'Improving quality' has become a key phrase in policy and academic discourses on education in low-income countries, reflecting concerns that the success in increasing enrolment and widening access to schooling is being undermined by low-quality teaching and learning, and subsequent low levels of skills and knowledge among school leavers. We wish to revitalise discussions problematising 'quality' through examining current debates on and available frameworks for understanding the concept and proposing a new framework. We model 'quality' as a stretched 'fabric' maintained in tension through a contextually appropriate balance across seven conceptual dimensions. We recognise tensions and complementarities among the dimensions and the centrality of values inherent in making judgements of quality, that quality is a matter of process rather than product, and that this complex process demands a strategic approach. Finally, we recognise two issues that remain to be addressed in a future agenda.