So a bunch of kids all of a sudden "go missing" from school.

Harry Potter having attended school for a couple of years before starting at Hogwarts, one semester just doesn't show up.

How is this solved? What do parents say when a school teacher calls and wonders where their pupil is?

I assume that Hogwarts isn't an officially recognized school (though perhaps it is?), and due to education being compulsory, someone would do the math and find that low-hundreds of kids go missing in the transition from primary to secondary school every year.

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    In the UK, the transition from primary to secondary education is around 11 (in Scotland, it’s 12). It’s not unusual for students to change schools at this age, so that might be part of the answer. The other is probably Ministry handwaving. – alexwlchan Nov 24 '14 at 8:35
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    The cover story is that he's at Professor Charles Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters. – James Sheridan Nov 24 '14 at 8:48
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    Why can't they just admit he is at Hogwarts? After all, it is apparently known to the government (hence the Ministry of Magic). – Wikis Nov 24 '14 at 9:52
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    Couldn't they just create a 'cover' school in the muggle world. All these students are at this school and when that goes under review, I'm certain some wizard can do an illusion or two. (or mind trick). – DoStuffZ Nov 24 '14 at 12:47
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    Worth noting, too, that the Dursleys claim to Muggle family and neighbors that Harry attends St. Brutus's Secure Centre for Incurably Criminal Boys. – GalacticCowboy Nov 24 '14 at 17:17

11 Answers 11

He didn't leave school to go to Hogwarts. He'd finished primary school and was due to start at the local secondary school - unlike Dudley, who was going to start at the very posh private school. It's perfectly reasonable for the system to assume that he simply went to a different private school, especially as that is pretty much what happened.

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    I don't know how well the british government pays attention to where children go to school, but where I live they would hunt someone down if they don't know exactly where someone goes to school and what type of education he/she is getting there. Everything regarding school is known and if you are not attending any known school they will starting forcing you to go to school (for any child between 4 and 18, school is mandatory). – Kevin Nov 24 '14 at 10:05
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    @Kevin that's roughly in line with what I had in mind as well, given that education is compulsory. Though home-schooling is allowed, so I suppose everyone could say their kids are being home schooled. Not sure how well that would work. – Letharion Nov 24 '14 at 10:20
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    Being from the UK, what happens is at the end of primary your parent or guardian send a letter saying you've been accepted etc. (much like Hogwarts to Harry, though without an application). That's that, there is no follow up, if you don't go to school you don't go, I don' think there's a law here in the UK saying education is compulsory (til recently where David Cameron said school til 18) but at the time of writing I'm sure there was no law :) – SomeAmbigiousUserName Nov 24 '14 at 13:33
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    @Trey, actually, politics.co.uk/reference/education-leaving-age says that the compulsory age in UK has gone from 10 in 1880, to 17 2013, and now 18 in 2015. It seems school attendance is not required however, which makes the whole thing easier. – Letharion Nov 24 '14 at 13:57
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    Education in the UK is effectively mandatory up to 16. Parents get fined [just for taking their kids out on holiday](gov.uk/school-attendance-absence/overview ). In practice, even before 2013, parents were leaned on heavily if their kids were not at school or were not registered with a private tutor. – Lightness Races in Orbit Nov 24 '14 at 19:22

You write, "I assume that Hogwarts isn't an officially recognized school". However, I think it is. Some students from Hogwarts go on to work at the Ministry of Magic.

The Ministry of Magic is a government department and works with the Prime Minister of the day. Hence the government knows that some pupils will go to school at Hogwarts.

Should a Muggle decide to investigate Hogwarts further the Ministry of Magic will probably get involved. In the Department of Magical Accidents and Catastrophes is the Muggle-Worthy Excuse Committee dedicated to making up excuses for these kinds of things.

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    You're right that records might just be flawed, but Hogwarts on it's own has to many studies to go unnoticed, and there are other schools as well. I don't think "is a government department" is supported by the link you give. Someone informing the prime minister that "we exist" hardly makes them a recognized authority in the muggle world. And even if so considered by the PM, there's still plenty of other people who could notice something's up. – Letharion Nov 24 '14 at 10:18
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    What's wrong with saying, "They've gone to Hogwarts, it's a government recognised school" to anyone who asks? Simply omit the it's full of wizards and witches learning to use magic bit. – Wikis Nov 24 '14 at 10:21
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    I agree with with @Wikis. Hogwarts can tell the government (part of) the truth: The children are at a privately run boarding school in the countryside. All that remains is to fool government inspectors into thinking Hogwarts teaches an officially approved curriculum (more Mathematics and English Literature, less Transfiguration and Potions). It requires some suspension of disbelief, but no more so than other aspects of the wizarding world which supposedly remain secret. – Royal Canadian Bandit Nov 24 '14 at 15:07
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    We're also talking about a community that is capable of planting entire chunks memories with little more than a gesture and a couple of words. Anyone who starts asking "too many questions" are likely to have some memories replaced with something that seems to explain things in a perfectly reasonable way... if not have those select memories just straight-up wiped. – Ellesedil Nov 24 '14 at 22:50
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    It simply requires filing proper records with the registries, plus a simple false memory charm for couple bureaucrats that "I just did any required inspections for Hogwarts boarding school a couple weeks ago". – Peteris Nov 24 '14 at 23:13

