The processes involved in the formation and transport of partial melts above subducting plates remain poorly constrained relative to those at mid-ocean ridges. In particular, 238U-230 Th-226Ra disequilibria, that might normally be used to constrain melting dynamics, tend to be swamped by the effects of fluid addition from the down-going plate. The 231Pa-235U system provides an exciting exception to this because the highly incompatible nature of Pa means that fractionation and in-growth during partial melting overwrite the effects of fluid U addition. We present 231Pa-235U data on 50 well-characterised lavas from seven subduction zones in order to examine partial melting processes. Measured (231Pa/235U) ratios are all >1 and 15% are >2. Overall (231Pa/235U) shows broad positive correlations with (230Th/238U) and La/Yb and negative trends against Ba/Th and (226Ra/ 230Th). These systematics can differ from arc to arc but suggest that (231Pa/235U) tends to be higher in sediment-rich arc lavas where the effects of fluid addition are muted and there is less of a 231Pa deficit for melting to overprint. We have explored the effects of decompression melting, frictional drag dynamic melting with and without ageing subsequent to fluid U addition to the wedge as well as flux melting models. Globally, average (231Pa/235U) appears to correlate negatively with convergence rate and so in the numerical models we use the local subduction rate for the rate of matrix flow through the melting zone. Using this assumption and reasonable values for other parameters, the melting models can simulate the overall range of (231Pa/235U) and some of the data trends. However, it is clear that local variations in some parameters, especially source composition and extent of melting, exert a major influence on 231Pa-235U disequilibria. Some data, which lie at a high angle to the modelled trends, may be explained by mixing between small degree hydrous melts formed near the slab and larger degree, decompression melts produced at shallow depth.