Oppidan Mentoring | The Peligoni Club

Oppidan at The Peligoni Club

Walter and Henry were thrilled to be back at The Peligoni Club this May half-term, running their revision study clubs and group workshops.

Our fourth year at the club, this week brought record numbers to the sessions; contending with the temptations to bask in the Ionian sea, catch a windsurf or kayak around the island, the children provided the proof that beaches and books really can go hand in hand on holiday.

For the children who hadn’t come before, a degree of cynicism ushered in their arrival: “it’s my holiday mum, revision is so boring!” Thus, we set the challenge – to stay for an hour and then let them leave if they so wish, their passport made. Fortunately, few crowns of convoy were handed out and we were delighted to work with such a troupe of eager learners.

We had 7-year-old Millie who delighted us with her readiness to write stories with Henry. Tom and Harry battled hard for the Dragons’ Den Business Prize only to be outdone by Jack and Oli’s masterful presentation – ice creams and honour, the prize for the victors.

A swathe of GCSE students would take on their revision together, levels of collaboration rarely seen before under the awning of the olive trees, whilst the younger children battled with Walter’s tennis-court maths, Henry’s poetry-skills workshop and endless science experiments and history tests.

This week in 2019 however brought, crucially, an extra dimension to the table. As important as helping children revise, we wanted to create a space at the club for children to be able to share together any issues and worries they felt they had. Talking through the same concerns and dealing with together the same problems teenagers face, we hope the sessions provided a leveller, a moment of reflection and a heartbeat of happiness with the realisation that the cool girl worries about the same thing that I do.

We look forward to returning in July.

Walter & Henry

What is a mentor?

For me, a mentor is someone who helps you discover passion for learning: in school and out of it. By delving into what we’re excited about, by exploring our desires and by helping us gain confidence in our ability, a mentor can really help someone to excel and progress.

If I was asked who my mentor at school was, my biology teacher for both lower and upper sixth form (year 12 and 13) springs to mind. He helped me further my passion for science and discover a real enjoyment of the work we studied. We were encouraged to devise our own experiments and think outside of the rigid box of the syllabus, whilst also engaging in educational games which he had devised. This really helped me to feel inspired in the subject, and also motivated me to complete tasks which were required by my curriculum as I knew I could accomplish something. He helped me discover confidence in myself and instilled in me a great desire to succeed. 

I owe a lot to my mentor, and I have really taken his support and guidance with me throughout life: in education and outside of it.

Written by Santino Coduri-Fulford, Oppidan Mentor

Past-Paperless Mentoring

For many of us a paperless world is in sight. I’m not talking about preserving forests, not directly anyway. We all agree that is important. I’m referring to exam papers (of which there are many). I’d argue that all of us who have anything to do with Oppidan are interested in lessons being about learning, not solely about past exam papers. 

As teachers and mentors, we’re all aware of the duty we have towards young people and families to help them achieve their ambitions. Exams often open the door to these ambitions. So how do we do this without draining the life out of learning? How to keep young people eager upright, rather than stooping ashen-faced under stacks of papers? 

It’s been a real joy to arrive at mentoring sessions this year with a bag full of books, articles and links to Ted Talks. A lesson involved examining a range of different History texts (think The Story of Art vs extracts from The Magna Carta) and trying to come closer to answering the question: ‘What is History?’ From here we built-up to thinking about different types of history and the questions of why and how History is re-written. We incorporated examples from the course taught at school and my mentee was surprised to realise how much he knew. Only afterwards did we look at the exam question which asked whether or not it is a problem that History is constantly being rewritten. 

This all had me thinking that perhaps we need to learn more freely first to equip young people to tackle exam questions later. 

Written by Digby Don, Oppidan Mentor

To view Digby’s mentoring profile click here.

MUSTIQUE | Notes from a Small Island

Oppidan Education was delighted to be invited by The Mustique Company to spend a fortnight on the island over the April holidays, providing revision study clubs and group workshops as well as private one-to-one sessions to the families and their children. 

Traditionally, the Easter holidays have been a time when families stay at home in order to allow their children to revise. Fraught with tension, the holidays become a struggle in which parents and their charges clash and little productive revision is accomplished. 

The aim was therefore simple and was carried out accordingly: for the children, to provide a structured schedule of revision for those with upcoming exams, whether that was the 11+ exams, Common Entrance, GCSEs or A Levels. For the parents, a guilt-free holiday in which the stress of organizing, motivating and coercing was taken out of their hands. 

We were delighted that cumulatively over 250 children joined us for the workshops. The morning sessions focused on the syllabus created by Oppidan Camps, our programme of educational summer camps for children in the UK. Poetry, debating, public speaking and creative writing formed the basis of a curriculum designed to improve a child’s self-belief, confidence and desire to learn, whilst simultaneously ensuring academic improvement and tangible progress. 

In the afternoons, we provided over seventy hours of one-to-one tutorials to the children; there was a real fizz of focus amongst the children who realized the imminent nature of their exams; the work we did was, I believe, hugely productive and allowed the children to then relax in the evenings with a feeling of real achievement gained. 

