This paper is the second report from a qualitative longitudinal study of girls and boys as they progress through secondary schooling (The 12-18 Educational Research Project). In our first paper, we discussed some of the framing methodological and theoretical issues of the project. The project is now in its third year, and we are completing interviews with students in year 8. In this paper, we focus on the first years of secondary school, and the changing attitudes and expectations of students - to school work, to friends, to their futures and to the meaning and experience of being at school. This discussion makes comparisons between students at different schools, and also explores changing enthusiasms and interests in individual students, and the different ways, for instance, in which they negotiate school work and friendships. One of the purposes of the paper is to consider how students remember, reconstruct and recount certain key moments in their schooling lives, such as the transition from being at home to being at primary school, or comparing the experience of grade 6 with that of year 7, or of year 7 with year 8. The paper concludes by reflecting on how the findings and observations from the early years of secondary school contribute to or extend our initial theoretical and methodological interests.