform of schools, and in particular the greater use of technology to teach.

Its CEO since 2011 has been New Labourite Geoff Mulgan.


Nesta, which stands for the National Endowment for Science Technology and the Arts, was established by Tony Blair's government in 1998 to promote 'creativity, talent and innovation'. The new public body was originally funded by a £250 million endowment from the UK National Lottery. The endowment is now kept in trust, and Nesta uses the interest from the trust, as well as donations from other sources, to fund its projects.

Within six months of the 2010 general election, David Cameron's Conservative-led government announced that Nesta would cease to be an executive non-departmental public body and become a charity, which it did on 1 April 2012.

Lobbying for Education Reform through technology

Since its inception, education reform has been a key focus of Nesta's work. It defines this a providing support for 'inventive ideas in teaching and learning, aiming to foster creative ability and understanding of science, technology and the arts.'[2] Its work on education reform includes research, investments and practical programmes.

Nesta supports the digitisation of education.

It is one of many organisations that believes that the current education system is failing to equip children with the skills they will need in the future (often referred to by reformers as '21st century skills' agenda, although this is often ill-defined). Teachers, it argues, also need to incorporate more technology in their teaching.

Next Gen. report: lobbying tool for technology interests

Nesta's report, Next Gen. (2011) is described by education reformers in the UK as a ‘landmark’ report.[3]

It was commissioned by culture minister Ed Vaizey as a review the future skills needed by the UK’s video games and visual effects industries. Ian Livingstone, head of gaming lobbying group UKIE led the six-month review with Nesta.

The report was part of a wider campaign by technology firms to get computer science on the curriculum and more technology in schools. The campaign had the support of UKIE, of which Microsoft is a member, and others in the education technology space, including: Google, TalkTalk, Facebook, the IT lobby group Intellect, the British Computer Society, the Education Foundation and others like the Guardian Media Group.

Livingstone explained that gaming was used as a poster boy for the skills review because of its status as a ‘high-profile rock’n’roll industry’. In reality the campaign was acting in the interests of this ‘broad coalition’.[4]

The central message of Next Gen. was unequivocal and strikingly similar to the messages of education reformers in the US and elsewhere, including Google's Eric Schmidt: the consequences of not reforming the UK’s education system according to their recommendations would be devastating for the UK’s high-tech industries. ‘Unless we act quickly, we are in danger of losing out,’ it said.

It made a number of recommendations:

  • computer science should be included on the curriculum. Just months after Next Gen. was published, UK education secretary Michael Gove endorsed computer science as an important academic school subject.
  • teachers should be trained to teach computer science. Nesta partners Google and Microsoft are now funding teacher training to deliver the new computing curriculum.
  • video games should be used to draw pupils into STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and maths). The report played up the benefits of video games to teach, while ignoring the mixed results from the few trials conducted.
  • central repository of the best video games for teachers. In essence, a marketing tool for educational games makers.

As if to underline its role in kick-starting an ed-tech revolution in schools, Nesta, supported by the same coalition of technology interests, followed up with a series of reports, all of which called for more technology to teach and strongly advocated the need to redesign education on digital lines. Nesta's Decoding Learning report (2012), for example, champions digital technology in the classroom.[5]

Next Gen. and subsequent publications appear, therefore, as lobbying tools for technology firms with a clear, vested interest in digitising learning, as well as enthusing a new generation of coders.

For a full account of the campaign to get computing onto the curriculum and more computers in schools, see British Computer Society.

Nesta investments in Edtech

Nesta has backed more than 20 education technology organisations. Its investment vehicles are:

  • Nesta Impact Investments is a fund used to support social ventures. It has invested in a number of education technology startups, including: CogBooks (adaptive learning online platform); Digital Assess (online assessment tool); and Movellas, (online story sharing site).[7]

Other digital education activity

  • Flipped Classroom: working with 12 secondary schools across England and Scotland to investigate the impact of an approach to ‘Flipped Learning’ on mathematics teaching.[8]
  • Remote Tutoring: exploring the potential of remote one-to-one tuition to support primary age children at risk of underachievement in mathematics.[9]
  • Visible Learning: exploring the potential of real time captioning and transcripts of lessons to support teachers’ professional development.[10]
  • Make Things Do Stuff: platform with tools for children to 'make and share digital things'.
  • One Day Digital events for teachers in Scotland on digital making for teachers.

Targeting Policy-Makers with the Edtech message

In 2015, Nesta's Future Shock event for policymakers, which looks at trends and technologies that Nesta thinks will shape the UK and its economy over the next few years, presented digital learning as a policy idea for the new Government. Among its recommendations were 'developing a kite mark for digital education technology', and 'adding digital making to the national curriculum'.[11]

Nesta and the Education Technology Action Group

Nesta were heavily involved in the government's Education Technology Action Group (ETAG), which was set up in 2014 to advise ministers on education technology policy.

