Notions and Ambitions: Can Low-fee Private Schools Deliver Quality Education for All?

Viktor Kjeldgaard Grønne

Student thesis: Master thesis


Low-fee private schools have emerged as a cost-efficient way to reach the 263 million children currently out of school and with them Sustainable Development Goal 4. Yet, research on lowfee private schools’ quality and sustainability has been very mixed. This study seeks to inform policy makers looking to achieve SDG4 by moving beyond previous research’s focus on measuring quality. Instead it focuses on what sort of quality low-fee private schools have to offer in context of SDG4. PEAS, a UK chain of low-fee private schools operating in Uganda and Zambia is used as a “best case” study, following the international praise it has received in academia and independent evaluation. As such, the study is rooted in an assumption that PEAS and other LFPS are able to deliver quality education. Interviews have been conducted with experts and persons at all levels of governance in PEAS, ranging from the CEO to the teachers, students, and parents. Financial analysis has also been included to assess PEAS’ financial sustainability. Two conclusions stand out. Firstly, the study identifies a decoupling between the conceptualisation of education quality among the PEAS management and what is implemented in the classroom. Whereas the management describes education quality in a broad humanistic sense, what is ultimately taught is a narrow notion as conceptualised in the economic tradition. The study advances three plausible drivers behind this decoupling: i) contextual factors, ii) teacher qualifications, and iii) PEAS’ management system. Secondly, the study finds that although PEAS is low-fee to its users, it is far from low-cost. Due to high costs for its management and support system, PEAS’ total annual cost per student is somewhat between an elite private O-level and the national average in Uganda. PEAS rely on external funding to cover these costs, which make up the foundation that enables PEAS to deliver quality education. In conclusion, the study finds that PEAS delivers a narrow notion of quality education, but that this comes at a high cost. The conclusion shows the limitation of LFPS towards realising SDG4 in full, because the 2030 Agenda calls for SDG4 to act as an enabler of not only economic, but also social and human development

EducationsMSc in International Business and Politics, (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
Publication date2018
Number of pages267