This paper describes five studies, based on questionnaires and interviews with pupils in primary and lower secondary schools, in France and in Switzerland, over the past two decades. It explores the ways in which pupils’ attitudes toward history change during the transition between primary and secondary school, and investigates pupils’ views about the importance of history education, the teaching approaches they experience and their perceptions of the reasons for learning history. Findings of the studies suggest that pupils are generally taught in a frontal way, while they prefer visits and debates, that while some students feel that history is relevant to them others do not and that many pupils do not think learning history has any utility. Older students may see knowledge of history as a cultural asset but are more interested in personal links with the past rather than history as a study of changing groups and societies. Students do not appreciate the skills of thinking, reflection and judgement, which should be integral to the processes of historical enquiry.