This paper examines the quality of primary education provision in Cambodia using a ‘political settlements’ framework developed at the University of Manchester. The framework characterises Cambodia as a ‘hybrid’ settlement with a weak dominant party and predatory administration, albeit with some islands of administrative effectiveness. Such states can achieve developmental progress in circumscribed areas with multi-stakeholder support, but more wide-ranging, top-down reforms will normally disappoint. We use the framework retrospectively to explain the balance between quantity and quality in Cambodia’s education provision, and also prospectively to assess the prospects for reform. We conclude that, although new leadership in the education ministry promises to bring faster, deeper reform than ever before, powerful forces for inertia still exist. These forces could potentially be alleviated with enhanced international support, but development partners’ current ways of working leave much to be desired. The paper concludes by outlining a number of policy options.