Accessing, staying and succeeding in basic education – UK aid’s support to marginalised girls

Globally nearly 62 million girls miss out on an education. The UK has made a strong commitment to tackling this huge problem, but is falling short of its ambitions to educate the poorest and most vulnerable girls.

Score: Amber/Red
  1. Status: Completed
  2. Published: 16 December 2016
  3. Type: Performance review
  4. Subject: Education, Women and girls
  5. Assessment: Amber/Red
  6. Location: Kenya, Lebanon, Malawi, Pakistan, South Sudan, Tanzania
  7. Lead commissioner: Tina Fahm
  8. SDGs covered:Gender equality


Around the world, many girls face barriers that are preventing them from achieving a basic education. Globally there are 61.2 million primary and lower-secondary aged girls out of school. Others drop out early or fail to reach functional literacy and numeracy. The barriers are complex and context-specific, but range from early marriage and pregnancy to cultural biases and the lack of basic facilities for girls in schools. Some relate to all girls, others to particular groups of girls, resulting in intersecting causes of disadvantage. As developing countries progress towards universal primary education, addressing the marginalisation of girls in education has emerged as a major challenge.

DFID has been committed for many years to prioritising the education of girls to reduce gender inequality. In 2010, DFID’s Education Strategy for 2010-15 reflected the Millennium Development Goals on education and set out priorities for educating girls and other marginalised groups. In 2013, DFID stated that one of its three core priorities for education programming was to “keep girls in school, helping the most marginalised girls stay in school and learning for longer”. In 2015, reflecting its commitment to the Global Goals, it pledged to “leave no one behind” in its development assistance – that is, to prioritise those who may not be reached by “business as usual” development programming.

In this review, we assess DFID’s support for girls who are marginalised in education. Some DFID programmes support education as a whole, including for girls, while others contain specific objectives around tackling gender inequalities in education. Some programmes also target particular groups of girls who are marginalised in education because of the way gender intersects with other forms of disadvantage, such as remoteness, poverty, ethnicity or disability. Our review covers this spectrum of programming for girls’ education. The topic enables us to examine whether DFID has found effective ways of supporting hard-to-reach girls, despite the greater challenges and cost involved. It also enables us to explore the implications of the “leave no one behind” commitment for DFID’s approach to achieving value for money.

Overall, we awarded DFID’s performance an ‘amber-red’ score and made three recommendations.

Sustainable Development Goals

The United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals relevant to this review are:

  • Sustainable Development Goal 5: Gender equality



Published 12 May 2016

Evidence gathering


Review publication

Published 16 December 2016

Government response

Published 2 February 2017

Parliamentary scrutiny

IDC hearing 30 January 2017

ICAI follow-up

Published 29 June 2018