An enormous thank you to the guests and their children for all the hard work and hospitality shown to us on the island and a special thank you to The Mustique Company and to Roger Pritchard for their kindness and support to Oppidan as we look to a budding partnership and future years together. 

Walter Kerr
Co-Founder & Director

This article is taken from the original article on The Mustique Company’s website.

Meet the Oppidan Team: Alex and Alice

Alex Hogg
Marketing Manager

Who was your mentor growing up? 

I played a lot of sport when I was growing up so there were many coaches that inspired me to be the best I could be, and my parents were also hugely influential. However in terms of a personal mentor; my Grandfather, despite not seeing me regularly, has always been heavily invested in my development as a person and has instilled in me some very important traits from a young age.            

What does mentoring mean to you?

A mentor to me is a role model, someone you respect and look up too, someone you aspire to be like, someone that you can approach with any problem you may have.

What piece of advice would you give to your younger self? 

Work hard at everything you do but don't forget to have fun, you will never have as much freedom as when you are younger so make the most of it! Oh, and learn an instrument - it's really cool when you're older!

Alex was educated at Notre Dame before going on to study Sports Marketing at Leeds Beckett University. He has worked in a number of marketing roles in professional sports clubs in England and Australia.

Alice Evans
Client Manager

Who was your mentor growing up? 

I definitely had more than one mentor growing up and they changed over time. Although I would say my parents have been the two most constant mentors throughout my life, I also have been lucky enough to have made very strong friendships over the years. I often go to my close friends for advice or a second opinion on a certain issue I face, and I am so grateful to know that they will always be willing to help me.

What does mentoring mean to you? 

The role of a mentor is incredibly broad and can cover anything from specific academic support to the building of pro-social skills in an invisible manner. A mentor is not a teacher or tutor, but rather a guiding figure who doesn't necessarily have to know you on an extremely personal level.

What piece of advice would you give to your younger self? 

Ask for more help when I felt I needed it. I definitely was the quiet pupil who didn't ask questions - being vocal in lessons is important (within reason!).

Alice was educated at The Study Wimbledon and Wycombe Abbey, before graduating from the University of St Andrews with a degree in Art History. She then completed a language course in Paris and worked as a private English tutor for children aged between 8 and 13.

The Lost Art of Handwriting in a Digital Age

Go to any lecture theatre in any university across the country and you’ll be greeted to a cacophonous buzz similar to a chorus of cicadas on a summer evening. It is, in fact a chorus of keyboard-tapping students furiously taking notes.

All but gone are the days when one might ask for a pen to make handwritten notes, now that the Cloud stoically guards the memos and musings from lectures, seminars and tutorials. Which seems contradictory, given research shows that those who make handwritten notes more frequently out-perform their keyboard-tapping counterparts.

Handwriting is not so much an art as a skill that engages many of the structures and circuits of the brain. It is of cognitive importance in developing working memory and fine motor skills. Studies have found that handwriting speed has direct positive correlation on selective attention, and therefore the practice of handwriting has far greater implications for the developing brain than a sense of surprise at getting off a thank you letter in time.

The importance of handwriting in a digital cannot be underestimated. Both the act of, the style and skill of writing by hand is depleting in frequency as the interaction with technology in schools increases. The nature of Artificial Intelligence will undoubtedly have an impact on the way that children’s education is shaped but we must continue to be mindful of the development of fine-motor skills and visual-motor performance that are honed as the child learns to hold a pencil, and create meaningful symbols with these tools etc. This is incomparable to the padding of the index finger on a screen, which has already been found to rewire basic cognitive patterns.

Perhaps one of the most important relationships to stem from handwriting is between creativity and deep learning. One must hold information in working memory for seconds longer than when writing - these seconds allow the brain to recount the information and begin to process greater memories. The advent of autocorrect has developed a reflexive laziness in the arena of spelling; it is of no help to a child to learn spellings through click-corrections. Within the context of school entrance exams, I wonder how comfortable children really are when it comes to hand-written tests?

To conclude, handwriting is as important a functional tool and basic skill, as it is an imperative to the foundational development of the human brain. Writing by hand enhances individual creativity, strengthens memory and allows the development of our fine-motor skills essential to the development of our brain.

Olivia Buckland,

Oppidan Education Partnership & Schools Manager

Mindfulness in Education: Oppidan Mentoring

Mindfulness in Education

The Building Block to a Happier Future

We were delighted to welcome Regina Zheng, a certified Mental Health Therapist & healthcare technology startup founder, to present to our mentors the strategies within mindfulness that she has developed as an Oppidan Mentor. The discussion centred on working with students in high-stress and high-pressure environments and we analysed in depth the importance of mindfulness as a concept within education and from there, the best approaches on how to incorporate mindfulness to within current mentoring relationships.

