When Ghana became independent in 1957 it had one of the most developed education systems in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). Over the next forty years its education system expanded to provide places for most, but not all, of its children. Since the education reforms of the late 1980s enrolments have grown steadily; this contrasts with some SSA countries with universal free primary education policies, which have experienced short periods of rapid growth. Education reforms in Ghana, however, have fallen below expectations. The Free and Compulsory Universal Basic Education (FCUBE) programme introduced in 1995 promised universal education by 2005. This paper revisits Ghana’s FCUBE policy for clues as to why it did not achieve the target goal and especially why poorest households seem to have benefited least from it. One disappointment with FCUBE is that its input did not go far enough to offset the opportunity costs of schooling for the poorest households by abolishing all forms of fees and reducing significantly the indirect costs associated with attending school. The incidence of late entry, overage attendance and poor households’ need for child labour also posed a further threat to the benefits FCUBE promised.