Open Fund

Education Innovation Fund 2020-2023

Closing Date

Supporting innovations that tackle educational disadvantage in Ireland

COVID-19 is a massive disruption to Ireland’s education system. It exposes already vulnerable people to further educational disadvantage. It widens inequality and makes educational opportunities even harder to reach.  Now is the time for swift action.

This is why Rethink Ireland has created the Education Innovation Fund 2020 – 2023.  The Fund seeks to improve equal access to education and promote economic empowerment. 

We created the Education Fund with the support of the Department of Rural and Community Development (via the Dormant Accounts Fund). We will match funds raised by applicants and we will provide cash grants and a variety of business supports.

How does it work?

This Fund has three strands:

1. Transitions in Education

The pandemic affects people making ‘transitions in education’.  For example, students sitting their Leaving Certificate this year experienced increased anxiety. 

Making a transition in education can include; starting early learning care and school; moving from primary to secondary school; and moving to further education, training and employment.

This strand also welcomes projects using the Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL).

2. 21st Century Models and Methods of Education

A 21st-century education gives learners the skills they need to succeed. It also helps them to grow their confidence in practising those skills. It teaches skills such as motivation, creativity, collaboration, critical thinking and social-emotional learning in an educational setting. 

This strand welcomes paradigm-changing approaches to primary and secondary education.

3. Reversing the Effects of Poverty on Educational Outcomes

It is well-documented that poverty affects educational disadvantage. People living in poverty face more stress and anxiety during this period of uncertainty and high unemployment. Educational guidance at this critical time can have a lasting impact on employment opportunities in the future. 

This strand will focus on projects that tackle educational disadvantage. It welcomes projects that provide holistic support to marginalised groups of people on their education journey. It will support projects which address the intersectionality of educational disadvantage through early intervention, all the way through to adulthood. 

The deadline for applying to the Education Innovation Fund is 5:00 pm on Monday, 8th March 2021. Please apply here.

What does the fund offer?

Rethink Ireland matches philanthropic funds raised* by successful applicants to provide:

  • A 50% cash ‘uplift’ on funds raised* 
  • A strategic non-financial supports package to help organisations expand and deepen their impact
  • A place on Rethink Ireland’s Accelerator Programme 
  • Project performance and impact management
  • Access to Rethink Ireland’s networks.

* Applicants must provide evidence to verify the private funding has been secured

Funding requirements

You will be required to provide a ‘Donor Letter of Commitment’ when submitting your application. 

The minimum commitment accepted is €20,000 and the maximum commitment accepted is €200,000. The period for this commitment must be more than 2 years. 

If you are successful, you will be asked to provide further evidence to verify the private funding you have secured.

How the funding process works: 

  • These private funds are paid to Rethink Ireland annually
  • Rethink Ireland provides evidence of committed donor funds to Government
  • Government releases funding to Rethink Ireland 
  • Rethink Ireland provides an uplift of 50% on the donor funds and makes a grant to the successful applicant

For example: If an applicant raises €60,000 in private funds over 3 years (€20,000 per year), Rethink Ireland will provide an uplift of €30,000 (€10,000 per year). The total Rethink Ireland cash grant will be €90,000 over 3 years (which is €30,000 per year).

Please note, the Rethink Ireland Board will decide how much money to award successful applicants. This may be less than the amount requested. The amount awarded to each applicant will depend on how many organisations are selected.

Who can apply?

We invite applications from organisations that support children, young people and adults who are socially excluded, marginalised or living in poverty. Organisations will also be working to mitigate educational disadvantage in Ireland. 

Projects that support the following target age groups are all eligible to apply to this Fund:

  • Pre-school population  (0-4 years)
  • Primary (5-12 years)
  • Secondary (13-18 years)
  • Young adults (19-24 years)
  • Adults (25-64 years)

The Fund will especially focus on projects that:

  • work to reduce educational disadvantage 
  • encourage innovative ways of overcoming educational disadvantage
  • address systemic obstacles in education 
  • fill current gaps in education support across the lifespan.

For this reason, we particularly welcome projects which support:

  • members of the Traveller community
  • Roma people 
  • people experiencing homelessness.



Rethink Ireland Criteria

  • The project must address a critical social issue – in this case, educational disadvantage
  • The project proposed must be innovative in an Irish context
  • The project must have potential and a desire to scale or replicate in Ireland (it may also have potential internationally, but this is not a requirement)
  • The project must provide evidence that it is up and running, or has been tested at least in a minimal way
  • The project must be based on the island of Ireland and make its main impact in the Republic of Ireland
  • Applicants must come from an entity that has a not-for-profit legal form, e.g. a school, charity, social enterprise, voluntary organisation or Higher Education Institution

Education Fund Criteria 

The project must indicate progress along, or retain a position on, the National Framework of Qualifications or Early Learning and Care. 

The project must address educational disadvantage in a manner that is new, or that complements, or adds to, the existing innovations in The School Excellence Fund DEIS (Department of Education and Skills), the Department of Children and Youth Affairs’ Let’s Get Ready Programme and the Tusla Education Support Services.

The project must meet the criteria outlined in the below strands. 

