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Harriett responds to the International Development Committee’s report on education

29th March 2018

Harriett Baldwin responds to a Westminster Hall debate on the International Development Committee’s report on DfID’s work on education entitled “Leaving no-one behind” and the Government’s response.

The Minister of State, Department for International Development (Harriett Baldwin)

I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg) on securing the debate along with his Committee. I thank the Committee for its engagement with and scrutiny of this important topic, and for the wide range of constructive recommendations in the report. I add my commendation for the work of Send My Friend to School in raising awareness across the country.

I assure hon. Members that the Government believe passionately in this agenda—in the importance of education and of the work we can do through our development budget to champion it around the world. Education is the single most effective thing in terms of unlocking potential and opening doors to economic development, so individuals can be active citizens and enjoy good health.

The economic benefits are quantified in different ways in different studies around the world, but there is no question that for every year that someone spends in school, their lifetime earnings and the economic potential of their country substantially increases. There is also no question that for every year of education, the pressures ​of population growth, of child marriage and of infant mortality move in the right direction. That happens when we invest in education.

It is not only those of us in the Department for International Development who passionately believe that, but people across Government. It is wonderful to have a Foreign Secretary who champions that agenda. He described the impact of that multi-pronged tool as being the “Swiss army knife” of economic development around the world.

We have summarised the whole campaign in five words—12 years of quality education. Those five words are designed to summarise the length of the investment needed and to put an important emphasis on quality.

We heard a range of different and interesting contributions in the debate, throughout which several questions were addressed to me. I will pick up on a few of those. In terms of our international agenda, the UK-France summit highlighted that this is a global year of education, and we are working with the World Bank on that too. That important topic is thoroughly embedded in all the DFID country offices, with their range of expertise, and we will engage on it across the diplomatic network, in every country where we have a Foreign and Commonwealth Office presence.

We have a wonderful opportunity to showcase that agenda next month at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting. I reassure hon. Members that “12 years of quality education” will have an important and prominent place at the summit, to get the 53 countries that are coming to the UK to make pledges on education and on that agenda. It is a great opportunity to demonstrate UK leadership in the area. In July we will also invite the world to London, for the disability summit to be held at the Olympic park, which is something we are doing alongside Kenya and the International Disability Alliance. That is another really important forum in which to highlight the work we can do around the world to improve the access to education for people with disabilities, who are sometimes very hard to reach.

Hon. Members asked about the Safe Schools declaration and spoke about the importance they attach to it. No one could disagree that this is an incredibly important area for us to explore and of course take action on. We very much welcome the spirit of the Safe Schools declaration, and we have been considering the concerns that exist about some of the accompanying guidelines for protecting schools and universities from military use during armed conflict. Those guidelines do not mirror the language of international humanitarian law, so we have been meeting the relevant civil society organisations to explore our concerns and to try to find a way forward. We are considering our next steps on that.

Hon. Members mentioned the importance in conflict areas of making sure that children do not miss out on education, which is why I am proud that DFID is one of the largest contributors to Education Cannot Wait. We are working with that organisation on education, particularly in relation to the Rohingya refugee crisis. We are working with experts to see what more could be done in Bangladesh and Burma to address that significant challenge.

I was also asked for an update on the effectiveness study regarding early years education. Obviously, it is an ongoing piece of work, but some initial findings will ​be published this summer, which will cover five countries or regions—Liberia, in which a number of colleagues expressed a particular interest, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Jamaica, and Punjab in Pakistan.

The hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) highlighted the absolutely tragic issue of people just being able to get to school safely. He will be interested in the work that we do to fund road safety research and he may also be interested to know that the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman), who also plays an important role in championing this agenda, has arranged a meeting with me about it. The hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse may want to come along and then I can go through in great detail with both of them what we are doing in that respect.

My hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire (Mrs Latham) and the hon. Member for Glasgow East (David Linden) raised the important issue of sanitary protection and the challenges that it can present for girls and their access to school. That is very much the kind of initiative that has been funded through the Girls’ Education Challenge, and several projects have been able to access that funding. We also do work on water, sanitation and hygiene facilities in schools. That was a very important topic to raise.

Hon. Members mentioned Bridge International Academies. Regarding this agenda, I emphasise that we are really trying to focus on the “12 years of quality education” and perhaps we do not take such an ideological stance as that outlined by the spokesman for the Opposition, the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Dan Carden). However, I can confirm that DFID does not currently provide any financial support for Bridge Academies, so that is clearly more of a historic issue than a current one.

I was surprised by the somewhat grudging tone of the remarks about the announcement of the money that we have put into the Global Partnership for Education, because we were its most significant funder, and of course it is important that we work with other Governments to encourage them to spend more on education, as well as with other organisations and other funding bodies. That fund is not the only way in which we fund education; in fact, the money we give to it represents only a small percentage of our education funding. Clearly, there has been some dispute, but for me the announcement of £225 million to be spent over three years places us in the lead for such funding.

Of course, the approach that we are taking to the international finance facility for education is still being developed. I think that it was Julia Gillard who, in her campaign for funding, described the UK’s approach to the replenishment of this fund as being very rigorous in the way that we allocate funding to these types of organisations. We will not just hand out a cream cake, as she put it; we ensure that we are the tough friend who makes someone get up and run a 10 km race. That was her analogy and it shows the rigour with which we spend taxpayers’ money around the world.

The work that we have done on education was published in February, and updated in line with the International Development Committee’s recommendation. As I have said, it is about improving education quality and getting more children to learn the basics of literacy and numeracy.

In our approach, we focus on three areas of change. The first is to support countries to fundamentally rethink the way that teachers are recruited, trained and motivated. ​For example, with our support, the Government of Ghana has endorsed ambitious teacher training reforms, including new standards for teacher education and a new framework for the curriculum, and those changes are really making a difference in the classroom.

Secondly, we will stand behind system reform that delivers results in the classroom and we agree with the Committee that the education advisers and the research that DFID can provide are a vital part of that offer to Governments. We also share our wider UK expertise, such as our curriculum, our national exams and our Ofsted inspection system. In Punjab in Pakistan, for example, UK support and expertise have contributed to systems reform that has seen the average literacy and numeracy scores of grade 3 children increase by more than 20 percentage points in just the last three years.

Thirdly, we will continue to commit to reaching the hard-to-reach girls and boys affected by crises. I was asked about the total amount that we spent in 2016. We spent £964 million of official development assistance on education, which is 11.3% of UK bilateral aid, and I can reassure hon. Members that education will remain a high priority for DFID spending.

In fact, we recognise that greater investment in education is needed to drive sustainable development goal 4, but other donors must also play an important part. To increase its value for money, education spending has to be efficient and effective, and we will support Governments to cut waste and to use public resources effectively. If we determine that a country can contribute more towards its education, we will indeed expect it to do so.

In conclusion, with our priorities clearly mapped out, we will draw on the full range of our capabilities and UK expertise to ensure that our programmes improve the lives of children around the world. We will show leadership on the world stage through a global year of learning. I thank members of the Committee for their report, and will leave a moment for the Chair of the Committee to respond.

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Harriett Baldwin
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