Harry Potter’s Strange Secret of Hogwarts: He Gets Kids To Enroll in Boarding Schools

A lot of people have the old notion that kids get “sent off” to boarding schools. Lately, however, children have been begging their parents to enroll them so they can be like their hero, Harry Potter.

Millions of children all over the world will read the seventh and last book in the Harry Potter series when it is released July 21. The books are the third best selling in history. They have been translated into over sixty languages including Hebrew, Serbian, Icelandic, Vietnamese, and Swahili. They have sold an amazing 325 million copies, outranked only by the Bible (2.5 billion) and The Quotations from Chairman Mao (800 million). The latest Harry Potter movie, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, is breaking all records at the summer box office.

After the first Harry books appeared on the scene in 1997, there was a surge in boarding school enrollments. Suddenly, children wanted to move into their own Hogswarts and find friends like Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley. It marked the end of a ten-year decline in enrollments. The British actually had to build more boarding schools and expand existing ones.

“I think it was the Harry Potter effect,” said Nick Ward, chairman of the Boarding School Association of Great Britain and headmaster of the Royal Hospital School in Holbrook, Suffolk. “I think it takes more than a young boy being a wizard to make up someone’s mind, but one thing the books have done is promote to children the idea that boarding schools can be exciting places.”

Ward said that many of the new students are “first-buyers,” which means children whose parents or grandparents never attended boarding schools. Their parents often like the idea of single sex education, smaller class sizes, and the sense of community and tradition that boarding schools have.

There has been a similar increase in enrollment in French boarding schools, but not in the United States. Enrollment has stayed flat here for the past ten years, despite the popularity of Harry Potter. One theory given in an article in USA Today is that Americans believe that boarding schools are only for the rich, even though almost a third of boarding school students receive financial aid. In addition, the federal government is paying the tuitions of over 17,000 students because they have disabilities such as Attention Deficit Disorder or bi-polar disorder. The children get free tuition at boarding schools because their local public school districts do not provide the special services that they require.

One author, writing in the Wall Street Journal, theorized that Americans in Gen X – today’s hovering “helicopter” parents – are too close to their children to allow them to attend boarding schools. School consultant Kelly Makes calls it the “Mom is My Best Friend” theory.

Finally, author Amity Shlaies, in her article in the magazine American, writes “the British have their boarding schools,” but “for Americans, sleep-away camp is the first and most important attempt at utopia, a better life outside of life. She notes that while many Americans are lifetime campers and third and fourth generation campers, “Europeans are indifferent to the idea of a summer community of children.”

Perhaps that’s why there are now hundreds of “Harry Potter Summer Camps” that give children a chance to dress up as their favorite characters, play Quidditch in the gymnasium, and join discussions about their favorite books. Whether or not these children learn to fly at Harry Potter Summer Camp is kept secret from muggles who wouldn’t know a wizard from a quaffle.