10,000 children are 'missing' from the English education system, according to OFSTED (which is the regulator).

Ofsted is warning there are thousands of vulnerable youngsters in England who are missing from the education system.

These include youngsters who have been permanently excluded from schools, newly arrived migrants and children with mental health problems.

Ofsted chief Sir Michael Wilshaw said these youngsters were too often "invisible" to local authorities.

"This can be a safeguarding as well as an educational matter," said Sir Michael.

"If no-one in authority knows what education these children and young people receive each week, or whether they even attend, they not only miss out on education but can be vulnerable to abuse," he said.

"Everyone must take greater responsibility for knowing where they are."

The Hogwarts children are a drop in the ocean; no "official" explanation is necessary if (as seems to be the case for HP) they leave primary school in the normal way and then fail to join a secondary school, simply because there is nobody keeping track of that.

There is a serious gap here in reporting/tracking; "the system" will probably fail to notice Harry's absence. :(

To get a more accurate idea of that likelihood of that happening, we could check reports on children's services in the relevant local authority for the late 1990s.

The Dursleys' home, 4 Privet Drive, is in the fictional village of Little Whinging, somewhere between Surbiton(2) and Staines (yes, a real place).

That puts it under the purview of Surrey County Council.

Of course it's difficult to know whether this would fall the under Education department, or Social Services. Clearly the Dursleys' emotional abuse of Harry - and their forcing him to live in what is essentially a cupboard - looks like it's a job for a social worker.

But to stay on topic with school attendance, we can see from this OFSTED report that the level of attendance in secondary schools in Surrey in the late 1990s was about 92%. The other 8% were absent through sickness, or because they'd been excluded (expelled) from school, or for some other, unknown reason. I think those numbers only include children who were actually registered with a school - HP may have been (he does have a muggle school uniform). So anyway, his absence would probably not have been noticed by the system, rather shockingly.

Update: Actually I'm checking for slightly too late a period, Harry started at Hogwarts in 1991. Further info may follow...

There is a legal duty on councils to try to keep track of children who aren't in education, but the relevant law was made after HP's transition to Hogwarts:

Under 436A of the Education Act 1996, inserted by the Education and Inspections Act 2006, local authorities have a statutory duty to make arrangements to enable them to re-establish the identities, so far as it is possible to do so, of children in their area who are not receiving a suitable education. The duty applies in relation to children of compulsory school age who are not on a school roll, and who are not receiving a suitable education otherwise than being at school (for example, at home, privately or in alternative provision). The related guidance makes it clear that the duty does not apply to children who are being educated at home. )

Surrey County Council: Elective Home Education Policy

and judging by the OFSTED press report above (dated 2013) it's not been particularly effective.

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    Definitely a drop in the ocean. As I said in my own answer Hogwarts probably only has ~280 students total meaning that they are only ~2-3% of the kids already missing from the school system according to your data. – Brouellette Nov 25 '14 at 13:25

As far as the government is concerned, Harry and the others are attending a private boarding school. This is not at all unusual in the UK.

Private schools (confusingly known as public schools in UK parlance) are subject to government inspection to ensure they meet minimum educational standards. The wizards would have to take steps to ensure the inspectors said everything was perfectly normal at Hogwarts -- but I am sure they are equal to this task.

In one of the books, though I can't remember which, it is written that the Prime Minister of the UK is aware of the existence of the Ministry of Magic etc. Therefore it should be logical to assume that they have agreements in place to take care of a range of matters that would affect both worlds, including an agreement that would suffice to allow children from the muggle world to attend Hogwarts without it officially becoming a problem for the school authorities to investigate.

