British aid to private schools could violate human rights, education unions warn

British aid to private schools in developing countries could violate human rights, teaching unions, charities and campaign groups have warned.

An international group of organisations – including British education unions the NUT, ATL and UCU – has condemned the British government for giving financial support to for-profit private schools in Africa and Asia, claiming it undermines the right to free, quality education.

The report, which has been submitted to two United Nations human rights committees, concludes that aiding private schools in countries like Ghana, Kenya and Uganda can create and entrench inequalities, as well as discriminate against female students.

It also claims that the government’s actions may violate human rights obligations, as research shows that fees at such schools are unaffordable to the poorest families and often low-fee private school teachers are unqualified and poorly trained.

Both the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child and the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights will now assess the legality, under human rights law, of the UK’s support to private schools in developing countries.

A number of leaders from organisations supporting the campaign are due to speak at the official launch of the report today – including Christine Blower, general secretary of the NUT.

Ms Blower said: “Education is a human and civil right and a public good. Nothing in the UK’s aid policies should undermine this principle. Clearly the Department for International Development’s (DfID’s) promotion of privatisation across Asia and Africa jeopardises the right to free, quality public education. Up until now we had anecdotal evidence but now we have research evidence, which shows the scale of the problem. This needs to stop.”

Sally Hunt, general secretary of the UCU, the further and higher education union, is backing the campaign. “It is in no way justifiable to spend Britain’s aid budget lining the pockets of multinational companies,” she said. “There is clear evidence these schools are not accessible to the poorest in the population and to certain groups such as girls, and that they do not guarantee high-quality education.

“We are fighting the same battle in this country as the government has opened the doors to low quality, for-profit providers in post-16 education.”

A DfID spokesman said: “While the vast majority of our investment in education programmes is dedicated to improving state education, it is absolutely right that we work to find ways to reach those who are missing out on an education where state provision is weak or non-existent.

“In Kenya, for instance, we are paying for 22,000 children to go to private schools in slums where there is no state provision. We will continue to work with a range of education partners to ensure the best possible results and value for taxpayers’ money.”

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