Children are increasingly worried about performance. They are highly aware of targets and ‘hoops’ they are expected to jump through. As educators, it is imperative to be aware and notice how this behaviour is displayed and how it manifests itself.

Regina argued that if students’ emotional needs are not met, then it is difficult for them to learn and to progress. Mindfulness, she says, is a tool that can help students explore both the cause of anxiety and aid in its reduction. Satisfying the need to express and let go of what is felt allows students to refocus and absorb new information better.

Regina’s main argument centred on the idea that society has deviated from the optimal state in which students are able to academically perform at their best. Many students are both over scheduled and over committed. It is important to teach mindfulness because the brain is a muscle that can be trained for optimal performance. However, when we rigorously academically  train it while negating other aspects, results will be lackluster. She quoted Bill Gates who poignantly describes his mindfulness practice as “learning how to pay attention to the thoughts in [his] head, [while establishing enough] distance from them to calm down.”

Scientific research findings support the assertion that mindfulness improves focus, reduces stress and boosts memory retention. Mindfulness is an important skill for mentor-mentee relationships, because it satisfies an emotional need that acts as a building block towards both higher academic performance and general wellness.

As educators at Oppidan, this approach is not simply paying lip service to a trendy new-age approach to pedagogy. This is the anchor for fundamental change and a cause for real development in the happiness and welfare of children.

Extremities At The Extremes: Nat-Geo Explorer @ Oppidan Event

Dr Stephanie Payne

Extremities At The Extremes: The Science Of Temperature

Friday 22nd March 5:30pm Holland Park

Ahead of her next adventure driving the length of Africa, Nat-Geo Explorer Dr Stephanie Payne (Cantab) will be bringing her cutting edge research to life exclusively for Oppidan.

She spent months on Everest, living with Nepali families and Sherpas to understand how the human body adapts and evolves to extreme temperature… she then brought her findings back to Cambridge and worked with International Rowing Squads, taking her research to the next level with a totally different breed of human!

Steph has spoken all over the world, interviewed on every major news channel and publication – bringing some of the world class technology with her for a truly interactive workshop, this is going to be one spine-tinglingly exciting event you do not want to miss!”



An Oppidan Event: Conspiracy Theories in the 20th Century

This article is written by Oskar Schortz, a History Teacher currently at Rugby School, who ran The Conspiracy Theories Event for Oppidan on Friday 8th May.

‘When fairytales do come true’

Conspiracy theories are supposed to be a thing of the past. They are theories and opinions from the fringes of society that explain big historical events in colourful and inventive ways. The Moon Landing was fake, the world is flat, aliens have landed, the lizards have taken over – surely we can’t be duped into these whacky theories in the 21st century?! 

Well in recent years, conspiracy theories have been found to be on the up. Fuelled by a wide range of dubious news sites online, and creative uses of photoshop and video editing, the internet has provided a new home for like-minded groups.

By looking back into history, the presence of conspiracy theories should not surprise us. Conspiracy theories have been around as long as people have been recording decisions and events. And what’s even more worrying when we look at history – many conspiracy theories have actually worked!

Looking at the big three totalitarian dictatorships of the 20th century of Russia, Germany and China – the leadership of all three were able to take absolute power through the use of some rather suspect political theories. Russians were convinced that a ‘Mad Monk’ called Rasputin was taking over Russia from inside Tsar Nicholas II’s court; Germans believed Nazi ideas about being ‘stabbed in the back’ by Jews, Communists and politicians; and Chinese fear was fuelled by rumours of both an internal takeover of the country as well as dangerous foreign influences.

 Interestingly all three dictators (Hitler, Stalin and Mao) not only used conspiracy theories to great effect to achieve power but continued to spread them once their power was firmly established – as a way to help cement their strong positions.

This all seems far off from conspiracy theories that appear in popular culture nowadays, but a series of more sinister theories have been circling in the aftermath of the Brexit and Trump votes. Almost half (47%) of Trump votes believe global warming is a hoax, and according to a 2018 Cambridge university study, 60% of Britons believe in at least one conspiracy theory. This spells danger for democracy across the world because if a ruler can achieve power through the spreading of lies – doesn’t this make the whole voting process irrelevant?

From whacky explanations to meticulously described motives and connections – conspiracy theories have the power to enchant and entertain. But one thing is for sure, they aren’t going away anytime soon…

The Oppidan Young Leaders Programme

The Young Leaders Programme: Work placements on camps and in our offices for Oppidan Mentees.

Making our students part of our future.

Tilly Cripwell: Oppidan’s First Young Leader

February 2019

Having spent most of my time at previous work experiences with nothing to do (but being too scared to question this) coming to work with Oppidan was refreshingly satisfying. I feel like I have come away with a huge deal more insight into the working world than I would normally expect from a week’s work experience.

I found that I did not once get bored, due to the variety in my week, and the amount of thought put into the tasks I was given. Each day, I was taken to the lobby to talk with a different member of the business about their role.

