The National Audit Office (NAO) of the United Kingdom undertakes around sixty ‘value for money’ (VFM) studies of government departments and public bodies per year. These reports are then considered by Parliament’s Committee of Public Accounts (the PAC), which seeks to draw lessons that can be applied to the future activity of the respective government department.
In 2009-10, the NAO undertook a VFM study that examined whether bilateral aid by the Department for International Development’s (DFID) on primary education was adequately contributing to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). DFID’s 2001 education strategy aimed to increase access to (and completion of) good quality education for all children, including girls and marginalised groups; as well as achieving recognisable and measurable learning outcomes, especially in literacy, numeracy and essential life skills. DFID’s expenditure against this strategy was planned to reach at least £1 billion by 2010-11.
As part of this VFM study, we were contracted to carry out qualitative research on the results of DFIDs work in primary education in Ghana and Kenya. The work comprised of: (i) focus group discussions with parents and community leaders (representing intended beneficiaries of primary education); (ii) semi-structured interviews with district officials; and, (iii) semi-structured interviews with local service providers including teachers, school management staff and non-governmental service providers. We worked with partners in Ghana and Kenya to design the methodology, carry out and analyse the results of this qualitative research using specialist software for qualitative analysis (MAXQDA). The findings from this assignment were incorporated into the NAO VFM report, supported by evidence from the NAO’s other data collection and secondary sources.
The NAO report found that DFID has successfully supported developing countries to pursue universal enrolment and improve educational prospects for girls. Plus, the department had clearly acted as a positive influence in many ways, particularly on education policy and delivery. DFID’s support was however found to have placed insufficient emphasis on quality and cost-effectiveness since 2001 – with educational quality and attainment remaining at very low levels, and with the imbalance only recently beginning to be addressed by DFID. The PAC paid particular attention to the report’s findings, and this subsequently led to significant pressure on DFID to improve its overall approach to VFM.Image © Nyandenga School, Kenya, Photo Credit: John Schinker