In 1994, the newly elected Government in Malawi abolished primary school fees. Using household survey data from 1990/91 and 1997/98, this paper assesses the impact this major policy change, combined with increased Government spending on education, has had on access to schooling by the poor. This paper shows that enrollment rates have increased dramatically over the 1990s, at both the primary and secondary levels, and that crucially these gains have been greatest for the poor. In order to sustain and build-on these gains the paper suggests cutting back on the informal ‘contributions’ that are widely prevalent in primary school and improving the allocation of secondary school funding. Furthermore, the focus of policy reform, particularly at primary level, should shift towards raising the quality of education. Finally the paper argues that careful advance planning and piloting of the reform in selected areas are useful strategies that other countries considering abolishing primary school fees could take to cope with the associated surge in enrolments.