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    It's "affect", not "effect". – David Conrad Nov 24 '14 at 23:33
  • Depending on the context – Scanner Nov 25 '14 at 10:54
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    In this context, it's "affect". – TylerH Nov 26 '14 at 17:00
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    To "effect both worlds" means to create both worlds, to cause both worlds to come into existence. To "affect both worlds" means to influence them, alter them, change them. – David Conrad Nov 26 '14 at 18:15
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    Really you mean you can affect and effect but you can't effect and affect;). And would it not be safe to assume to that the Wizarding world affected the muggle and had much more of an effect on it rather than vice versa? Therefore both affect and effect are acceptable in this context. – Scanner Nov 27 '14 at 10:07

Who says there need be a grand conspiracy to establish that Hogwarts students are attending school.

"X is away at a private boarding school in the country" probably suffices.

Not that many school children (comparatively) are vanishing from the school system to attend Hogwarts. If we take the Griffindor boys dorm for Harry's year as a typical example of how many students get sorted into a given house as per gender (there are 5), we come up with approximately 40 children each year. That means Hogwarts probably has about 280 students total. According to the five year age structure band as of the 2011 census there are 7,667,000 persons between the ages 10-20 in Great Britain. That means less than .003% of young people are "vanished" from the system. This is such a small margin of error that could easily be dealt with.

Don't know this is in England/Great-Britain, but in Belgium there is no law that says you must go to school, only that you need education.

Where this education takes place is a choice, off course most children just attend a regular school, others will most of the time be home-schooled. Maybe wizard kids are said to be home educated by their parents.

As in universe related: Also, I don't see any teacher or principal calling to a child that has not re-inscribed to his or her school. (Also applies out of universe actually)

It might be that Hogwarts is a recognized school as Wikis said, but I don't think the government knows about it, it would be a huge liability i'm afraid. The prime minister and king/queen are made aware of the existence of magic, but does not seem to be going any further than made aware if not necessary.

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    This answer is based on guesswork ("It might ge recognised", "Maybe wizard kids are said to be") as well as information that does not relate to the question: the school system of Belgium may differ significantly from that of the UK and is, thus, not a reliable source of information. – Gunnar Södergren Nov 24 '14 at 15:25
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    For the record, you can still expect a periodic visit from the LEA/council if you tell then you're opting your child out of mainstream education. – Valorum Nov 24 '14 at 16:23
  • @GunnarSödergren, the guess work "it might be recognised" is not my guess but rather a (small) thought of who posed the question. I do not think that Hogwarts would be recognised as stated further on in my answer. It is guess work, but I don't see any real canon information. @ Richard: Maybe someone from the Ministry of Magic deals with the council by putting a charm or so on them. – Don_Biglia Nov 25 '14 at 9:22
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    @ThomasDB True, the first part is a reference to the question, but the rest of that sentenct is also guesswork ("I don't think the government..."), with no backing in Canon or references to the books, interviews with the author or similar. Coming to a conclusion that are not explicit in canon is fine (at least in my view) but there must still be references to how said conclusion was made. – Gunnar Södergren Nov 25 '14 at 10:05

I have noticed that in several of the comments, people are more concerned about what the government would think rather than, say, people who know the Dursley's (i.e., family friends, colleagues, neighbors, etc.). Telling those people that Harry was sent to some obscure private school would certainly suffice for them, but the government would certainly not be fooled!

True, the government would not be fooled--but they need not. Remember the chapter when the UK Prime Minister was being warned about the danger of dementors? That scene informs us that communications exist between muggle governments and the Ministry of Magic. The only question that now remains is how governments (including muggle governments) handle keeping magic secret. For the purposes of this question, it may suffice to say that they have it figured out...

But why stop here? Speculation is fun.

There are some problems with handling thousands of missing children from the school system. The government could allow wizard students to be registered for specially-designated private schools. However, there are thousands of muggle clerical positions that involve handling school registration paperwork. You cannot trust thousands of muggles in low-salary positions to know about magic -- only a select number of high officials with top-level security clearances would be trusted. Certainly a decent number of those thousands of clerks will notice that some of the registered schools are non-existent! Are the clerks who notice that few and far between, enough to contain spreading rumors? Perhaps, but perhaps not.

With muggle-born (and some half-blood) wizard children come muggle parents and muggle siblings... muggles who know about magic and are aware that it must be kept secret. This would include, for example, people such as the Dursleys or the Grangers. Perhaps the UK Government provides employment opportunities with handsome salaries to fill positions that may otherwise risk spreading rumors. This would reduce the number of incidences where a curious muggle finds out about falsified schools or whatnot. This, in turn, would reduce the frequency of serious breaches, making it significantly easier for the Ministry of Magic to contain them.

What, you thought Eton was a REAL school?

