Stevenage and Eton College aren't places that are often mentioned in the same breath. But that could be set to change if Omar Aman, a former pupil at Nobel School, has his way.

Omar spent his secondary school years in Stevenage before winning a fully-funded Orwell Award scholarship at the UK's most famous public school, and he wants to encourage others to apply to follow in his footsteps.

Now aged 17, Omar is coming to end of his first year in the sixth form at Eton - where the fees are usually £46,000 per year - and has loved every minute.

Attending the UK's most famous school seemed a pipedream to him when he first heard about the award from a friend who said he was applying.

"I thought I'd look into it as it sounded interesting. I looked on the school website and fell in love with everything that was on offer - it was really exciting and so I thought, why not give it a go and apply?

"If you don't apply, you won't get it, so I gave it my best shot."

After writing a personal statement and sending in his predicted GCSE grades, Omar was shortlisted for the award and invited to the school for a few days to interview.

He found it a "great experience", and after six interviews and some tests he was told in December that he had been accepted along with 12 others.

"It was an easy decision to accept - I accepted it straight away, without any hesitation at all, because I didn't want them to take it away!

"My mum was really excited, as were all of my family - they were proud to have someone that they know get into a school that a lot of people see as out of reach."

They had their own fun, however, with Omar's mum playing a prank on him.

"She found out before I did, and pretended that it was bad news.

"She told me that she'd heard and said 'I just want you to sit down, and calm you down' before telling me that it wasn't good news.

"Then I checked the email and the crying and screaming happened!"

Omar and his family moved to the UK from Afghanistan when he was four-years-old. He went to primary school in Newcastle, before his family moved to Stevenage in time for him to begin secondary school at Nobel. 

The Comet: Omar with his mother and two of his sisters.Omar with his mother and two of his sisters. (Image: Eton College)

The move was "daunting initially", but Omar found his teachers at Nobel to be "amazing" and he enjoyed Stevenage's community feeling.

He formed a "tight knight" group of friends, who he still plays basketball and enjoys go-karting with on trips home from Eton.

Moving to Eton to live in a boarding house with 50 other boys wasn't as much of a shock as you might expect - Omar says he had "no expectations" when arriving.

"The only thing I knew beforehand was through their website and my own research - I knew it was the school that Boris Johnson and David Cameron had gone to.

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"But you get people from all walks of life here - and it isn't 'Orwell scholars' in one corner, and 'everyone else' in another."

Eton has around 1,350 pupils, and, in 2021/22, 20 per cent of them received financial support towards their fees (averaging a 71 per cent award).

And Omar thinks people would be surprised by the similarities between Nobel and Eton, saying that "lessons are pretty similar to any other school".

Arriving was a "mixture of excitement and nervousness" but Omar "was reassured because of the genuine kindness" that he had experienced when visiting for his interviews.

"It was really impressive to see the facilities - the swimming pool, the squash courts, the massive football fields - but the main thing for me was the people in my House."

Life at Eton turned out to be a whirlwind, with Omar studying for A-Levels in maths, chemistry, biology and history.

"Once you start as a sixth form scholar, there's a bombardment of so many different emails from a million different people saying you need to be here for this or that, there's this event or programme you can sign up to - it was overwhelming at the start but I just got stuck in.

"There's so much to do, and I want to make the most of it as you only have two years which goes like a flash.

"Part of why it was so good keeping busy is that you almost don't have time to think about being away from home too much.

"I still call my mum every other night, and she would call me if I didn't to keep an eye on me!

"You go home every few weeks too - on the weekends and during formal holidays."

Time management has been "one of the biggest challenges" for Omar, because not keeping on top of things can "snowball into a massive problem down the line".

But he says he gets a lot more done here than during his secondary school years.

"It's not because I was lazy back then, but I would have spent time watching TV or YouTube.

"Now, that fun time has been replaced with other things I enjoy like going to societies. It can be hectic, but it's just about managing your interests and prioritising correctly."

The Comet: Omar has described the facilities at Eton as really impressive.Omar has described the facilities at Eton as really impressive. (Image: Eton College)

Omar has been making the most of the extra-curricular activities on offer in the evenings, playing on Eton's basketball team, and editing the Scientific Etonian magazine and the Eton STEM website.

He's also won the Khemka prize, run by the school and named after a philanthropic Old Etonian. It is given to the pupil who gives the best pitch for a social impact project.

Omar's idea was to create a charity enabling refugee and asylum-seeker children to take part in extra-curricular activities for free.

He says: "Lots of these children don't have the opportunities to do those things.

"Whatever your opinion on our immigration policy, they are here through no fault of their own and they need those opportunities and experiences just as much as everyone else.

"I grew up in a family with asylum-seeker status, and when the money isn't there or the transport isn't possible because you don't have a car, you don't get those opportunities.

"I'm in a privileged position now, and wanted to use it as an opportunity to help other people in the position I used to be in."

Omar's hopes are coming to fruition, with a five-year-old girl from a refugee family set to start roller skating in September - free of charge.

With all his extra-curricular activities, is no surprise that daily life at Eton is busy for Omar.

A typical day starts at 7am, when Omar gets ready and heads down for breakfast before chapel or assembly.

The Comet: Life at Eton is a whirlwind for Omar, with every day full of lessons and extra-curricular activities.Life at Eton is a whirlwind for Omar, with every day full of lessons and extra-curricular activities. (Image: Eton College)

His forty-minute lessons begin at 9am and last until 5.20pm, though there are plenty of breaks in between.

The morning break is called 'Chambers', while an hour in the afternoon is devoted to a 'Tutorial', providing an opportunity for pupils and a small group of their classmates to speak to their tutor about anything they like.

Omar's a fan of his teachers - especially Mr Suarez, who he describes as a "top bloke".

In future, Omar would like to study medicine at university, and is considering courses in the UK and across the pond in the USA.

He advises anybody who might be interested to apply for the Orwell Award.

"I thought I never stood a chance, but you never know.

"If you would like to go and think you'd thrive here, definitely apply and don't be nervous about it - if you don't get in, it's not the end of the world and the worst that can happen is you go to a different sixth form instead!"

Orwell Award applications for 2024 are open to boys in UK state schools whose academic achievement may have been held back by personal circumstance.

Applications open on July 3, with information available on Eton College's website.