FLN Profile: United Kingdom

Last updated: February 23, 2024


ODA for education

In 2021, the UK provided US$839 million in ODA to the education sector. This made the UK the fourth-largest donor country to education that year in absolute terms. However, this amount only represented 5% of the UK’s total ODA that year, meaning that its share of funding to the education sector was below the DAC average of 9%.

76%, or US$632 million, of the UK’s education ODA was channeled bilaterally or as earmarked funding through multilaterals. 25%, or US$206 million, was disbursed as core contributions to multilaterals, including for:

  • EUI (US$110 million);
  • The International Development Association (US$77 million); and
  • UNRWA (US$9 million).

ODA funding benefitting the FLN sector

The results of a keyword search methodology, based on OECD data, estimate that of the US$632 million that was channeled bilaterally to the education sector in 2021, 19% or US$118 million was channeled to the primary education sub-sector.

Analyses of FLN programs within the primary education sub-sector using the keyword search methodology indicate that 16%, or US$98 million of the UK’s total bilateral funding was directed to education programs with FLN outcomes.

This makes the UK the second-largest donor to FLN in primary education, in 2021, when comparing absolute funding levels against other OECD DAC donor countries.

UK bilateral funding to FLN has fluctuated between 2017-2021, both in absolute and relative terms. Within that period, absolute funding was highest in 2019 at US$171 million. However, when comparing relative funding values, funding peaked in 2020, representing 19% of the UK’s bilateral ODA to education.

In addition to bilateral support, the UK’s funding to multilaterals is also likely to benefit FLN.

The UK provides substantial support to two multilateral organizations in education: the International Finance Facility for Education and ECW; both have a strong thematic focus on basic education and foundational learning outcomes and operate in low- and middle-income countries, where the ‘learning crisis’ is more acute. The UK has supported the establishment of IFFEd and is working with partners to help raise US$500 million in initial guarantees. The UK has also committed a total of US$165 million to GPE in 2020. Some of this funding and policy support is expected to benefit FLN-related programs.

Funding channels

In 2021, 54%, or US$53 million of the UK’s bilateral funding to FLN was channeled in the form of technical assistance, 37% was channeled as project-type interventions, meaning specific projects agreed upon with partner countries. A small portion of 7% was channeled through ‘sector budget support,’ meaning funding channeled to a recipient government’s budget. The remaining US$2 million, was channeled as core contributions to specific-purpose programs.

Financing type

All financing to FLN was channeled in the form of grants.

Key recipients

Using the key-word search methodology developed to assess donor financing for FLN based on OECD DAC data, estimates indicate that for US$59 million, the majority of the UK’s bilateral funding benefitting FLN, no recipient country was specified in the OECD database. Of the countries specified, key recipients included Rwanda (US$14 million), Pakistan (US$13 million), Sierra Leone (US$4 million), and Malawi (US$4 million).

Policy priorities  

Education sector 

The UK is one of the largest DAC donors to the education sector. However, in recent years, budget cuts to the UK’s development budget have decreased education sector spending. Despite ongoing budget cuts, education is given thematic importance within the UK’s development cooperation efforts.

The UK government views education as a basic human right that can unlock individual potential, benefit societies, and advance sustainable development. The UK government’s ‘case for investment’ in education also links efforts in the sector to the country’s foreign policy interests, outlining that education helps the UK promote its national interest in partner countries by:

  • Boosting earnings in countries;
  • Supporting better health choices;
  • Improving the functioning of public institutions; and
  • Building social cohesion and resilience in societies.

Tackling the ‘learning crisis’ is one of the UK’s main objectives for furthering development cooperation efforts in education in partner countries - as outlined in the 2018 DFID Education Policy: Get Children Learning

The UK recognizes that despite an increase in access to education across LICs and MICs, learning rates have not progressed accordingly. DFID statistics highlight the extent of this global learning crisis, outlining that “over 90% of primary-age children in low-income countries and 75% of children in lower-middle income countries – more than 330 million children – are not expected to read or do basic mathematics by the end of primary school.”

The UK has accordingly focused its development cooperation efforts in education on tackling the ‘learning crisis’ by ensuring that children learn the "basics of literacy and numeracy, as well as transferable skills (such as problem-solving, communication and creativity)", as outlined in the 2018 DFID Education Policy: Get Children Learning.

FLN support and intervention areas

Although the UK does not make an explicit reference to FLN skills, its focus on foundational learning and ensuring that children learn the basics of literacy and numeracy is indicative of the UK's efforts in the FLN sector.

Given its strong focus on addressing the 'learning crisis', the UK focuses its efforts in education on LICs and MICs where the crisis is considered to be most acute. Specifically, the UK government focuses on strengthening foundational education systems (pre-primary to lower-secondary) that are most critical to developing foundational learning skills in children. The UK does this through research, technical assistance, and knowledge-sharing support to help partner countries identify cost-effective and scalable approaches for building foundational education systems.

Accordingly, within its portfolio of support offered to partner countries; the UK focuses on building and strengthening foundational educational systems by:

  • Investing in high-quality teaching: this includes training, recruiting, and motivating teachers and providing them with the tools necessary to undertake their jobs efficiently;
  • Supporting reforms to make educational systems more accessible and inclusive: this includes supporting complementary education system reform across public and non-state sectors and supporting national decision-makers to cut waste and use public resources more effectively; and
  • Setting up targeted support for marginalized children: this includes supporting children affected by crises, particularly girls, to continue learning during long periods of disruption through multi-year investments in quality and safe education.

Recognizing the importance of investing in good quality education in the early years, the UK has supported partner countries with:

  • Identifying cost-effective and scalable early education interventions;
  • Sharing UK expertise on ensuring better quality pre-primary education by non-state providers and developing children’s early language skills; and
  • Extending UK support for improving the supply of skilled and motivated teachers to pre-primary education.

Since 2020, recognizing that gender gaps are persistent in education access, the UK has also increased its focus on girls’ education and prioritized access to foundational learning skills for girls and marginalized children, as outlined in the 2021 Five Years of Global Action plan.

The 2021 FCDO Five Years of Global Action Plan is not positioned as a replacement for the 2018 DFID Education Policy: Get Children Learning, but rather is presented as an updated strategy focusing thematically on girl’s education to reflect the UK’s rising strategic and political focus on women’s and girls’ empowerment. Specifically, the strategy focuses on girls’ education as a core pillar of wider UK support to international education, spanning from early years, including primary and secondary education, to higher education and skills-based training.

The UK further strengthened its commitment to girls' foundational education in 2022 when under the G7 presidency, the UK secured endorsement to get 40 million more girls in school and 20 million more girls reading by age 10, both by 2026. Similarly, in late 2022, at the UN Transforming Education Summit, the UK along with 21 governments and several organizations endorsed the Commitment to Action on Foundational Learning - a commitment to push for all children to learn to read, do basic math, and build socio-emotional skills by the age of ten.


Current political trends indicate that major reductions to the UK’s ODA budget have affected the UK’s bilateral and multilateral assistance to education, which may pose a risk to short- and medium-term financing for FLN-related sectors. However, given that foundational learning is a high priority, it is not yet clear how interim budget reductions may affect overall support for the sector.


The FCDO is responsible for the UK’s development assistance policy for education. Projects in education and FLN are funded by the UK Aid Direct, a multi-sectoral fund supporting the direct delivery of poverty reduction interventions.

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