In Naomi Novik's Deadly Education the Scholomance is the Boarding School from hell, where monsters fight for the privilege of being able to eat the tender morsels (mortals) stuck inside.

But how dangerous was the school supposed to be? The first novel makes it clear that some Mals were expected to reach the school no matter what. The Mortal Flame cleaning equipment was meant to run in the Great Hall and across the other levels just prior to graduation.

This would have meant that at least some Mals were expected to be in the school throughout the year, before being cleansed. And the initial plan appeared to be for regular maintenance/purging of Mals that escaped the Mortal Fire by adults.

But clearly there was expected to be "some" level of Mal threat within the school all year round and the teenagers were expected to be able to deal with it?

How high was the threat level supposed to be compared to the 40% fatality rate is shown in the book?

3 Answers 3


It is always clear, in the book, that the entire intention of the Scholomance is to make the school as safe as possible - the builders were, after all, planning on sending their own children, grandchildren, etc. All of the dangers, then, are entirely the result of the limitations and failures in the school's design and construction.

Near the beginning of the book, El is grousing about being saved by Orion and narrates:

We’re not meant to all survive, anyway. The school has to be fed somehow.

This is discussed later in the book when another character talks about how many people Orion has saved (approximately 600) and the fact that the amount of food available in the cafeteria is not enough for everyone.

And then at the beginning of chapter thirteen:

We’d made it to our senior year, the one in two odds we’d beaten so far.

Also, from half-way through chapter one, talking about graduation:

About half the senior class—that is, half of the ones who’ve managed to survive that long—makes it.

There are three main features of the school designed to protect the students. The first is the fact that only the Graduation Hall is connected to the outside world, the rest is surrounded by the void. The second is that there is very little direct connection between the Graduation Hall and the rest of the school. Third is the cleaning cycles.

There are at least three Mortal Flame cleaning cycles specifically mentioned in the book:

  1. Graduation Hall just before graduation
  2. The main halls and stairwells of the school twice a year
  3. Kitchen after each meal is served (though it wasn't clear exactly how that worked)

Near the end of chapter three, the protagonist tells us:

It’s one of the few situations in which a wall of mortal flame might actually be called for: in fact that’s how the school cleans out the cafeteria and does the twice-yearly scouring of the halls.

And half-way through chapter six:

The builders knew that some mals would wriggle their way up to us, so twice a year the halls get a good scouring. A very loud warning bell goes, we all run for our dormitory cells, shut ourselves in, and barricade our doors as thoroughly as we can. Then massive cleansing walls of mortal flame get conjured up and sent running on their merry way throughout the whole building, from top to bottom, incinerating hordes of desperate fleeing mals.

And shortly after that:

If you’re wondering why they don’t also run this excellent system down in the graduation hall to clear out the mals before dumping in the seniors, the answer is they meant to, but the machinery down there has been broken since about five minutes after the school opened. No one’s going down to the graduation hall to do maintenance.

Since the system in the Graduation Hall is the only one that failed, only the survival rate of students who actually reach graduation is affected.

Near the end of chapter one, El says:

Even enclave kids were getting eaten more often than not before the school was built, and if you’re an indie kid who doesn’t get into the Scholomance, these days your odds of making it to the far side of puberty are one in twenty. One in four is plenty decent odds compared to that.

And also:

For all that I want to go home every minute of every day in here, I know perfectly well it’s actually unbelievably good luck to be here.

Half-way through chapter three:

The place is filled to capacity with kids; there are two applicants for every spot as it is

About a quarter of the way through chapter twelve:

The enclaver kids do make it out alive almost all of the time—their survival rate usually hovers around eighty percent, a substantial improvement over the forty percent chance they’ve got if they stay home.

And that's even without the end-of-year cleanup of the graduation hall.

So, while it is clear that the Scholomance is an imperfect solution to an impossible problem, it is also the best available chance of surviving to adulthood for anyone fortunate enough to get in.

Going back over this after reading The Last Graduate.

Jontia's comment is spot on - the intention was always to have a 0% fatality rate. In fact, the motto of the school is even built into it:

the silver letters inlaid into the old scarred wood: TO OFFER SANCTUARY AND PROTECTION TO ALL THE WISE-GIFTED CHILDREN OF THE WORLD

So what went wrong?

It turns out that, unbeknownst to El, the problem has been endlessly studied by the best people in various major enclaves and there is not, actually a solution.

The problem starts with this:

"Okay, so -" Aadhya said after a moment. "This is all because the cleansing machinery worked. So we just need to find a way to keep it working, for good."

That did sound promising, but Alfie said, "Oh, bugger," half under his breath, and then said, "You can't. The cleansing machinery can't be preserved. You can fix it, but you can't keep it working. Four years is the absolute most you can get. The agglos will do for it by then."

A couple of paragraphs later, he explains the problem with agglos:

"That's why you can't ward them out," Alfie said. "Mortal flame is - well, it's arguably an entity, and one that consumes mana that it doesn't make itself. If you want to conjure a mortal flame and send it out, you can't ward the artifice you're doing it with against mana-consuming creatures. You have to ward it against malice. But the agglos aren't malicious. They never take mana against resistance. They just nibble on this thing we've left sitting out near them, and sooner or later they make a hole in it, and then they squirm inside and take bits of it until the whole thing comes apart. London enclaves got a laboratory with an Anglo farm that's been lookin for ways to keep them out for the last century. If we could, it would be worth doing anything, spending any amount of mana, to get another team in to do a real repair. But we can't find anything that works for longer than bloody wrapping the thing in tinfoil - the agglos like that stuff so much they'll eat all of it before they bother going into the artifice. And that would get you four years."

