When thinking about the quality of education it is useful to distinguish between educational outcomes and the processes leading to them. People who seek particular, defined outcomes may rate quality in those terms, ranking educational institutions according to the extent to which their graduates meet ‘absolute’ criteria concerning, for example, academic achievement, sporting prowess, musical success, or pupil behaviour and values. The standard of comparison would be in some sense fixed, and separate from the values, wishes and opinions of the learners themselves. By contrast, relativist approaches emphasize that the perceptions, experiences and needs of those involved in the learning experience mainly determine its quality. Drawing on a business analogy, ‘client orientation’ in education puts strong emphasis upon whether a programme fits its purposes in ways that reflect the needs of those who use it. These different emphases have deep roots, and are reflected in major alternative traditions of educational thought.