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Education is compulsory in the United Kingdom between the ages of five and sixteen. Increasingly, children stay on at school for another two years to get more qualifications, for example for university entrance.
Children move from one school to the next at certain ages, which may vary depending on which part of the country you live in. But the most common practice by far, and the one found in County Durham, is for children to progress from primary school to secondary school at age 11. The years at school are numbered: the last at primary school is year 6 and the first at secondary school is year 7.
Primary schools are smaller than secondary schools and in Weardale the primary schools are smaller than average anyway. Each primary school serves the village community in which it is based, with most children living in the village and the rest on local farms, within a mile or two (one to three kilometres) of the school.
All the children in this study move at age 11 to Wolsingham School. This is a "comprehensive" school because it takes children of all abilities, and it is commonly called "the comp". It has over a thousand students ranging from 11 to 18 years in age.
Students travel daily to school by school bus - those coming from Wearhead at the top of the dale have a 15-mile (24-kilometre) trip in the morning and the same, of course, at night. On top of this, some may have to come down from their farms to the main road where the bus travels. Bad weather usually blocks the road or the side roads each winter and teachers expect children commonly to miss two weeks schooling a year from this cause.