A rigorous review of the role and impact of private schools in developing countries

A multi-disciplinary team of researchers has produced a report entitled: The role and impact of private schools in developing countries: A rigorous review of the evidence. Commissioned by DFID the team was led by researchers from the University of Birmingham together with the Institute of Education at the University of London, the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) and UNESCO's Education for All Global Monitoring Report.

The report and an accompanying evidence brief discuss the strength of recent evidence on the role and impact of private schools on education for school-aged children with a particular focus on the delivery of education for the poor, including by low-fee schools. Arriving at general conclusions from the evidence reviewed is difficult because of the diversity of private schools, the significant gaps in the evidence and the fact that available research is rarely generalisable in itself. However, some of the findings were rated strong or moderate.

There is strong evidence that teaching in private schools is better – in terms of more teacher presence and teaching activity, and approaches to teaching that are more likely to lead to improved outcomes – than in state schools. Some evidence supports the explanation that this is due to increased accountability of teachers to employers in private schools. However, much of the evidence reviewed also indicates that private school teachers are often less formally qualified, have low salaries and weak job security; such conditions might explain the greater teacher effort in private schools.

The review found moderate strength evidence that pupils attending private school tend to achieve better learning outcomes than pupils in state schools. However, most studies do not adequately account for differences in the social background of pupils, making it difficult to ascertain to what extent the achievement advantage may be attributed to the private school or the social background of pupils. Surprisingly, there is little clear evidence on how far poorer pupils and girls have access to private schools, although the geographical spread of private schools is increasingly spreading from urban to rural areas.

A second rigorous review is currently underway. This will examine the role and impact of schools that are outside the state and not classified as 'private'. This includes schools run by religious bodies, national or international NGOs, charitable foundations, and communities.

Report can be viewed here: The role and impact of private schools in developing countries: A rigorous review of the evidence.