Aston is one of the city’s more down-at-heel areas and many of Usman’s contemporaries from the local primary hadn’t looked further than the local secondary. But he had aspirations, and was the only one in his year to win an assisted place at King Edward’s, a high-achieving independent boys’ school in Edgbaston, on the other side of city.
“For many of those I grew up with,” says this articulate 17-year-old, sitting in the King Edward’s canteen, “this school didn’t even figure on their horizon. It was a world away. But I remember when I had my interview here, they asked me why I wanted to come. It sounds cheesy, but I told them that I just knew, when I came through the doors, that it was the place for me.”
Usman goes into the Upper Sixth next month, and is spending the first week of his holidays working as a mentor at King Edward’s Summer School, encouraging others to follow his example.
The aim is to throw open those same doors to 135 bright 10-year-olds from deprived homes, from state primaries all around Birmingham, and give them not only a glimpse of the school’s state-of-the-art facilities but also show them how a good secondary education can change their lives.
“They ask so many questions,” jokes Lokesh Jain, another of the sixth form mentors, “but most of all they look up to us. Not in the way they look up to teachers, but as someone cool. If we can do it, so can they.”