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On the Harry Potter Wiki page for Hogwarts, it has the following to say about first years:

First years are typically eleven to twelve years of age.

Simple question then: is it ever explained in-universe or by J K Rowling why the age of admission is 11-12 rather than perhaps a slightly younger or older age? Is there any specific importance of the age 11 when it comes to magical development of skills, or it is simply that it corresponds with the standard muggle schooling system?

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    I believe that's the typical age of admission in Britain for schools of that sort (loosely corresponding to combined US middle school/junior high school and high school). – Matt Gutting Jun 23 '15 at 3:03
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    @MattGutting if JKR ever actually said that I'd be happy to accept that for an answer – Often Right Jun 23 '15 at 3:06
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    No doubt, but my guess is she may not have felt the need to state it, any more than an American might feel a need to say that 1st grade begins at age 6. It's just one of those well known things. – Matt Gutting Jun 23 '15 at 3:08
  • @MattGutting I didn't know that about the grades. I never know what American programs are on about when they mention them. – user46509 Oct 16 '15 at 19:24
  • Not sure if it is stated anywhere, but since 17 is "of age" in the wizarding world, every student would come of age and be an adult when they graduate. – JohnP Nov 30 '17 at 14:33
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It's to do with the British school system.

Most school tracks move from primary (or infant/junior school) covering from ages 5 to 11, and then onto secondary (senior or high school) for ages 11-16 (sometimes up to 18). There is another track of primary (5-9), middle (9-13), and secondary (13-16+).

Hogwarts is modeled on a typical high school with boarding, so it makes sense that admission would start at 11 years. For one thing, I don't think there have been all that many boarding schools for primary school ages (at least in more recent times), and also the difference between a 5 year old and 11 year old is quite a bit, and it was probably easier to write 11 year old characters getting up to the antics they do in the book.

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    Indeed, another point I've recalled is that in PS Harry was about to start at a new school from memory, further evidence you might want to include in your answer ;) – Often Right Jun 23 '15 at 5:48
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    Small point, but since Hogwarts is in Scotland, I can confirm that the school system here is 5-11 then 11-(16/18), with your major exams in 5th year. – DavidS Jun 23 '15 at 9:52
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    @N_Soong Indeed. Harry and Dudley were to be sent off to different secondary schools at the beginning of Philosopher’s Stone, and in that regard, nothing changed: they did go off to different secondary schools. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jun 23 '15 at 10:08
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    "a typical high school with boarding" Note that this should be parsed as meaning a typical high school with the addition of boarding: boarding schools are not typical in the UK. – David Richerby Jun 23 '15 at 13:50
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    @DavidRicherby I think it means "typical of a boarding high school". There are plenty of high schools with boarding in the UK (usually just called "boarding schools") and Hogwarts is typical of them (except of course for the magic thing). Boarding schools are also much commoner in British children's literature than in real life, and HP is based as much on British school stories as it is on British schools. – DJClayworth Jun 23 '15 at 15:05
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TL;DR Hogwarts is set in a UK system, and so assumes a two stage school process with a transition between primary and secondary schools at the age of 11.

As many have stated above, the UK school system typically comprises two 7-year cycles: primary (4 to 11 years) and secondary (11 to 18 years). The years in primary are usually defined as P1 to P7. The years in secondary are usually defined as numbered year up to 6th, and then as lower 6th and upper 6th for the final two years. Sometimes the final two years are in separate institutions called Sixth Form Colleges.

In the past the transition between the two systems, primary and secondary, was governed by a famous examination called the 11+ (emphasing the importance of this age of transition). Those performing well in the academic styled exams were admitted to Grammar Schools, with an academic ethos, and those performing less well (contested, see below) to Secondary Modern schools with more of a vocational/trades focus. This system was in place from the end of WWII onwards after the Butler Education Act 1944, that made secondary as well as primary education free for all students.

Although this system was very successful by many metrics, the 1960s saw a set of changes prompted by the belief that it was very unfair to stream students at such a young age of 11, and in fact created large barriers to social mobility; analysis showed that the class of the parents, rather than than the ability of the child was the main factor in success in the 11+, often linked to how much the parents could support their own children through the system. Therefore, in most of the UK the 11+ is no longer used, and the secondary system now has Comprehensive Schools that try and cover all these types of education in a single school.

There remains a big debate about the number of comparatively wealthy people who by-pass this more egalitarian system, and send their children to fee-paying schools, which in the UK are counter-intuitively called "public" schools. Arguably Hogwarts is most like one of these elite private schools, like Eton, Harrow and Westminster, which are often centred on a boarding culture. J.K. Rowling herself went to a Comprehensive School, Wyedean School and College, near the border between Wales and England.

In the broader context, there is a long tradition of boarding school literature in British children's literature: school story. This reached its peak in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. So the Harry Potter stories can be seen as a revival of this tradition, albeit with a co-educational (boys and girls) rather than a single sex school, as had been the norm in the tradition.

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    This is a quite comprehensive guide to the British education system but doesn't exactly give a clear answer to the question asked. Perhaps it would be worth giving a one-sentence summary of why Rowling chose 11 for Hogwarts to make your answer clearer. – The Dark Lord Nov 26 '17 at 17:55
  • Fair point, I'll edit my response. – Mícheál Ó Foghlú Nov 30 '17 at 9:23
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Answer: The age 11 is based on the "in-universe" detail of sleeping at the school. The students are only accepted to Hogwarts after they complete primary school, because they sleep in the dormitories, which is a level of independence, which is after completing primary school, and not specifically the age number 11. for more information http://harrypotter.wikia.com/wiki/Gryffindor_Boys%27_Dormitory Although the author said she uses numerology, and in numerology double-digits such as 11 [a double one] are special, the fact that primary schools are until age 11 is the reason which is so obvious, that it was not stated. Also in-universe, we find that 11 was the age Harry planned to switch schools, a fact which supports the above idea.

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It's explained that Hogwarts has a automatic magical record of children born with magical ability that are eligible for study at Hogwarts. Mcgonagall checks this record once a year to send acceptance letters to those children approaching their 11th year of age (so they students start between ages 10-11).

The specific chosen year in-universe has to do with JRK's use of numerology. 11 is a magical number not to mention 11 is around the time that kids are able to start having some conscious control over their magical abilities and are allowed to buy wands. Giving them wnads before that is like handing car keys to someone who doesn't know how to drive.

source: https://www.pottermore.com/writing-by-jk-rowling/the-quill-of-acceptance-and-the-book-of-admittance

  • That's a pretty interesting hypothesis re: numerology. What is the source? – Adele C Sep 12 '15 at 18:21
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    Your source doesn't mention anything about why 11 is the age of admission to Hogwarts, though, that I can see – Au101 Sep 12 '15 at 20:43
  • JKR mentioned in interviews and stuff that she uses numberology. The wand system for example is based off a combination of numerology and the celtic tree calendar to match most of her HP characters with their specific wands. I don't have a specific source stating why she picks 10-11 year olds to start their magical education but part of the reason is because 11 is the number of power, BUT its also based on the ages that kids transition from a certain grade to another one in regular school or boarding school. – Tarazha Sep 16 '15 at 2:42

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