Strand 1. Transitions in education 


Projects must support marginalised people going through educational transitions, such as: 

  • moving from home to early learning and care services
  • moving from early learning and care services to primary school 
  • moving from primary school to secondary school 
  • moving from secondary school to tertiary education 
  • moving from education to employment, inclusive of adult education, upskilling, and reskilling projects (including Recognised Prior Learning projects. 

Advantageous Criteria

  • Projects which encourage collaboration across sectors


Strand 2. 21st Century Models and Methods of Education


Projects should meet one or more of the criteria below:

  • Projects that focus on providing ‘21st-century skills’ such as creativity, critical thinking, communication and collaboration
  • Projects that are trialing emerging educational practices, such as innovative learning strategies and alternative assessments.

Advantageous Criteria 

  • Projects which encourage collaboration across sectors


Strand 3.  Reversing the Effects of Poverty on Educational Outcomes


Projects should meet one or more of the criteria below:

  • Projects which support interventions that provide academic, social and community support to improve outcomes for people experiencing disadvantage
  • Projects which advocate for system change within education settings to maximise educational attainment and quality early education.

Advantageous Criteria 

  • Projects that employ a holistic approach to intersectional education supports 
  • Projects which encourage collaboration across sectors


Which projects cannot apply?

  • Projects seeking funds for capital items such as buildings, vans, renovations, or equipment
  • Projects where research is the primary activity
  • Projects promoting or aligned with a political party
  • Projects that only accept participants of a particular faith or religious denomination
  • Projects where the main impact is outside the Republic of Ireland
  • Projects led by people under 18 years of age.

Which applicants cannot apply?

  • Applicants under 18 years of age 
  • Commercial companies 
  • Rethink Ireland staff, directors and their immediate family members.

How do we apply?

Complete the online application form by 5:00 pm on Monday, 8th March 2021. To complete your application form online, you will need to upload documents such as a three-year budget for your project (in Excel) and your financial statements.


We have tried to make the application process as accessible as possible but we understand that there may still be some difficulties for applicants. If you have access needs or are struggling with the application form, please contact We will be able to assist you then.

Frequently Asked Questions

What happens next?

A team of experts will review the applications. If you are successful in the review process, we will invite your project leader to an interview. The interviews will take place in April or May 2021. The judges may do further checks or site visits. If you are successful, we will notify you in June. 

What happens if our project is successful?

We will invite you to take part in our Accelerator Programme which runs from September 2021 to January 2024. This programme will include:

  • Mentoring
  • Strategic planning
  • Measuring the impact of the project
  • Communications training
  • Access to Rethink Ireland’s expertise and networks

We will expect your project leader to devote at least 10 days per year to the programme.

What can we spend the grant on?

You may only spend the grant on the project which won the award. Rethink Ireland will agree on the specific use of the grant with you. 

Please note: you cannot use the grant to pay off debts or buy land, buildings or equipment.

If my organisation has already or is currently in receipt of a grant from Rethink Ireland, can I still apply?

Yes. If you have previously been funded or are currently being funded by Rethink Ireland, you can still apply to the Education Innovation Fund. However, it is not possible for the same project lead on the same project to take part in two Rethink Ireland Accelerator programmes at the same time.

Who will decide who wins the awards?

The Board of Rethink Ireland will make the final decision on successful applicants.

What is the selection process?

Stage 1: Open call for applications (October 16th 2020 – March 8th 2021)

Stage 2: Selection process (March – April 2021) 

Stage 3: Interviews (April / May 2021)

Stage 4: Final checks on short-listed applicants (May 2021)

Stage 5: Final decision by Rethink Ireland’s Board (June 2021)

How can we find out where we are in the selection process?

We will inform applicants by telephone or email.

Interviews and feedback

If we invite you to the next round of the application process, we will ask you to attend an interview. The project leader or project representative must attend this interview. 

If selected for an interview, we will share the information you have provided with the judges.

The Rethink Ireland Board of Directors will choose the winning applications. They will make their decision based on recommendations from the panel of judges. The Directors’ decision will be final.

The Fund Panel may offer general verbal feedback to unsuccessful applicants who have reached the interview stage.

Terms and Conditions of the Education Innovation Fund

By applying for the Education Innovation Fund, you agree with the following:

  • You are 18 years of age or older.
  • You have given full and truthful information, both verbal and written, at all stages of the application and selection process.
  • You are eligible to apply. This means that your organisation meets the criteria for the Rethink Ireland and the Equality Fund, as described earlier.
  • You have the right to apply. This means that you hold the necessary rights to carry out the project.
  • If you are successful, you must take part in publicity about the grant. Rethink Ireland reserves the right to publish the names of organisations that are successful in their applications.

By sending in your application, you accept these terms and conditions and our Privacy Statement. If you do not comply with these terms and conditions, you may be disqualified and may have to return any award granted.

Rethink Ireland will hold the personal details which you submitted with your application form. We will only share this information with the third parties administering the application and selection process unless we agree otherwise with you. Please see our Privacy Statement for full details.

If you decline an award or if the award is taken back because you did not comply with the terms and conditions, the Directors may select an alternative Awardee.

Rethink Ireland reserves the right to disqualify any entrant, to change the terms and conditions without notice, or to cancel the application process at any stage.

Where it is relevant, applicant organisations must be fully compliant with Children First guidelines and any child protection legislation and regulation that may be in force from time to time.

Need more information?

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