Former colonies of France and Spain have been left with substantial negative effects on their education systems many decades after independence, a study has found.

Research by the University of Bath found the colonial legacy has reduced the secondary school enrolment rate, as well as the average years of schooling.

But the work, published in journal Kyklos, found that education in Britain's former colonies has not been adversely affected.

The negative impact has been particularly large in Spain's former colonies, researchers say.

Dr Horst Feldmann, of the University of Bath's Department of Economics, said: "The results for the former Spanish colonies are especially remarkable, given that Spain's colonial rule ended almost two centuries ago.

"The reason for the negative effects is that many characteristics of Spanish colonial education have persisted long after independence.

"Specifically, Spanish remained the sole, or at least the dominant language of instruction, and educational provision in rural areas as well as for girls and the poor has remained very limited.

"The large persistent effects in former French colonies are remarkable too, as most of these countries became independent more than 50 years ago.

"Here, most features limiting education have persisted after independence as well.

"These include a high degree of centralisation and government control, a very limited scope for non-governmental organisations to provide education, a neglect of local conditions and parents' preferences, and the selectivity and elitist nature of the system, which disadvantaged girls in particular.

"Also, most teaching continued to be in French."

During the 1972 to 2012 period, the colonial legacy reduced the secondary school enrolment rate by 17 percentage points in former Spanish colonies.

In the former French colonies, the reduction was 10 percentage points. Both groups of countries attained 1.6 fewer years of schooling over the same period.

The study, which statistically controls for other determinants of schooling, is the first to cover a large number of ex-colonies and to include former colonies of Spain.

It included 17 former Spanish colonies, 23 former French colonies and 36 former British colonies.

"In Britain's former colonies, many features of its colonial education have persisted too, but these have been mostly benign," Dr Feldmann added.

"Thus it is unsurprising that we did not find negative effects here.

"In these countries, there has long been a high degree of autonomy of schools and teachers, educational provision has been relatively well adapted to parents' preferences and local practices, voluntary organisations have been subsidised and granted a wide scope to engage and compete, and the education of girls has been established early on.

"Furthermore, instruction has always been in the local vernacular in the first grades, enabling practically all native children to enter school."