Send My Friend to School response to the UK government’s White Paper “International development in a contested world” 

Send My Friend to School response to the UK government’s White Paper “International development in a contested world” 

The Send My Friend to School coalition welcomes the publication of the UK government’s White Paper on International Development, which was launched last month. We welcome the paper’s focus on poverty reduction in the lowest income countries, strategic focus on achieving the SDGs, and its prioritisation on reaching the most marginalised groups including girls, children with disabilities, and refugees or forcibly displaced children and youth. 

Send My Friend is pleased that the White Paper identifies education as key and interdependent to ensuring opportunities for all. It is positive to see a reaffirmation of education as a long-standing development priority for the UK, including its existing commitments to tackle the global education crisis and get more girls in school and learning through the G7 Girls Education Declaration. Furthermore, this includes leveraging investment to strengthen education systems, improving foundational skills for children and mainstreaming education across FCDO climate and environment programmes. 

This is critical, as globally education remains chronically under-funded and often deprioritised on the political agenda. SDG4 is among the furthest behind of the Global Goals with progress slowest for the poorest and most marginalised children, and education has been one of the hardest hit sectors by recent UK ODA cuts. It is also the bedrock to achieving the other SDGs.

Furthermore, education systems around the world are facing increased hazards. Climate change, conflicts, and forced displacement risk the education of children globally, with 224 million school aged children (half of whom are girls) affected. This includes 72 million  children out of school, and 127 million children in school but not achieving minimum proficiency levels in reading or maths. 

However, the White Paper’s ambitious vision for the UK’s development work over the next seven years cannot be delivered without adequate resourcing, including the return of the UK ODA budget to 0.7% of GNI. To realise its goals on education, the UK must increase the proportion of ODA it spends on global education to at least 15%, in line with international benchmarks, as well as support transformational measures to expand domestic education financing more broadly. Multilateral approaches to education are proven to be efficient and effective in ensuring the greatest impact on strengthening education systems and the White Paper should have made stronger commitments to supporting multilateral funds in the long-term. In addition to committing to deepening work with Education Cannot Wait, the UK should also have recommitted to deepening its partnership with the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) and ensuring it is fully funded, including by fulfilling its existing commitments. While the White Paper points to mobilising resources beyond ODA, how and whether these measures are equipped to adequately reach people who have been historically marginalised is not clear.  

Whilst we celebrate the commitment to spend 50% of bilateral ODA in lower-income countries, this must include equitable and targeted allocation of ODA spend on education towards the poorest and most excluded groups in these regions. Recent evidence shows that global ODA is not well-targeted to countries with the greatest education needs, as low-income countries receive less than 30% of education ODA, with even less going to education in emergencies (EiE), with only 30% of EiE requirements being funded in 2021 despite record needs. This worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic, when ODA to global education in lower-income countries declined by 10%. Unless addressed this will lead to widening gaps in access and learning outcomes for marginalised groups of children and young people. 

Similarly, the reaffirmation of the commitment to ‘leave no one behind’ to achieve Agenda 2030 is encouraging, however this requires dismantling social and institutional norms that ignore the needs of the most at-risk children. This must be demonstrated by ambitious commitments at next year’s Summit of the Future. Fulfilment of this commitment necessitates greater investment in inclusive data and public systems strengthening. Reaching the most marginalised with quality, inclusive education can have a positive impact in also addressing wider UK international priorities including those outlined in the White Paper. 

Now is the time for clearer action, better evidence and stronger accountability from the UK government on how the priorities outlined in this White Paper will be achieved. Send My Friend welcomes the commitment for better engagement with local leaders and communities, and looks forward to seeing how the forthcoming strategy will meet education priorities. Pursuing equitable development partnerships by placing the rights and voices of those affected by poverty at the centre is critical to ensuring that education is accessible, inclusive, equitable and of high quality. To make the commitments of the White Paper a reality, the UK government must recognise children, young people and teachers, in all their diversity, as experts on their experiences and advancing their vision of the future.

We look forward to working with the UK Government to inform and support the implementation of the White Paper. 

Read our Let Our Friends Learn and All My Friends Need Teachers policy reports for further recommendations.