Syrian orphaned by war lands place at top independent school
9th September 2019
Starting at a new school is a daunting prospect for any teenager, let alone a foreign student at a British boarding school. But then Nour, an orphaned Syrian refugee who had never flown on an aircraft before this week, is no ordinary teenager.
Two years ago Nour was 15 and squatting in a basement garage in Bekaa Valley, eastern Lebanon, working part-time as a painter and decorator.
His parents were killed 20 days apart in separate bombardments of his home town, near Damascus, when he was just ten years old. His older brother, who had taken over looking after him, was shot dead in crossfire two years later.
On Monday Nour landed in Britain to begin the sixth form at United World Colleges, the international boarding school near Cardiff, thanks to his talent, years of hard work and a chance encounter with the former Danish prime minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt, who was at the time chief executive of Save the Children. It was during a visit to refugees that Nour was identified to her as a star pupil.
Ms Thorning-Schmidt, who is married to Stephen Kinnock, the Labour MP for Aberavon, suggested that Nour would make a good choice for the school’s international scholarship programme.
Nour hopes to study science — physics is his favourite subject — at Cambridge. He is also interested in politics but has no longer-term plans other than concentrating on his education.
“I feel that if I studied at Cambridge I could reach the whole world and everybody could hear me,” he said. “I had a restricted childhood, and I want to break borders when I grow up.”
"Pupils at independent schools are, and will continue to be, highly successful in gaining places at the most academically selective universities, including Cambridge” says HMC executive director
One in four students starting at Cambridge this year will be from under-represented and disadvantaged backgrounds, according to provisional data.
The gradual changes mean that the proportion of privately-educated students taking up places is falling.
Mike Buchanan, executive director at the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference (HMC) which represents the country's leading schools including Eton and Harrow, said: "Pupils at HMC schools are, and will continue to be, highly successful in gaining places at the most academically selective universities, including Cambridge.
"But HMC also supports broadening access to such universities for bright students from all backgrounds, provided measures of disadvantage are sophisticated and intelligently applied.
"The reality is that a number of applicants from independent schools are bursary pupils from deprived backgrounds."
From 2020, 250 state school students will receive free tuition and accommodation as part of a multi-million-pound recruitment bid for disadvantaged students.
The scheme marks a "sea change" in the university's admissions process, but comes amid criticism from some quarters that private school students are being "squeezed out" by the university's diversity drive.
Dr Anthony Wallersteiner, the headmaster of the £36,000-a-year Stowe School, Bucks, warned earlier this year that the number of privately educated children getting places at Oxbridge had been "driven down" as part of efforts to boost diversity.