The rhetoric around decentralisation suggests school-based management has a positive effect on educational outcomes, but there is limited evidence from low-income countries of this general relationship. Existing reviews on school-based decision-making have tended to focus on proximal outcomes, with very little information on why it has positive or negative effects in different circumstances. This review aimed to address these gaps by answering the following questions: (1) What is the impact of school-based decision-making on educational outcomes in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs)? (2) What are the barriers to (and enablers of) effective models of school-based decision-making?
We conducted a mixed-methods systematic review. All included studies had to (i) be empirical, (ii) focus on primary and secondary schools within LMICs, (iii) investigate a change in decision-making authority from a higher level to the level of the school, (iv) provide data on at least one educational outcome (proximal or final), and (v) rely on data collected since 1990. Studies addressing the first review question had to include an appropriate counterfactual, but studies included in reference to the second question had various empirical designs. After a comprehensive search process, we identified 26 impact studies meeting the inclusion criteria. Our meta-analysis reported the impact of school-based decision-making reforms on six educational outcomes: (1) student drop-out; (2) student repetition; (3) teacher attendance; and (4) student learning as assessed via (i) language test scores, (ii) math test scores, (iii) aggregate test scores (i.e. tests of more than one subject). We also examined potential sources of heterogeneous impacts across studies using moderator analysis focusing on level of decentralisation, country income group and study methodology. Finally, we conducted narrative synthesis of factors that appear to enable or hinder effective school-based decision-making.
Devolving decision-making to school level appears to have a somewhat beneficial effect on drop-out in some contexts and on repetition when looking across studies. Effects on test-scores are more robust, being positive in the aggregate, and in analysis of middle-income countries. Effects on teacher attendance are stronger in contexts of high decentralisation and low income. School-based decision-making reforms appear less effective in communities with generally low levels of education where parents have low status relative to school personnel.
School-based decision-making reforms are less likely to be successful in highly disadvantaged communities. The involvement of school management committees in personnel decisions can play a role in improving teacher attendance, but this may not always translate into impacts on learning. Identification of effects on student learning may take longer than anticipated by evaluation timelines.
Carr-Hill, R.; Rolleston, C.; Pherali, T.; Schendel, R. The effects of school-based decision making on educational outcomes in low- and middle-income contexts: a systematic review. International Initiative for Impact Evaluation (3ie), London, UK (2015) 206 pp.