New Report highlights potential role of the private sector in support of state education 

And  stresses the need for impact evaluation high quality data  and regulation


A new report from CFBT Education Trust ‘Impact evaluation of private sector participation in education’ recognises the role that the private sector can play as a provider of core learning services alongside state schools. The private sector in its broadest sense includes communities, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), faith-based organisations, trade unions, private companies, small-scale informal providers and individual practitioners; all may collaborate with Government in order to raise education quality. Although most learning institutions are state provided or financed, especially at the basic level, nearly all education systems include a range of formal and non-formal learning opportunities available to children, young people and adults in a given country, many of which are provided by the private sector.


The paper outlines the need for greater investment though into impact evaluation, particularly to evaluate state-funded non-state providers. It aims to raise the awareness of impact evaluation amongst policymakers and other key stakeholders, especially parents. This will allow evidence-based policymaking and enable parents to make evidence-based decisions when choosing schools. In short, a rigorous evidence base is needed in order to inform policy. Impact evaluation can focus on both the educational outcomes of the privately-provided schools but may also look at the effect on other schools within the competitive environment.


The Government has several options to engage the private sector in state education. Public finance of education remains the Government’s responsibility, but the provision of schooling need not be public. In fact, there are several ways that Government can ensure schooling, but not provide it. Publicly-financed, privately-provided education is one such option. Private management of public institutions is another.


The paper illustrates how impact evaluation methods can be applied to private provision in order to provide the kind of rigorous evidence that could be useful for programme design and policy choices, and it summarises the findings of key examples of impact evaluation.


There are ways in which the public and private sectors can join together to complement each other’s strengths in providing education services, helping countries to meet their education goals and to improve learning outcomes (Patrinos et al. 2009). These partnerships can be tailored and targeted to meet the needs of specific communities.


So what kind of benefits can the private sector bring to state education?

• competition in the market for education

• autonomy in school management

• improved standards through contracts

• risk-sharing between government and providers (Patrinos et al. 2009).


But the private sector must always operate within a properly regulated environment within an accountability framework.  The report says ‘it is important that education systems are regulated adequately, providing information to parents and ensuring that there is a rigorous accountability process in place.’


The reports main conclusions are:


Rigorous studies indicate that the non-state sector can improve learning outcomes of students. However the body of evidence is limited and more research is needed


A greater number of randomised trials in future research will increase our understanding of the types of interventions that improve educational outcomes.


In cases when a full or national pilot randomised trial cannot be undertaken, then the information from small-scale evaluations can be used to provide a case for roll-out and inform the design of future large-scale evaluations.


In addition to evaluating the benefits of the programme itself – its internal validity – researchers could also consider spill-over/competition effects. How does the programme affect nearby schools? Are there spill-over effects? Does competition improve overall results?


It is important to ensure an impact evaluation is in place early in the intervention to capture the effect of the innovative approach. Retrospective evaluations can be used but are far more difficult to implement, are likely to have more biases, and more investment is needed in order to collate a higher amount of data to support the evaluation.


Creating a culture of evaluation will ensure that all stakeholders understand that the evaluation results will be used to demonstrate impact. The use of any rigorous technique helps build acceptance of the concept and provides evidence to help support the innovation


Rigorously measuring impact enables evidence-based policymaking. The private sector

could offer innovative solutions to improving educational outcomes, but it is the Government’s responsibility to ensure their impact is effectively measured, so that those programmes that are effective can be expanded.


Impact evaluation can support best practice sharing between as well as within systems.

Governments around the world are striving to improve educational outcomes.


Research report Impact evaluation of private sector participation in education; Laura Lewis; Harry Anthony Patrinos (CFBT Education Trust-Jan 2012)

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