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Better learning outcomes in Sierra Leone

Evaluating DFID's Improving Schools programme

Ian MacAuslan

Cora Mezger

Despite recent progress, Sierra Leone‘s education sector faces a number of challenges including a lack of learning resources, a lack of qualified staff, and the need for monitoring and evaluation and credible data. This project provided key insights into the factors that influence learning outcomes in the country.

We conducted an impact evaluation of DFID’s Improving Schools in Sierra Leone (ISIS) programme, which aims to improve education access and delivery across the country. The team used a mixed-methods approach to assess the overall impact of the programme and draw out the influencing factors that cause variations in learning outcomes across different contexts.


Sierra Leone has seen significant advances in access to education in recent years. The number of primary schools in the country has tripled and rapid education schemes have been established for those students whose education was disrupted by the war. However, regional and gender disparities in enrolment and examination pass rates remain a significant issue and there are concerns regarding the overall quality of education.

The country’s Education Sector Plan (A Roadmap to a Better Future) identifies a number of challenges in the sector, including

  • a lack of essential teaching and learning resources; 
  • a lack of qualified staff; 
  • the need for monitoring and evaluation;
  • high teacher absenteeism; and
  • a lack of credible data.

DFID’s Improving Schools in Sierra Leone (ISIS) programme aims to address these constraints and bottlenecks and improve access to, quality of, and policy around, education. 

Our approach

Our expert team worked with DFID and its partners to evaluate the impact of the ISIS programme as a whole, and also to explore how and why impact differs across different groups and contexts.

Analysis was based around both primary and secondary data sources including national learning assessments, classroom observations, and key informant interviews. In addition, the team looked at programme data to assess the overall performance of ISIS against the international OECD-DAC evaluation criteria. More broadly, the project was devised to contribute to the wider discussion on how to improve learning outcomes in lower-income countries.

Specific activities undertaken by the team included:

  • designing the mixed-methods evaluation framework;
  • drawing the quantitative sample, including a control and intervention group;
  • designing and conducting a qualitative research strategy; and
  • assessing the cost effectiveness and sustainability of the programme.


This project provided robust evidence on the school-, teacher- and student-level factors that influence learning outcomes in Sierra Leone and their relative importance. In turn, these insights can help DFID identify which ISIS interventions are likely to have the greatest impact, therefore informing future programme improvements.

More broadly, the project findings can contribute to the wider discussion on how to improve learning outcomes in low-income countries.