 After this, they would give me a task related to their role in the company. For example, Alex, the Marketing Manager, had me create a campaign for the Oppidan Camps, which represented an example of what would usually be sent to clients who had previously sent their children to an Oppidan Camp.

 Flick, the business’ Events Manager, had me research some journalists the company could contact in order to gain publicity for the various Oppidan events. Aside from these tasks, I also got the chance to sit in on interviews with potential mentors and camp leaders, witness brainstorming sessions and company meetings, and present my ideas to some of the Oppidan employees.

The overarching project for my week was the introduction of the Young Leaders Programme. Being 17 years old myself, the project was very relevant, therefore I found it easy and interesting coming up with ideas for this, and thinking of certain concepts the programme should entail. I was given the task of thinking of ideas for this new programme, and organising them into a formulated presentation. Parts of my presentation included brainstorming the value of this programme, how to market it, what its purposes would be, the target audience and the finances. On my last day with Oppidan, I presented my ideas to Walter, and he gave me constructive praise and criticism on the format of my presentation, the ideas I proposed and how the business may go on to use my proposal.

 I have found this week invaluable regarding the running of a business, how the working world works (especially within the education sector) and the individual values of each job role in a business. My learning about the company has been optimised by means of my always being busy and being taught new things. It was also very useful to be able to experience the office dynamics and formalities, as they are great examples of those current in the working world today, and those I may experience when I enter the working world.

Tilly Cripwell

Friday February 22nd 2019

The Changing Nature of Senior-School Interviews

“Interviews are now conversations, not interrogations.”


Oppidan’s work in schools in February included about 700 one-on-one interviews. That’s roughly the same number of interviews Eton carries out each year.

Differentiating between that number of candidates, we have learnt, rests upon the very smallest of margins. More on that, later.

 The interviews that boys take aged 10 or 11 have, at Eton for example, historically been run by teachers; academically focused, they challenged boys to think rationally and to reason logically. The interviewer would look for specificity on the subjects a boy liked, detail on what a boy had so far achieved, and context to what they wanted to achieve on arrival. Ultimately, to quote an Eton schoolmaster, they were looking for “a fizz for learning.”

 Questions involved Current Affairs:

         “What has recently interested you in the news?”

Question involvedBooks:

         “Do you prefer non-fiction or fiction?”

Questions involved Academic Rigour:

         “What would happen if clouds didn’t exist?”

 Given the noted increase in anxiety (in both parents and children) caused by over preparation for the interviews, I believe a shift in philosophy has started to take place within the interview process for senior-school places.

For a start, housemasters alone now run the Eton interviews. Less geared towards proving what you know academically, the interviews now focus on the contributing factor you will be to your house. What can you offer away from the classroom and why is the boarding element so much an attraction to you?

 Questions might involve Family Life:

         “What do you think of your role as the youngest in the family?”

Questions might involve Extracurricular Activities:

         “What would you do on a free Sunday at home?”

This softer approach to interviews has universal appeal. Interviews for Winchester College, for example, really focus on getting to know the candidate: boys are asked to analyse poems (The Castle by Edwin Muir) and paintings (Van Gogh’s Chair), real care is taken to get to know the child’s family too (parents sit in for some of the session) and the interviews are long enough to allow a boy the time to warm up and to express himself.

At Wellington College, the process is even more participatory. From drama workshops (acting out improvised Blitz evacuees) to team-building workshops involving bamboo sticks, group maths problems to Dr Hook’s Theory of the Elastic Band, the children are assessed by both teachers and by current students. The day is, I believe, a mark of how school assessments can be positive experiences for young people.

These examples of progressive interviews do not standalone. The Consortium Group of Girls’ Schools in London have changed their assessment process to include a longer, more varied interview process, whilst up and down the country, senior schools that interview for places are appeasing the need to over prepare by a stronger focus on school reports.

Which perhaps seems contradictory given the large volume of work Oppidan does on preparing children for senior schools.

 The effect of Oppidan’s interview sessions work though, both in and outside of school, is seen in the focus we put on engaging a child to feel enthused about the process – in giving a child the confidence to say what they want and what they feel and in the familiarity of talking to somebody they don’t know. By combining the changing nature of these interviews with the softer, more rounded approach we take on preparation, the interview process can finally be something for children to look forward to.

To the acknowledgement of schools and the benefit of both children and parents alike, interviews are now conversations, not interrogations.

Walter Kerr



The Magic Formula for Moulding Champions

“You can take direct credit in the correction of his perception about what he is capable of academically. This will be life-changing for him.”


Described by The Telegraph as “the man with the magic formula for moulding champions” and a winning coach of a Wimbledon Tennis Grand-Slam, Richard de Souza – the inspiration behind the D7 philosophy we use in our mentoring - kicked off Oppidan’s mentoring workshops this January with two lively discussions on how best we can incorporate the D7 into our one-on-one teaching.

Using the same methods we implement in our teaching, Richard has quite the track record. He coached Jonny Marry to Wimbledon Champion in 2012 , took the former British No.2 Anne Keothavong to the brink against Venus Williams and is currently working with Evan Hoyt.

