This is an open access title available under the terms of a CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 International licence. It is free to read at Oxford Scholarship Online and offered as a free PDF download from OUP and selected open access locations. All over the world, economic inclusion has risen to the top of the development discourse. A well-performing education system is central to achieving inclusive development - but the challenge of improving educational outcomes has proven to be unexpectedly difficult. Access to education has increased, but quality remains low, with weaknesses in governance comprising an important part of the explanation. The Politics and Governance of Basic Education explores the balance between hierarchical and horizontal institutional arrangements for the public provision of basic education. Using the vivid example of South Africa, a country that had ambitious goals at the outset of its transition from apartheid to democracy, it explores how the interaction of politics and institutions affects educational outcomes. By examining lessons learned from how South Africa failed to achieve many of its goals, it constructs an innovative alternative strategy for making process, combining practical steps to achieve incremental gains to re-orient the system towards learning.