Education is important at national, local and individual levels. Its benefits accrue both to society and to individuals, and as such provision of education in many countries is paid for at least in part from the public purse. With competing demands for government funding, it is important for education to be provided as efficiently as possible. Efficiency occurs when outputs from education (such as test results or value added) are produced at the lowest level of resource (be that financial or, for example, the innate ability of students). This special issue is devoted to the topic of efficiency in education, and is well-timed given that governments around the world struggle with public finances in the wake of the global financial crisis of 2008. In this paper, we explore and provide an overview of the themes of the special issue and introduce the papers contained therein.