The importance of technical skills is obvious in many professions, sports or hobbies. You simply need to be able to hit a forehand to be good at tennis, formulate clarity in a meeting to be good at business, or know why a metaphor doesn’t use like or as to be a competent English writer. The importance of technical teaching should not be dismissed; after all, the grasp of technical subject matter is often attributed to the rate of progress that students see in improved scores through lessons or exams.

 What is often missed out, however, whether in the sphere of business, sport or in our case, teaching, is the mental capabilities surrounding how children learn and how they feel mentally about their education.

Unless there is a desire to learn, progress can never be fulfilled. Unless a degree of focus is apparent, a game plan showing how a child is going to improve is clear, or resilience is taught to help foster a growth mindset, then you can do all the technical teaching you want, all the percentages and the similes you can muster, but there will simply be no long-term improvement made at all.

It’s why children who seem to be making progress in tutoring sessions in fact quite often do badly in exams. Parent’s cognitive dissonance suggests that “they just always do badly in exams” as if it’s black and white and can’t be changed. The reality is that there has been no or little focus on the mental capabilities they have, and under pressurised scenarios, the technical teaching goes out the window and they fall down – time and time again.

The D7 is the formula to structure sessions and contextualise feedback to children; it creates an awareness of the extent of a child’s capabilities and makes sure that when the mentor is not in the room, the child has the tools to go about improving on his or her own. It fuels independence, a stronger sense of identity and an ownership to their learning. The system provides an opportunity for students to discuss their thoughts and feelings with regards to their education. This opportunity encourages involvement and allows mental clarity to form a clear game plan to help improve. Starting with a desire statement  - a clear admission of what you want to achieve – it visualises the aim of the mentoring sessions, clarifies the child and the mentor’s intentions and crucially allows the child to take ownership of the sessions.

The Oppidan Mentor combines both the horse and the cart. Once the mental qualities are in place, the technical teaching will then flourish.

Marina Oswald: Oppidan Client Manager


Meet the Oppidan Team: Olivia, Felicity and Marina

Aligning ourselves with the US’ Mentoring Month, alongside our own campaign ‘We All Need A Mentor’ we wanted to introduce you to the Oppidan Team, asking them about their own mentoring experiences. This week, meet the Managers:

Olivia Buckland
Partnership Manager

Who was your mentor growing up? 

Aside from my parents, my rowing coach. I grew up on the water. He taught me not to be afraid of making mistakes, nor to beat myself up when trials, tests, or races didn’t go the way I’d hoped. I learnt that being part of a supportive team was better than existing in a fractured boat with people who didn’t care about the others on the same journey.                

What does mentoring mean to you?

Having someone on your team who is invested in your whole person, not a single goal. Comparison is the thief of joy - and sometimes you need a co-navigator to help steer the path that one can lose sight of in times of stress or disappointment. A mentor means you’re not singularly invested in your goals. 

What piece of advice would you give to your younger self? 

Enjoy learning - it’ll make school, tests, and life so much easier. Try this approach and be amazed. Your recall will be better if you put less pressure on yourself to perform for other people’s expectations. 

Olivia graduated from Cambridge University (English & Education) in 2018 and joined Oppidan in December. Olivia is Oppidan’s Partnership Manager and in charge of school and commercial partners.

Felicity McDonald
Events Manager

Who was your mentor growing up? 

My mentors came in the form of my performing arts teachers. Whether this was my dance teacher, singing coach or drama teachers, they guided me through some of the complexities of growing up as a teenage girl. I look back now and am truly grateful for the support they offered me throughout those years. 

What does mentoring mean to you? 

It was never formalised for me in a sense that I had an out-and-out mentor; some of the best mentoring I think can comes from friends. Mentoring, for me, is about having someone beside you who is not judgemental and helps your learn and grow. This comes in all shapes and sizes. 

What piece of advice would you give to your younger self? 

Live in the moment, worry less about self-image and enjoy your childhood (you only get one!)

Felicity was educated at Mayfield Girls School before studying Sociology at Bristol University. She has previously worked in Event and Marketing capacities in the financial industry.

Marina Oswald
Client Manager

Who was your mentor growing up?

I was lucky enough to have a number of mentors who supported me in different ways as I was growing up; godparents, family members, teachers. I still consider many of these people to be my mentors to this day, I am constantly inspired by them, they continue to help and support me to grow and reach my goals.

What does mentoring mean to you?

The role of a mentor is versatile and ever changing. To me mentoring means growth, ambition and support.

What piece of advice would you give to your younger self?

On occasion I have been told a question I have asked is not relevant or 'silly', and unfortunately I allowed this to put a stop to my interest in a subject and feel as though it wasn't worth speaking up. One of the most important pieces of advice I would give to myself is - cultivate your curiosity and never stop asking questions.

Marina was educated at Moor Park and then Stowe School. She had worked in Public Relations for four years, focusing on the lifestyle and hospitality sectors before joining Oppidan Education.

