Suwanja left Old Palace of John Whitgift School in August 2015, not only receiving four A*s at A-Level and a place to study Physics at Oxford, she was also awarded the prestigious Moritz Heyman Scholarship given to only 160 students at the University. Suwanja attended Old Palace on a full bursary from The Whitgift Foundation, which she believes has given her a life-changing start to her academic journey and future career.

What was it like when you started at Old Palace?

When I first started, I noticed that there was a clear difference between my state primary school and Old Palace – the academic work was taken much more seriously at Old Palace. 

How would you describe your experience at Old Palace?

It was really good, I met loads of people and academic-wise it has been brilliant. The whole school community is like a big family - it’s not like being in a stereotypical school. I also got to study in a beautiful historic building, which although sometimes I took for granted, I do think that I was really privileged to go to a school with such a unique atmosphere  - the building is very beautiful with so much history. I particularly enjoyed studying in the library; it’s a really special room.

What are the teachers like?

The teachers are all really supportive and are always there for you, not just academically, but also in terms of personal problems; they are easy to talk to. I think work-wise they make sure we are pushing ourselves, especially if you are quite talented, as there is always the potential to do better.  Homework is good – it’s not too much but not too little and still challenging. When you come to study for your A-levels there is a lot more independent work, but even then the teachers were still very supportive, particularly with the university application process and helping me apply to Oxford.

What were your highlights at Old Palace?

Going on school trips was really fun. I was given the opportunity to represent the school at different subject challenges. For example, six of us competed in the SATRO Engineering Challenge against other Croydon schools. Since I was young I’ve also competed in the Maths Challenge at Trinity School and also a Chemistry Challenge in Year 12. Undertaking my Duke of Edinburgh Bronze and Silver Awards was a life changing experience. For the silver expedition, it rained so hard that our sleeping bags got soaked through and we had to sleep in survival bags! Another highlight was when the Princess Royal visited the school last year and we all got to see her. I am grateful for the responsibilities I was given in Sixth Form; being part of the Student Leadership Team, one of the House Leaders for my house, Anselm, as well as Physics Prefect.

How does the Old Palace house system work?

As well as being split into classes in year groups, we are also put into four houses: Stafford, Anselm, Laud and Hatton. I really liked the house system as it is a great chance to meet younger girls, get to know them better and help make their transition to secondary school easier. There is a really good mentoring support system where older girls ‘parent’ the younger girls. There are also loads of events to compete in such as drama competitions and netball which is a wonderful way to get the school together. House assemblies run every two weeks where we can discuss interesting topics.

What do you think sets Old Palace apart from other schools in the area?

The people here genuinely care for you - the love and affection given by the school is wonderful. I've met some great people, students and staff, who are truly inspirational. I think the school’s history is really different to all of the other schools – even Whitgift and Trinity, as well as the strong community and family environment. Academic-wise it’s really good and the support given by the school is immense. Even our Head, Mrs Jewell, would always visit us to make sure we were fine and our Head of Sixth Form, Mr Talleux, and pastoral leader, Mrs Hicks, were both really good. I also think that all of the girls are really down to earth. The one thing that definitely stands out at Old Palace is the large ethnic mix - no one is ever discriminated for who they are. On an individual level, you will always be welcome, it doesn't matter where you come from or who you are.

What have you particularly enjoyed studying at Old Palace?

I love science and maths and at Old Palace both departments, including the technicians, are great. The teachers have a lot of experience and a lot of interest in what they teach. I like the way they are always making sure that the students are interested in science - every year they run a Science Week which I particularly enjoy.

How do you think your education at Old Palace has shaped your future?

Really well!  If I didn't attend Old Palace, I don’t think I would have got this far and got into Oxford with four A*s. The support and encouragement from the school has been brilliant.

How has the Whitgift Foundation bursary support helped you?

So much. My parents could not afford full fees so I would have never had the opportunity to study at a great school. It’s almost life changing - if I hadn’t got into Old Palace, I wouldn’t have got into Oxford so I think it’s been a big support.

What are your plans for the future?

Hopefully graduate from Oxford and pass all of my exams is the most important thing. I would really like to carry on and get a PhD, work at the university, do a postdoc and be part of the university. I do enjoy doing my own work but also promoting it to other people. I think becoming an academic would be really nice to get other people to listen to what I’m interested in!

How would you sum up Old Palace in 3 words?

Family, second-home and unforgettable

What advice would you give to a new starter at Old Palace?

Go for it! Don’t think about it – just go for Old Palace, it’s really really good. Your daughter will enjoy it! When I started I came from another school, it was slightly different with the rules and meeting new people can be daunting, but everyone gets through it here. It’s a great school and you should take privilege of it!