A bright schoolboy who cares for his disabled mum in their council flat is about to go to the hallowed halls of Eton after being awarded an £80,000 scholarship.
Ilyan Benamor, 15, will rub shoulders with the elite at the world’s most famous school which counts Princes’ William and Harry and PM Boris Johnson among its many illustrious alumni.
To win the coveted place, Ilyan went through a gruelling three-day assessment at the Berkshire school, which included three entrance exams and multiple interviews.
But whilst his new classmates will have lived lives of luxury and privilege in stark contrast Ilyan’s life has been full of heartache and struggle.
His mother fled war torn Algeria just before he was born, leaving behind his father who is now in a permanent vegetative state following a hit and run accident.
Mum Lalia, who had suffered ill health throughout her life was diagnosed with cancer when he was nine.
She survived but now suffers from a debilitating condition called Functioning Neurological Disorder (FND) which means she struggles with her mobility and has been confined to a wheelchair.
Since the age of 11 he has been the sole carer for his mum, and while his friends played computer games or were in the park kicking a ball around, he is doing the cooking, cleaning and shopping.
In 2017, he won the Newham young carers award. He said at the time: “I do have worries because one day if I want to go to university and it is far away from Newham, I would have to leave my mum. It makes me anxious.
“It is really good to have someone to talk to because sometimes things are hard. Having the support of my school makes life a little easier, I am grateful for that.”
Ilyan and his mum do not have any family in the UK but his uncle plans to move over so that he can take on the responsibility of caring for Lalia while Ilyan studies at Eton.
She also has a carer provided by Newham Council who comes every day for three hours.
Ilyan said: “It is an incredible story. Maybe I will write a book one day. It is certainly triumph over adversity because it has been very difficult at times.
“I am so excited about Eton but at the same time of course I am worried about being away from my mum. I said it when I was 12 and I still feel the same.
“The fact my mum’s brother will be coming over will make things much easier because I will know she is well looked after.
“I am so proud of my mum. Everything she has been through. If it was not for her fighting to get us to the UK then I would never have got this chance. I love her so much and am so happy at how proud she is.
“It is hard to put into words how grateful I am to my school as well. They have helped me and my mum so much. They even bought me a printer so could print out my work at home. They have gone above and beyond for me so many times.”
Ilyan was born in France before moving to Spain. His mum eventually got a visa to the UK when he was aged 3.
He lives with his mum in a small two bed flat in Stratford, East London, which is among the most deprived part of the country.
Ilyan’s mum Lalia Amal Chikhaoui, 49, said: I am so happy and relieved. Living in East London you worry when they get to teenage years something may happened, because of gangs and knife crime
“But Eton is not a place where you have to worry about these things. He can have a new life. It is like a gift from God, all my prayers have been answered.
“This gives me peace because I know if anything happens to me, he is on the right path in life, he is in the right place.
“I don’t want him to worry about me, he has already worried to much. He has already done too much for such a young person.
“He is the kindest, most gentle and loving son any mother could ask for. It is now his time to focus on his life and fulfil his potential.”
He is yet another graduate of the Community School Trusts (CST) prestigious colleges programme which helps disadvantaged pupils win places at top fee-paying schools.
Students are assigned a mentor who supports with applications, entrance exams and interview preparation, as well as paying all administration fees.
The scholarships are funded by the private schools.
The multi academy trust runs four schools including Cumberland Community School, also in Newham, which last year helped students win scholarships worth in excess of £1m.
Ilyan is the fifth student from either Forest Gate Community or Cumberland to win a place at Eton.
Other top fee-paying schools who support the programme include Wellington College, Winchester College and Kings College, Wimbledon
Ilyan added: “Eton is incredible, it is the number one school in the world. I am so excited to be a part of it. It feels almost like a dream that I will be going there.
“I want to be a politician so I can make a difference of my homeland and help them fix the problems that still plague the country today.”
CEO Of the Community Schools Trust Simon Elliott said: “Ilyan is exceptional not just in his intellect but also in his character.
“He has faced great challenges, struggles and heartaches in his short life but remains warm, generous and ambitious for his future.
“He is truly a role model not just to his peers but to all of us for the great maturity, kindness and resilience he has shown from such a young age.
“The Community Schools Trust was set up following the success of Forest Gate Community specifically to support bright young boys and girls from underprivileged backgrounds.
“To be able to offer these young people the type of world class opportunities is why I wanted to be a teacher in the first place and is what still drives me as a leader today.”