Meet the Oppidan Team: Henry and Walter

Aligning ourselves with the US’ Mentoring Month, alongside our own campaign ‘We All Need A Mentor’ we wanted to introduce you to the Oppidan Team, asking them about their own mentoring experiences. This week, meet the Directors:

Henry Faber
Director and Founder

Who was your mentor growing up? 

I had no idea I had one, but my dad was probably the closest thing. He spent time painstakingly adjusting my golf swing, my forward drive and my knowledge of all things Chelsea Football Club. There's no doubt I would have benefitted from someone to have a direct line to and to vent some of the things I was thinking about. 

What does mentoring mean to you? 

Mentoring for me is the chance to look up to someone, rely on them, question them and be questioned by them. It is the safe space for a young person to be shown a route or a skill that they might not otherwise know how to embrace. 

What piece of advice would you give to your younger self? 

Not to fear not being the best at something. When there's something there to try or experience, go for it, even if you might not be the best or look good along the way! 

Walter Kerr
Director and Founder

Who was your mentor growing up? 

I didn't have a formal mentor growing up which is I suppose is part of the reason why Henry and I started Oppidan. As a child you respond well to, and take advice from, certain people around you whether that be family friends or schoolmasters as a relationship develops and a degree of trust is formed. This was certainly true of my childhood. Much of the direction and many of the decisions I took growing up were trial and error, though I was and still am fortunate to have an extremely close-knit family that provides advice and support when needed. 

What does mentoring mean to you? 

Mentoring is a fairly new concept in education and one that needs constant exploration and discussion as how best to formalise what is sometimes wrongly seen as a nebulous concept. To me, it's a crook on which to lean, a platform to ask questions and direction, and an impartial source of support free from the subjective views of prior engagement.

What piece of advice would you give to your younger self? 

Take ownership of your education. You only get one go at it. 

Oppidan Education was founded in early 2016 to support schools, parents and children through one-on-one mentoring programmes and camps. Frustrated by shortcomings in the tuition sector, Oppidan was set up to tackle the pressurised, anxiety-driven education market in the U.K. The result has been the creation of mentoring in education as the new and improved form of one-on-one support for children.

Bilingual Confidence: A Double-Edged Sword

“The plasticity of the human brain has unlimited potential… but it is the propensity to consume knowledge which must be guided to [manifest] a positive approach to one’s education.”

 “Into the face of the young man who sat on the terrace of the Hotel Magnifique at Cannes there had crept a look of furtive shame, the shifty, hangdog look which announces that an Englishman is about to talk French.” “The strain was too great. Monty relapsed into his native tongue.” (P.G. Wodehouse, The Luck of the Bodkins)

 Feel familiar? The awkward pause before you reply to internally check you’ve chosen the correct verb; the clammy palms denunciating your accent and intonation, all but confusing your conversation partner leaving you feeling lost in translation? P.G. Wodehouse perfectly captures the feeling of an [impending] language barrier. Now imagine you are also trying to navigate the learning of a myriad of facts, figures, and friendships whilst translating languages being spoken and received on the path to fluency.

 Language is necessary for basic human interaction whether it’s spoken, signed or written. The emergence of language learning stems from a “complex interplay of neural, cognitive and social factors that have evolved over time”. The neural elements develop until the child has a range of words to use and can continue adding to their lexicon. Whilst this proves complex within single language schemas, it is not impossible for the brain to learn multiple languages. Depending on the intensity and when this occurs, the brain shows tendency to prioritize the linguistic development ahead of the acquisition of additional algorithm learning such as mathematics. This is a prime example of the Piagetian description of the child actively navigating their individual course of development.

 To ensure optimal performance in development, the individual brain requires order; thus a system of retrieval likened to one of a good filing system is created to ensure swift memory recall. However as the brain is growing, and learning how to file, the system may slow down. The brain is hyper-active at this stage (childhood), with thousands of synapses firing signals and connecting with each-other. As such it is important that the child is supported in one language which they can master, or in which they can become fluent Additional languages can be laterally consumed and learnt by a young child, but as they now have to navigate a more complex filing system, they must be exposed to patience and care as the second linguistic layer is added to the mix.

A child fluent in more than one language at a young age employs immense cognitive processing. In fact, studies have highlighted that as the multilingual child ages there are stronger attention and task-switching capacities than the monolingual brain. The side effects to a child who learns more than one language are evident though. There is only so much that can go through the fibre-optics cable in the house. Analogically, the whole house is using the wifi and it slows down. The multilingual child may experience periods of lower-than-expected performance in certain subjects, or demonstrate difficulty in subjects such as mathematics, which require logical processing. This can be worrying for parents - but in the case of multi-language speakers one must remember that there is a propensity for a child to be processing a greater amount of information. It is imperative that children have support structures in place to allow them to feel confident to use their languages, freeing up cognitive tension, which slows alternative processing.

