Developing nations could be forced to hand back millions of pounds in education funding if they fail to hit tough new performance targets.
Despite a concerted international push since 2000 to achieve universal primary education, figures published this summer reveal that almost 58 million children remain out of school.
The United Nations campaign received a boost in June when the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) announced that Western donor nations had pledged to invest more than pound;1.2 billion to drive up standards of education in the developing world. But the GPE has warned that the nations receiving a slice of the funding should not expect an easy ride.
Under a radical new deal, the partnership will closely monitor how the money is spent, with 30 per cent of a country's funding at risk if it fails to demonstrate the impact of the investment.
Former Australian prime minister Julia Gillard, now chair of the GPE board, told TES that the new model marked a "huge shift" in approach, by involving developing nations in setting their own challenging performance targets.
"It's not a model where someone flies out from Washington or London and says to developing countries, `Here's what you've got to do'," she said. "It's a model to strengthen the system. We work with a developing country and a local education group, which involves the government and civil society and education experts in developing a plan for education in that nation, including the benchmarks for success. The GPE can then make sure the plan that's developed is being followed through."
In order to access their full allocation of funding, countries will have to demonstrate that they have secured improved results, become financially efficient and created equity for all learners, including girls and children with disabilities. Targets will be set for each country, and could include a specific proportion of children attending school. Nations will also be expected to invest at least 20 per cent of their national budget on education.
GPE chief executive Alice Albright said that countries in receipt of aid funding would be required to collect more accurate data to prove it was being spent effectively.
"The data is essential, otherwise we're flying blind and so are the countries," she said. "What there isn't [at the moment] is a good, rigorous, big, consistent, freely available source of data on learning outcomes. There are tests that different countries administer for different things, but it is a patchwork quilt.
"We've put together an entirely new funding model. It's much more results-based, more performance-based, very data-linked. We insist that countries are putting their own monies into education at levels that will be sufficient, before our money goes in."
At a GPE conference in Brussels, the biggest individual contribution was from the UK, which promised to stump up pound;300 million on several conditions. These included the GPE successfully implementing its funding reforms and other nations also agreeing to step up their donations.
Lynne Featherstone, the international development minister for England, told TES that the GPE's previous funding system, in which contributions were not explicitly linked to specific targets, was "not perfect".
"It's a work in progress," she said. "But they've done well for a new organisation. I think that, like anywhere, there are areas for improvement and that's what we will work with them on.
"[When] a country's government takes ownership of its own development and actually is willing to increase its budget towards education for all, not just certain parts of the community.that is what allows the country to really step forward."