Policies aimed at both reducing the costs associated with schooling (particularly through fee-free education) and decentralising responsibility for education delivery have become a central part of international education doctrine. This article draws on the 'politics of scale' literature to highlight how these education reforms are contested at different scales, in turn leading to uneven administrative and material outcomes. It examines education policy reforms in Papua New Guinea, which have-contra international trends-sidelined non-state actors and strengthened the state's role in managing education services. National fee-free education policy has been contested at different administrative scales. Church administrators have rallied (without much success) at national directives; subnational administrators and politicians have had greater success, rolling back some aspects of national policy; while local-level schools have employed their own tactics to resist national fee-free education policy. In turn, this case study highlights how fee-free educational policy shapes and is shaped by conflict at multiple administrative scales. The article's findings have implications for debates about the relationship between fee-free education and decentralisation policies.