 Mentors can be of immense help when it comes to working alongside the child to actively navigate a course of development - if they’re learning a language, the algorithm centres of the brain are switched on and likely to perform well mathematically as they grow older. Whilst there is no denying that a conscientious approach to studying often leads to success, as with life there is a limit. Mentors work with their mentee to develop a game or progress plan to help cultivate the child’s ambitions in a positive direction. The plasticity of the human brain has unlimited potential capacity, but it is the propensity to consume knowledge which must be guided to become that of a positive approach to one’s education. 

By Olivia Buckland

Olivia graduated from Cambridge University (English & Education) in 2018 and joined Oppidan in December. Olivia is Oppidan’s Partnership Manager and in charge of school and commercial partners.

Dealing with Maths Anxiety: How to Improve Performance in Maths

Dealing with Maths Anxiety: How to Improve Performance in Maths

…the relationship between anxiety and performance needs to be nurtured from a child’s early years, not kept a secret to be unveiled on an unassuming parent….”

Maths – an unavoidable, essential component of the world and our daily lives.

 I was mortified to be told at a Parents’ Evening ten years ago by an unenthusiastic maths teacher (in front of my horrified parents), that I was “number blind with whom there is very little hope”… Not the vote of confidence one would recommend for a 4th form student on the eve of their mock GCSEs. With almost immediate effect I was moved into a different class and engaged the support of a mentor. He lifted the numbers and equations straight off the page and into a mode that I could visualise and understand. Maths became beautiful and, as my engagement with the subject evolved, so did my performance.

It is now clear that maths anxiety (MA) had previously taken hold, and I was preventing myself from engaging with the subject at a deeper level. Maths anxiety is defined as a feeling of anxiety or tension, which occurs directly in response to solving maths problems and manipulating numbers in academic settings or in everyday life. It differs from test anxiety, although the two have been shown to correlate. MA may manifest itself at a relatively young age, as early as primary school, and shows gender differences, with girls typically being more anxious than boys. MA may be independent of maths ability – in other words, it is possible to be good at maths and still experience MA; however, MA and performance have been shown to be related, in that high levels of anxiety typically correlate with poor maths performance and an avoidance of maths.

One of the major questions surrounding the phenomenon of MA is of the direction of causation. Do high levels of anxiety cause poor performance, or is it the other way around? Determining the nature of this relationship is difficult; although researchers generally agree about the effects of MA on performance, less is known about the causes of MA. It has been proposed that this is a circular relationship, with poor performance and anxiety feeding into each other; some researchers theorise that lack of ability might be the major cause of MA, whilst others argue that the direction of causation runs the other way.  As such, an individual’s belief about their maths ability has great affect on their performance.

 It’s likely that this results in avoidance and lack of [desire to] practice, which in turn reduces performance in maths. High levels of anxiety also reduce working memory capacity in individuals who are asked to solve maths problems that they consider difficult. On easy tasks, which involve simple retrieval (e.g. knowing that 2+3=5), subjects with high anxiety perform as well as those with low anxiety. However, in non-retrieval considered more difficult that require complex cognitive processes, they are impaired. The growth versus fixed mindset approach has been well documented and the differences couldn’t be truer with maths anxiety.

 Maths anxiety and maths performance are certainly related, with all available research showing correlations between the two. There is increasing evidence showing how performance can intercede MA, to such a degree that a bi-directional relationship to maths must be recognised before any improvement can take place. This relationship between anxiety and performance needs therefore to be nurtured from a child’s early years, not kept a secret to be unveiled on an unassuming parents’ evening, or even swept under the carpet in the hope that hours of tuition will help mediate any anxiety.

 As MA and maths performance show evidence of a causal link in both directions, the relationship can be described as circular. It is therefore invaluable for a child with demonstrative MA to positively restructure and rebuild their self-image in the arena of mathematics, to one of capability and genuine enjoyment of the subject. In doing so, the circularity of perception and performance has the potential to be positively affected. This child-centric approach is one of the focused methods by which an Oppidan Mentor will realign the relationship between the self and academia.

 Once the gorge of geometry is crossed, and when one feels comfortable in the arena of algebra, the cosmos of calculus opens up; the World is one’s oyster – unlocked and ready to be discovered.

By Olivia Buckland

Olivia graduated from Cambridge University (English & Education) in 2018 and joined Oppidan in December. Olivia is Oppidan’s Partnership Manager and in charge of school and commercial partners.

Finding the best mentor for your child: How Oppidan hires the A Team

Since its inception within the shadow education system, tutoring has, for the most parts, held a pejorative reputation. Parents do not readily admit to having a tutor, whilst schools and agencies do not historically get along. This is in part due to the personnel companies employ. The majority of tutoring companies comprise of university undergraduates looking for a quick buck, and recent graduates who’ve just left home; seeking purpose whilst they find a “proper job”, they turn to tutoring as short-term, low-commitment and high-reward work.