But this has always been my assumption: there's a school in the UK that everyone else thinks is just a Private boarding school, and in the system, the child's muggle identity is simply assigned to that school. When the child is accepted into Hogwarts, the "fake" school simply accepts them too.

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    But what if someone wants to check out that school? Can you really have a fake school with hundreds of students? – ike Nov 25 '14 at 16:04
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    The same way that muggles are kept away from Hogwarts, they get to the gate and suddenly remember they left their oven on and have to hurry away. Or even just a simple computer "glitch" - each Ofsted inspection area simply sees the school as belonging to another area, and a good/excellent rating. "Oh look, it's not my problem" – Jon Story Nov 25 '14 at 16:51
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    Would that keep you away if you were checking out a certain school for your son? – ike Nov 25 '14 at 16:54
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    @JonStory, the "belonging to another area" is extremely plausible. One of the other answers to this question caused me to check Ofsted reports for independent schools in Kent, and they seem to have misclassified a lot of schools in other parts of the country as coming under the Kent LEA. (Plus I couldn't find a report for a single independent school in Canterbury, and I know of at least four there). – Peter Taylor Nov 26 '14 at 9:45
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    @PeterTaylor, I think you may have just discovered Hogwarts... – Jon Story Nov 26 '14 at 10:25

The Muggle UK government is aware of the existence of magic - at one point we see Fudge visiting the Muggle Prime Minister in his office. At this point, it's mentioned that there are various dealings between the Muggle government and the Ministry of Magic, and it's implied that there are agreements and procedures in place to handle matters that affect both "worlds" - a key example would be when the Muggle authorities are told about Sirius Black, in order to enlist their help in locating him; Sirius' picture is shown on Muggle news and the Muggles are told that he is an escaped convict. It's therefore safe to assume that there are also procedures in place to handle the task of hiding the existence of the magical world - including the mass absence of schoolchildren. At a guess, I'd say that Hogwarts can arrange for records to go missing in a similar way to the way Hogwarts itself can be made Unplottable, and the Muggle government agrees to turn a blind eye to any records that disappear in this pre-arranged manner.

As for hiding the oddity from Muggle neighbours and communities, there exists a Department of Muggle-Worthy Excuses whose purpose is to devise stories to cover up magical incidents, so one can probably assume that this department would step in to provide cover stories wherever a certain child's absence draws too much attention, and of course there are people on hand to modify memories and/or Confund people wherever the stories are insufficient to discourage unwelcome attention.

Generally speaking, though, not much would be obvious to Muggles. The transition from Muggle school to Hogwarts comes at a time when Muggle children change schools anyway, so there wouldn't be a sudden disappearance to explain - they'd finish one school normally, and then people would assume that they must just have picked a different secondary school to go to. Muggle neighbours could be told that the child was at boarding school, which would be confirmed by seeing them head off to catch a train with a large amount of luggage. The only oddities would be the pet owl, cat or toad, and possibly the unusual manner in which the start-of-term letters arrived.

We have a few options here.

  1. Muggle parents inform the government they choose to homeschool. In the U.S. their are tests that accompany this however to ensure children are in fact learning.

  2. Muggle parents can state their children are going to a private boarding school. again documentation is probably required by the government.

  3. hogwarts and the ministry handle it. This seems like the most likely option as the other 2 have governmental checks in place to ensure your child is enrolled in school( whether they are actually effective in practice is besides the point).

Wizards appear to no longer be registered as citizens of their respected countries, we can assume this because they don't pay taxes (we know they do not know muggle currency if you had to pay muggle tax every year youd pick it up.) either the PM gets a note saying X people need to be taken off the rolls, OR someone is actively removing/wiping minds of muggle lists of muggle born children. removing all records that these parents have children, or changing them to show that indeed they are in school at X school, and the proper confirmation has been done.

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    There's no link between citizenship and paying taxes in the UK (nor, to the best of my knowledge, with any country except the USA). The fact that HMRC doesn't pursue wizards for income tax returns suggests that they aren't issued NI numbers, and possibly don't appear in the census. – Peter Taylor Nov 24 '14 at 16:58
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    I would also vote for option 3, considering the fact that Hermione managed to get her parents to leave the country under false identities (which means she would have to magically create false documents that looked real even to muggle authorities) - and since the Ministry at this point had already been infiltrated by the Death Eaters, she did it most likely entirely on her own. We know she is exceptionally skilled, but if a single teenager can do that, it should be no trouble to let a bunch of kids disappear from some lists - just like foreign presidents forgetting to call until the next day. – BMWurm Nov 25 '14 at 21:49

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