Then somebody brings up the question of repairing the machinery regularly, and he continues:

"They've thought of that. Posting guards, sending in maintenance crews every month, all of it. And that would handle the agglos. But you can't pay anyone enough to do it, because a new maw-mouth will come into the school, very soon. There's a trace on the doors. Usually one or two manage it every year - they're oozes, those are always the hardest to keep out of anywhere."

And we know, at this point, that only two people in the entire world have faced down and defeated a maw-mouth so they are left with a seemingly insoluble problem - which clears the stage for what they actually do in The Last Graduate.

  • 'would only change the survival rate of students who actually reach graduation' the hall being full of Mals may cause more to enter the main school by simply giving weaker ones something to get away from. But certainly it seems the school improves survival rates.
    – Jontia
    Jan 23, 2021 at 15:44
  • 1
    I'm in the middle of re-reading and I'll add some direct quotes to my answer in a bit. Most of what I wrote is correct, or close to it. Jan 24, 2021 at 16:04
  • Enjoy the re-read. I'm especially interested in the original survival rates at the school before the machinery breaks the first time.
    – Jontia
    Jan 24, 2021 at 17:13
  • wow, that's great. So outside 5% / 40% survival for non/enclaver. Inside current stats are 25% / 80%. No clear % if the Grad hall scrubbing was working, but probably something like 50% / 90% but not canon statement.
    – Jontia
    Jan 26, 2021 at 15:07
  • Yep. Working on this answer, it occurred to me that the scrub for the Graduation Hall is badly designed. It should have run more often. Since the place is only used one day a year, it could run as often as needed to protect the machinery from enterprising mals. Jan 26, 2021 at 15:17

As I read it, surviving the school (we'll call it graduation, meaning successful graduation and leaving graduation hall) is 50%. And that roughly 50% of students make it to graduation hall. That means successful graduation rate is 25% OVERALL, including both Enclavers and Indies. That's truly bad for Indies, as their graduation successful graduation rate must be well under 25% to make up for Enclavers making it out 80% of the time.

In Chapter 6, El has a discussion with Orion about his Enclaver privilege. It does seem quite apparent that the Indies are let into the school to help out the Enclavers (taking their risks and workshifts, being low hanging fruit for maleficaria, and IF they show enough talent, helping out the team on Graduation Day).

Let me share my calculations, which I'm sure I've messed up, but you'll get the idea of how bad it is to be an Indie.

Assuming- -matriculating class is made up of Indies and Enclavers, then (Is + Es = 1) -that there is 25% OVERALL successful graduation rate, then (Ig + Eg = 0.25) -that Enclaver graduation rate is 80%, then (Eg/Es = 0.80)

I can't show you my cute chart, but it says you can't have ANY Indies survive unless you have at least 69% Indies to start. I would have guessed from book that Enclavers were 20% of class- if they start there, the Indie graduation rate is about 10%. If you start with 10% Enclavers (which I think is a bit light, given the number of enclaves which were mentioned in the book; also Enclavers and their entourage are enough to fill up the reading area of the library), Indie graduation goes up to 17%.

Lastly, I'll close by saying that it is my suspicion thet the Scholomance IS functioning up to specs, lousy as it is. Something to do with "balance" or something; those kids do need to have a hard time in there. They just let the Indies in so it's not so bad for Enclavers. Remember that El's mum, practically the best person in the world doesn't want her in an Enclave nor in the Scholomance.

I'm looking to see planned misery of Scholomance confirmed next book, supposed to be out soon, looking forward to it.

  • 1
    You may be able to show us your chart.
    – Adamant
    Aug 19, 2021 at 6:26
  • I like the maths here. The overall 25% survival rate from entry to exit is the key starting point though. Where does that figure come from?
    – Jontia
    Aug 19, 2021 at 8:16
  • Donald McLean laid it out neatly in his preceding posts. It comes from chapters 1 & 13.
    – Otto
    Aug 19, 2021 at 13:17
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    I don't think her mom didn't want her to go to the Scholomance, I think she just wanted her to feel like she wasn't being forced to go, if she didn't want to. El's not that stupid though, and she knew it was her best chance of surviving. Aug 30, 2021 at 21:30
  • There's a line in The Last Graduate saying the number of dorm rooms was quadrupled when opening up the school to Indies. Nicely giving a 25/75 ratio for Enclavers to Indies that fits this answer.
    – Jontia
    Aug 3, 2022 at 12:13

Also, it's fair to point out that the 25% figure is a bit ambiguous. I read it as 25% overall survival, but El is an Indie and may be thinking in terms of Indies only, so maybe she is referring specifically to Indie survival when stating half make it to graduation hall and half make it out of the hall.

Also, she's a languages major, not an artificer (or whatever is equivalent to math/engineering in Scholomance). So maybe her figures are not the best. But she seems like a sharp cookie, generally good with numbers, and as they say, there is nothing like the prospect of imminent death to focus the mind.

"Well, I always find that the prospect of death contracts the mind wonderfully." Ford Prefect, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

“Depend upon it, sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.”

― Samuel Johnson, The Life of Samuel Johnson LL.D. Vol 3

  • 3
    You should create a proper account so you can comment on your own posts (or edit them) instead of posting new partial answers. See the help on merging accounts.
    – DavidW
    Aug 19, 2021 at 14:22
  • 2
    @DavidW OP has created a proper account, but yes, they need to merge it with their previous one.
    – F1Krazy
    Aug 19, 2021 at 14:41
  • Still can't figure out how to paste other link. Is this really important?
    – Otto
    Aug 19, 2021 at 16:36

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