This is of course not the case with all tutors and one company in particular, Keystone Tutors, has done, and continues to do, a fantastic job at professionalising the industry. Crucially though, parents remain concerned by the quality of experience across the sector and the risk of putting faith in somebody with little or no stake in the game.

How, therefore, are we able to negate this worry? Within the context of its team of mentors, what does Oppidan look for and importantly, how do we hire a team that we know will be worthy of the trust parents put in us?

At Oppidan we’re fortunate to have a steady stream of applications to join our team, all of whom are as interesting and diverse as the next. My humble opinion supposes our mentors to be some of the most intelligent and gifted people of our generation. Quite why we’re able to attract a broad church isn’t totally clear, but we believe part of the answer lies within our approach to education; those in the liberal arts and entrepreneurially-minded young professionals are drawn by the wider scope they have to their teaching and the focus on the soft skills associated with more broad-minded concepts we promote.

They are the foundation of our team and provide an attractive team to mentor and look after children. Critically, the team isn’t going anywhere; our mentors are recruited for the long-term - their desire for developing a child’s virtues not merely a passing phase, but their foremost personal goal.  

Our hiring policy starts therefore with commitment. As any parent, coach or teacher knows, mentorship will only deliver the desired result if the relationship between mentor and mentee is sustained over a meaningful period of time. However, commitment only takes you so far. This may be a prerequisite, but a guarantee of availability doesn’t set one team apart from another team. So what else do we look for?

Personality over profession was our original mantra. We hired on the basis of empathy, of efficiency and on the ability to communicate. We thought that enthusiasm, creativity and originality in a one-on-one setting outweighed the respective qualities of a teacher in a big classroom. We believed that children would far rather engage with somebody who wasn’t in education; they’d prefer to spend time with a “role model,” “impartial elder sibling” or somebody removed from pedagogy. This is true and all well and good, and these remain characteristics we look for. After all, children respect young people who’ve recently gone through their own education, with whom they can empathise. But whilst these qualities are important, in reality this isn’t enough.

Because this is where the current tutoring industry sits – a comfortable duality between commitment and experience. We believe parents should have higher expectations.

The answer to hiring a good team rests on something far greater. It goes beyond the remit of experience, of creativity or enthusiasm. We believe a good team is more that just the sum of its parts. Whilst each mentor is in himself or herself wonderfully diverse and different, true value within a team is created through an unwavering, united philosophy they follow.

Today’s complex society necessitates that children’s educational development is holistic and guided by a cutting-edge and performance-driven methodology. This is our vision: to pair children with the best mentors to help them reach their full potential through the product: mentoring.

The benefit to this puts the customer at ease. The threat of short-termism is quashed. No longer should they worry about the “individuality of the tutor.” Because those who seek our services are assured that each mentor put forward to them has been recruited under the same methodological criteria and trained through the same high-quality programmes; they follow the same philosophy and they understand the role they are to play. No longer is a client matched to the role; they’re matched to the philosophy.

The philosophy recruits the mentors.

Unlike any other tuition service on the market, that’s what makes Oppidan different.  

11+ Pre-Test Interview Preparation

Oppidan’s Mentoring at Summer Fields

18th October 2018

With pre-tests a key fixture for Years 6 and 7, schools have adapted and improved their offering to make pre-test preparation a core part of the curriculum. While teachers are able to help familiarise their students with 11+ ISEB-style work, one area that is tricky to support is the interview.

With senior schools placing increasing emphasis on the interview and spoken group assessments, Oppidan’s mentoring support for schools over the last two years has allowed schools to successfully outsource their interview preparation.

This week took us to Summer Fields School in Oxford, a boarding prep school for boys aged 8-13. We spent the day with 60 boys in Year 6 and 7 helping to demystify the interview processes that they’ll experience within the next six months and to help contextualise what they are doing and why they are doing it.

On this basis, the aim was to give the boys the ability to engage with their prosocial skills and to help them understand better their own strengths and weaknesses. Any perceived ‘practice’ for interviews avoided coaching; rather, the focus remained on helping demonstrate a sense of self-worth and confidence. 

Interview Tips

The children performed admirably well and more importantly came away, we hope, we a renewed sense of purpose as to what the interviews are all about. Scary and intimidating they are not; rather a chance to show off why you are good, what you like and a chance for them to see the real boy or girl in front of them.

In terms of area to improve, there were 4 main trends we saw:

·      Detail – many of the boys found it difficult to articulate specific detail on what areas and aspects of things they like and dislike.

·      Strengths – many of the boys see themselves as limited to being good/bad at academic, sport, music or drama. They don’t yet see “resilience” “determination” or “loyalty” as strengths within their own right.

·      Schools – when talking about what schools they want to go to, they regale attributes of the schools you see in brochures, rather than noting what makes the school special to them, specifically.

·      Willingness to Engage – the mark of a good interview is being able to show an organic fizz for learning as well as a desire to get stuck into debate; to see the interview as a dialogue rather than a series of questions and answers. Few children were able to grasp the conversational nature the interviewer was looking for and fell down on pre-learnt answers.