Evaluating the Girls’ Education Challenge Fund, Phase 1

According to UNESCO data, 129 million girls around the world are out of school, including 32 million of primary school age, 30 million of lower-secondary school age, and 67 million of upper-secondary school age. In countries affected by conflict, girls are more than twice as likely to be out of school than girls living in non-affected countries. The Girls’ Education Challenge (GEC) was launched by the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office’s (FCDO) in 2012 as a £355m 12-year commitment to reach the most marginalised girls in the world and is the largest global fund dedicated to girls’ education.

Phase I of the Girls’ Education Challenge, which ran from 2012 to 2017, directly provided quality education for over a million marginalised girls delivered through 38 projects working in 18 countries and across three funding windows: (1) Step Change Window (SCW); (2) Innovation Window (IW); and (3) Strategic Partnerships Window (SPW).

Our approach

In 2012, we were appointed to be the Evaluation Manager role for the GEC, tasked with producing reliable evidence of the programme’s effectiveness, impact and value for money. This work was to provide the FCDO, Fund Manager and project grantees with information to support improvements during the programme’s lifetime, as well as future programming decisions – in particular, the development of GEC Phase II. Our role also involved generating transferable lessons about what worked, for whom, where and why in delivering girls’ education outcomes, for wider audiences including programme partners, governments in GEC countries, and other policymakers.

As evaluation manager, we designed and implemented the GEC monitoring and evaluation (M&E) framework to assess the effectiveness, impact and value for money of the programme a the funding window level. Our customised research approach complemented the research undertaken at the project level to ensure a consistent level of rigour across all projects and funding windows. We gathered quantitative and qualitative impact data on an unprecedented scale in some of the most challenging research environments, including the Dadaab and Kakuma refugee camps in Kenya, in Afghanistan, Somalia and the Kivus region in the Democratic Republic of Congo. We also delivered Value For Money assessments of all three funding windows, a process review and a thematic research study (entitled “Narrow Windows, Revolving Doors”) to explore the factors that affect girls’ school retention and drop-out, with a focus on girls aged 12-15.

Over six years the programme evaluation covered 38 projects working across 18 countries

Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Nepal, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Nigeria and Myanmar.


Our evaluation enabled the FCDO, implementing partners and wider stakeholders and interested parties to see which interventions worked and which interventions worked less well. This helped inform funding for GEC Phase II and wider education programming.

We disseminated and communicated findings to FCDO, project grantees, GEC country stakeholders, the fund manager and wider policymakers throughout the life of the evaluation programme. We used different approaches to make the findings as accessible as possible to the audiences that needed them.

Our work informed improvements to individual grantees’ M&E strategies and methodologies, while also informing improvements at the fund manager level.Our work played an essential role in the design of the second phase of the Girls Education Challenge programme, as well as wider FCDO departmental programming through our reports, policy briefs, presentations and FCDO lunchtime seminars. Our products and results are also being used in wider communities – in FCDO country offices, in conferences such as the UKFIET Conference, and in ministries of education around the world – to ensure work to educate girls is informed and effective.

18 countries


Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, UK