DFID's work on education: Leaving no one behind Contents


Education is a fundamental human right which underpins the improving of lives and the eradication of poverty. Despite this, and the aspirations of Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG4) on global educational opportunities, 263 million children and young people remain out of school around the world, and another 330 million are in school but are estimated not to be learning the basics.1 Some witnesses described this as a ‘crisis’.2

In 2015 the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were agreed, with Goal 4 addressing global education. One of the central aims of the SDGs is to “leave no one behind”, yet to achieve this in education will require a substantial increase in finance, access and quality.

DFID is recognised as a world leader on many aspects of the promotion of education in developing countries. The Department is currently undertaking a policy refresh in this area, and this Report aims to feed into the consultation process of this to help steer the Department to a more effective implementation of SDG4.

UNESCO states that globally, education funding remains substantially below the target level that would be required to meet the ambition of SDG4, estimating the annual shortfall at around $39 billion.3 We recognise the Department’s continuing commitment to global education, as well as the fact that in the past it has prioritised education in a way other donors have not. However, in order to meet SDG4, spending on education by all donors needs to increase.

The Government has an opportunity to continue leading the way in meeting this challenge. Through its commitment to the Global Partnership for Education (GPE), the only multilateral fund for education, there is an opportunity to encourage other donors to increase spend in this area. With the next round of funding replenishment approaching, we believe the Department should give the full amount requested by GPE and use its soft power to encourage others to increase their own support.

Without an educated population, a country cannot progress out of poverty. It will not have basic modern marketplace skills, let alone doctors, teachers, lawyers or other professions. The groups most likely to be out of education are the very poorest, girls, disabled children,4 and those affected by conflict and emergencies. DFID should focus on these groups in order to “leave no one behind”. DFID’s Value for Money framework should be structured to enable investment in the foundations of development and targeted at the most marginalised groups.

Girls’ education is vitally important, and DFID is doing commendable work in this area through initiatives like the Girls’ Education Challenge. It is important for DFID to continue this work, as well as taking on board criticisms of the programme raised in the report of the Independent Commission for Aid Impact (ICAI)’s report on “UK aid’s support to marginalised girls”.5 The Department should continue to fund innovate programmes to learn what works well in reaching and educating girls.

Disabled children face many barriers to education, both physical and otherwise. A lack of training for teachers and coherence in responding to the needs of this group shows how much work needs to be done to include more disabled children in education. DFID has made great strides with its Disability Framework, but now needs to ensure that disability is thoroughly addressed in its global education policy refresh.

In June 2017, UNHCR reported that “over the past two decades, the global population of forcibly displaced people has grown substantially from 33.9 million in 1997 to 65.6 million in 2016, and it remains at a record high”.6 This includes 22.5 million refugees, half of whom are under 18.7 Over half of the world’s registered refugees of school age are not in school; amounting to 3.5 million children not learning.8 Children caught up in crises should not be denied their right to an education. Humanitarian crises are also becoming more protracted, and DFID’s response should reflect this.

DFID’s support to private sector schools is controversial, and we recognise that the Department does give the vast majority of its support to public education initiatives. Where DFID has supported private sector providers, it has seen some learning gains, but there are questions as to the sustainability of this model. There is a lack of research into the added value from private sector schools, and research into this area should be supported. Where evidence-based research on low-fee schools does exist, the Department should review the findings.

A child’s attendance at school does not necessarily equate to them learning, and as such, the quality of education is obviously also important. Equity between different groups needs to be addressed, and once in school, children should be prepared with transferable skills needed for work. The allocation of DFID’s resources between levels of education should be addressed, as the current spend on early years education is very low. More money should be spent on early years education to lay a solid foundation for the development of young children and have greater gains later in their lives.

It is imperative that education programmes are informed by the local context in which they are operating in order to be effective. DFID’s education advisers are key to achieving this, but are currently lacking in some countries in which DFID works. Where possible, the Department should maintain an education adviser in each country in which it has a bilateral programme.

If learning outcomes are to be improved, it is essential that more investment is made in data and research, to find out where the weaknesses are and how they can best be tackled. DFID should continue to support research in this area, as well as data collection methods, to understand more about how it can best fulfil SDG4.

2 For example Q81 HC639

4 Note on terminology: We recognise that there are differing views on the most appropriate definition of disability. Internationally, people-first language reflecting the social model tends to be preferred by disabled people’s organisations, for example Disabled Peoples’ International. An example is ‘people with disabilities’ as used in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. In this Report, we use the terminology viewed by UK disabled people’s organisations as best reflecting the social model of disability, as well as human rights charities like Amnesty International. As such, this Report will predominantly refer to ‘disabled people’ while recognising and respecting other terms and the right of people to self-define.

7 UNHCR, Figures at a Glance, accessed 21 August 2017

17 November 2017