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Pottermore's page on Hogwarts School subjects reveals that all first-years must take flying lessons:

All first-years at Hogwarts must take seven subjects: Transfiguration, Charms, Potions, History of Magic, Defence Against the Dark Arts, Astronomy and Herbology. Flying lessons (on broomsticks) are also compulsory.

Why are these lessons compulsory, rather than optional? The other class on magical transportation, Apparition (for sixth-years), is optional. There are a great number of witches and wizards who don't use broomsticks, so it's not like it's a necessary part of life. And it's not like everybody plays Quidditch, and it is exceedingly rare for first-years taking the class to join the Quidditch teams.

So why are first year flying lessons compulsory?

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    As there's no Wizard airlines company in existence, flying on the broomstick can be useful. – I Love You 3000 Dec 31 '15 at 7:12
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    Why is P.E. Class compulsory? – RedCaio Dec 31 '15 at 7:53
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    @RedCaio My thoughts precisely!@OP, in general, some classes are compulsory because they have benefits, but those benefits cannot be understood readily. As user SS-3 says, flying on broomsticks can help in transportation. Arthur Weasley confirms this in The Goblet of Fire by mentioning that those who are unsure of their apparition skills use Floo Network or broomsticks. – rah4927 Dec 31 '15 at 12:55
  • They're compulsory so HP can join the team, obviously! :) – erip Dec 31 '15 at 16:53
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Who said school rules have to make sense?

First off, the argument that being taught a particular subject in school isn't necessary (or, in many cases, desired) doesn't stop a lot of real-life schools from making it compulsory anyway. As @RedCaio said in a comment:

Why is PE (Physical Education) class compulsory?

No doubt there's a wizarding equivalent of the National Curriculum, written up by bureaucrats at the Ministry, which Hogwarts is supposed to follow (although admittedly it doesn't do a very good job of following it unless Umbridge is around).

Besides, it makes sense to start early.

Flying brooms is a basic wizarding skill. Some people aren't interested in learning it particularly well (like Hermione), but a school that's supposed to raise a new generation of witches and wizards in the skills they'll need as adults should put at least some effort into teaching them how to fly a broom, so they can move from place to place even if they've run out of Floo powder and haven't got their Apparition licence.

You mention that Apparition classes are optional. But by the time students reach their sixth year, aren't all their classes optional? They're nearly adults by then, and more competent to make their own decisions on what subjects to study.

You also mention that it's exceedingly rare for first-years to join the Quidditch teams. But there are plenty of second-years on Quidditch teams (Katie Bell, Draco Malfoy, etc.). If they hadn't already had a year of broomstick training under their belt, many of them might not be up to scratch for the team in their second year.

  • This is a very good answer. It's kind of the motif of OotP: teach your students as long as it fits within the Ministry-approved curriculum. – erip Dec 31 '15 at 16:58
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It's hard to say, but the answer is probably the same reason why we learn music, P.E etc.. in our muggle education. Different people have different aptitudes and passion, and a school should attempt to nurture these in students. This is even more important when the academic institution in question is one of the very few wizarding institutions in Europe.

That said, knowing how to ride brooms has practical applications too. Those who are unsure about apparition may use brooms for traveling.

"Er - splinched?" said Harry.

"They left half of themselves behind," said Mr. Weasley, now spooning large

amounts of treacle onto his porridge. "So, of course, they were stuck. Couldn't move either way. Had to wait for the Accidental Magic Reversal Squad to sort them out. Meant a fair old bit of paperwork, I can tell you, what with the Muggles who spotted the body parts they'd left behind....."

Harry had a sudden vision of a pair of legs and an eyeball lying abandoned on the pavement of Privet Drive.

"Were they okay?" he asked, startled.

"Oh yes," said Mr. Weasley matter-of-factly. "But they got a heavy fine, and I don't think they'll be trying it again in a hurry. You don't mess around with Apparition. There are plenty of adult wizards who don't bother with it. Prefer brooms - slower, but safer."-Harry Potter and The Goblet Of Fire

(Emphasis Mine)

There have been plenty of times in the books where brooms were used for transportation or escaping. A few instances of these:

1)Brooms were used in the Order Of The Phoenix for traveling to 12 Grimmauld Place.

2)Harry and Dumbledore flying to Hogwarts in The Half Blood Prince.

3)The Battle of The Seven Potters

etc..

In the wizarding world, luggage is never a problem. You can always make it lighter.

So overall, making Flying Lessons compulsory for the first years is a pretty good idea.

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I would guess a couple of different factors - for one, it would be necessary for everyone to have access to some kind of wizarding transport, especially since so many find blending in with the muggles difficult. They have to learn something of how to get around, point out there are wizarding methods available to the muggle born. Methods like apparition take power and control that not everyone would have first year, or perhaps at all, so making that class optional makes more sense, and probably the skill-with-broom will benefit the most from being started young.

And that brings me to point two - it's probably traditional. Brooms must be among the earliest of wizarding transport methods, so if one had to be chosen, brooms might get the extra nod for traditions sake alone (as wizarding society tends to like traditions), even if it might make more sense for everyone to use the floo or learn an overview of public transport like the knight bus or the magical side of trains.

And, finally, it's also probably generally the equivalent of PE - kids get outside, in the open air, race around, burn off energy, show off, and kind-of play. It is the access into sports, and gives everyone (theoretically) an equal access to play - especially when the teams, and the competition, seem to make up a large part of the rivalry between houses and cooperation within houses. So muggle-born get the intro to the sport, and basic skills to catch up, and the wizarding-raised are (supposed to be) prevented from skipping ahead even if they had a head start.

Maybe there are other reasons, these are just what I came up with.

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