The identification and dissemination of 'good practice' has for years been a central part of the Government's strategy for radical change of the education system. 'Good practice', however, is no longer good enough, nor is 'best practice'. The requirement now for post-compulsory education and training (from which all our examples are taken) is nothing less than 'excellent practice for all'. This article critically examines these highly significant shifts in the rhetoric of policy, finds them wanting and argues that we need to face up to the complexities involved in deciding not only what is 'excellent practice' but also in working through all the stages which would be needed to transmit it throughout the sector. In particular, recent documents from the Quality Improvement Agency and the Learning and Skills Council on the pursuit of excellence are critically appraised. The views of those practitioners who are part of the authors' project in the Economic and Social Research Council's Teaching and Learning Research Programme are also explained in relation to 'good practice'. The authors attempt to explain the frenetic activity of politicians and policy makers in this sector, and end by moving from critique to construction by considering what can be rescued from the inherently contestable notion of 'good practice', and, in doing so, draw heavily on the work of Robin Alexander.