This paper highlights the importance of societal culture to developing theory, policy and practice within an increasingly globalising educational context. It argues that tensions exist between globalisation and societal culture and that globalisation makes the recognition of societal culture and cross-cultural similarities and differences more, not less, important. Consequently, the inclusion of societal culture as a factor in investigations covering such themes as the curriculum, teaching and learning, leadership and school-based management is seen as an imperative for the future development of comparative education. Accordingly, the first part of the paper clarifies the concept of 'globalisation'. In the second part, globalisation and societal culture are juxtaposed and the interface between them is explored. The third part offers a set of dimensions by which to gauge the influence of, and to compare, cultures. Finally, we illustrate our argument for greater cultural sensitivity by raising some key issues concerning school reform and improvement. Copyright © 2000 British Association for International and Comparative Education.