Nesta's Geoff Mulgan and Oliver Quinlan were members of the group. Nesta also hosted the first ETAG in its offices, and its Digital Education team contributed 'ideas and challenges' to the discussion.[12]

Pearson + Nesta acknowledge ed tech's failings

A 2014 report by Nesta and education giant, Pearson called for more evidence that education technology 'innovations' actually improve outcomes for students. From Good Intentions to Real Impact: Rethinking the role of evidence in education businesses argues that education businesses need to move away from 'conceptualising impact in terms of financial return', to a situation where the social impact can be robustly measured and understood.[13]

The report's foreword was by Pearson's Michael Barber.

The report is part of Pearson's 'Efficacy Framework', launched in 2013 with a promise to 'put the pursuit of efficacy and learning outcomes at the centre of our new global education strategy.'[14]

A previous report published by Nesta and authored by the Canadian school reformer, Michael Fullan, and Pearson's Katelyn Donnelly, was also concerned with the quality of digital innovations in education. Alive in the Swamp: assessing digital innovations in education (2013), argued that edtech founders, funders and teachers should look for edtech products that 'produce at least twice the learning outcome for half the cost of our current tools'.[15]

Education partners

Nesta says its education programme is supported by: Nominet Trust, Mozilla, Scottish Government and Futurelab at NFER National Foundation for Educational Research. It has also worked with Google, Microsoft and Pearson.

Cities and public sector reform through technology

Nesta is working with Accenture on a programme designed to drive policymaking in cities around the world to support 'innovation' and economic growth. It should be seen in the context of the reform of public services, and 'the ways that technologies used for shopping, banking and commerce are poised to transform the way citizens interact with their governments.'

It describes its CITIE framework as a 'global benchmarking study' to help cities become leaders in digital innovation. More at:

Nesta is also working with Bloomberg Philanthropies on a 'smart cities' agenda, for example, through its Mayors Challenge.[16]

Corporate and Government Sponsors

Nesta cites the following 'research and delivery partners' (as of 2014-15), which it says has allowed it to increase its work.

Other corporations that have contributed to its work include:


  • Oliver Quinlan, Programme Manager, Digital Education; Quinlan was one of the first cohort of 'Google Certified Teachers' outside of the USA.
  • Tom Kenyon, Director of Education in a Digital Environment


Former staff

  • John Gibson, former director of Government Innovation at Nesta; from Sept 2015 he is involved in 'Strategic Projects' in the No10 Policy Unit. He was, before Nesta, senior policy advisor to David Cameron, and colleague of Steve Hilton.
  • Lord David Puttnam, founder chair of Nesta.
  • Sir Chris Powell, former chair (2003-2009)
  • Jonathan Kestenbaum, former CEO (2005-2011)
  • Philip Colligan, former Deputy CEO and Executive Director, Innovation Lab; before that Colligan was one of the founders of the Behavioural Insights Team (the Nudge Unit) where he served as a non-executive director and was a founding trustee of the Centre for London. He served as an adviser on social innovation to the Cabinet Office. He is currently CEO of the Raspberry Pi Foundation, which aims to get more children involved in computer science and digital making; and non-executive director of Stepping Out, a social business that specialises in setting up new enterprises from public services.[17]

External Lobbyists


Address: 1 Plough Place, London, EC4A 1DE


  1. Nesta Our History. Accessed 2 September 2015.
  2. Our History, Nesta website, accessed August 2015
  3. Next Gen report, Nesta, February 2011
  4. Nick Cohen, London Game Conference: Ian Livingstone interview, Guardian, 7 November 2011
  5. Decoding Learning, Nesta, November 2012
  6. Digital Makers, Nesta wesbite, accessed August 2015
  7. Education, Nesta Impact Investments, accessed August 2015
  8. Flipped Learning, Nesta website, accessed August 2015
  9. Remote Tutoring, Nesta website, accessed August 2015
  10. Visible Learning, Nesta website, accessed August 2015
  11. Annual Review 2015, Nesta
  12. Education Technology Action group, Nesta website, June 2014
  13. From Good Intentions to Real Impact report, Nesta / Pearson report, February 2014
  14. Valerie Strauss, Brace yourself: Pearson has a ‘new global education strategy', Washington Post, 25 November 2013
  15. Alive in the Swamp: assessing digital innovations in education', Nesta / Pearson report, July 2013
  16. Mayors Challenge, Nesta website, accessed August 2015
  17. Philip Colligan, LinkedIn profile, accessed August 2015