This article examines education policy for Syrian refugees in Lebanon, drawing on 44 stakeholder interviews conducted in March 2016. Findings indicate that the idea of children’s rights, enshrined in international conventions, combined with foreign aid, encouraged the creation of a national refugee education framework that expanded refugees’ access to schooling. However, in local communities and classrooms, where the government’s stated commitment to education must be realized, we find that policies are not fully implemented and that many unofficial educational programmes are operating in contradiction to government policy. We argue that, while such gaps between policy and practice in education are common, refugee contexts present distinct challenges for policy implementation due to the role of international actors in setting policy, weak state authority and refugees’ lack of legal status. We suggest that a better starting place for understanding education policy implementation is to understand the often competing sources of state and non-state authority that affect decision-making at the local level.