What is their impact?

Often insufficient evidence to draw firm conclusions

In many developing countries private schools are offering education to some of the poorest children, apparently filling  significant gaps in state provision.

A  DFID paper, published this month, presents a rigorous review of evidence on the role and impact of private schools on education for school-aged children in developing countries. It was produced by a multi-disciplinary team of researchers and advisers with expertise in education, economics, international development and political economy from the University of Birmingham, Institute of Education, Overseas Development Institute (ODI) and the EFA Global Monitoring Report.

The focus of the review is on private school delivery of education to poorer sections of societies, including those private schools that are identified as low-fee private  schools (LFPs)

Findings related to’ improved learning outcomes are supported by moderate strength  evidence indicating a positive contribution of private schools to better learning outcomes  and strong evidence that better teaching practices are more likely to lead to improved  learning outcomes.’

With regard to’ improved quality, although a strong body of evidence was found to support  the assumption that private schools have better teaching, other assumptions relating to  quality had less conclusive findings.

There is moderate evidence that ‘Private school pupils achieve better learning outcomes when compared with state schools. However, there is ambiguity about the size of the  true private school effect. In addition many children may not be achieving basic competencies even in private schools.’

Underpinning the idea that private schools drive up quality are the concepts of market competition, choice and accountability. Moderate strength evidence was found to support the notion that perceived quality of education is a key factor for parents when choosing private schools and that this choice is informed,  albeit through informal social networks and general perceptions of private schools rather  than more systematic information or direct observation of schools. However, when it comes to investigating how parents exercise this choice, the evidence is scarce. The little evidence there is indicates that users participate in and influence decision making but  there was no evidence that parents actually exit private schools due to quality concerns’. Similarly there was a very small body of literature relating to market competition and this evidence was particularly inconsistent with concerns being raised that competition can deplete state school quality with better-off pupils exiting state schools. This insufficient evidence poses a challenge to the often claimed assertions that higher accountability in private schools and market competition drives up quality across the education system.’ There was moderate strength evidence showing that governments were often found to have a lack of knowledge, capacity and legitimacy to implement effective policies for collaboration and regulation of the private schools sector.

Findings relating to whether private schools lead to improved efficiency were also  inconclusive. There was insufficient (although mainly negative) evidence on whether   private schools are financially sustainable. However, there was moderate strength evidence that the cost of education delivery was lower in private schools than in state  schools. These lower costs were often clearly related to lower teacher salaries which  raises some questions and concerns about the working conditions of private school teachers which needs investigating further.’

Finally, findings relating to improved equity and access were overwhelmingly negative  and neutral, but mainly weak. There were moderate strength findings that girls are usually  less likely to attend private schools, although this finding was context specific. There is a  small body of evidence consistently showing that attending private school is more  expensive for users than attending state school in terms of school fees and meeting the  more hidden costs of uniforms and books, etc

‘The evidence on whether private schools complement state provision was very thin. Examples were found of both private schools filling gaps where there are fewer government schools, and private schools operating where there is an adequate supply of government schools but where they are performing poorly. This indicates a potential blurred boundary around whether private schools complement or compete with state provision.’

Some overarching critical gaps in the evidence base were identified. These were:

There is a lack of data on the true extent and diverse nature of private schools.

The existing evidence is geographically heavily weighted to South Asia with a much more limited African focus. No material was found on conflict-affected or fragile states.

Few studies focus exclusively on middle and secondary schools or on peri -urban Areas.

No research was found on the effect of international companies or chains of private

Types of research designs are limited with a paucity of longitudinal research, in depth ethnographic research, and comparative work

Few studies offer a political economy analysis of private schooling.


The role and impact of private schools in developing countries: a rigorous review of the evidence – Laura Day Ashley ,Claire Mcloughlin, Monazza Aslam, Jakob Engel ,Joseph Wales, Shenila Rawal -April 2014



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