The Changing Nature of Senior-School Interviews

“Interviews are now conversations, not interrogations.”


Oppidan’s work in schools this January 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.

The D7: Oppidan Education & a Wimbledon Champion

Mentoring exceeds tutoring.

Watch the video to find out why.

How many times have you heard your child say, “I’m bad at maths,” “I can’t revise,” “I freeze in exams”? The chances are, almost every day.

However much tuition a child gets, and I use the term tuition to describe technical, prescriptive exam help, this attitude will never change. They’ll remain frozen by the negative self image they have and they’ll forever think that being “good” or “bad” is something inherent. Their confidence and desire to learn will plateau; their technical ability may indeed improve, but there’s fundamentally a limit as to what they can achieve.

At Oppidan, we have the solution to this problem. Our mentoring provides the necessary change to the current binary approach of assessing children. By focusing on seven different areas within each lesson to help critically analyse where a child can improve, our mentors help your child throw off the fake self-image they have of themselves.

Oppidan mentors use the D7 as a resource to give structure and game plan to mentoring work. It allows the mentors to understand the dynamic of the student’s learning, offering a fresh form of gentle assessment for them to utilise. Over time, tracking the D7 realises tangible progressive results.

We have partnered with Richard de Souza, a sports psychologist and the creator of the D7 whose approach has led to winning a Wimbledon Grand Slam tennis championship. Together with Richard, we train our mentors to appreciate the nuances of each child’s learning and to follow the same techniques to allow for the same success that he has had.

Oppidan’s educational mentoring is an objectively unique product within the market and an approach, we believe, that is the future of one-on-one teaching.

Current Affairs: The Oppidan Way

Current Affairs: The Oppidan Way

As a child, I would often fancifully picture my adult self reading the morning newspaper and drinking a strong black coffee. There can be little doubt that a cup of coffee is an essentially adult image; regrettably, the same is largely true of the newspaper. 

It’s all too easy to communicate to children that politics belongs only to the adult world. Accordingly, a child will often accept from a very early age that their place in political discussion is that of a privileged outsider. As a mentor, I notice repeatedly that children are intimidated by political discussion, and I believe that this is largely a result of an unnecessary adult-ising of politics.

We’ve decided to launch a series of current affairs workshops to combat this problem.

Engagement with current affairs is becoming increasingly important within education. As the school entrance process at 11+ and 13+ is slowly revolutionised and leading schools move away from traditional exam-driven modes of examination, Oppidan’s emphasis on the roundedness of a child’s education grows more and more relevant by the year. Political stories are often used as a launch pad for discussion in interviews, but for many children this serves to reinforce the adult-child interview dynamic and makes them hesitant to think and speak freely.

We all perform at our best in interviews when we feel respected as an equal, but the problems outlined above often make this much less likely for a child who is confronted with a political topic in a school interview. As the school years tumble into the Sixth Form, a wider awareness of political issues is overtly rewarded in many humanities subjects – and the increasing emphasis on independent study, as enshrined in the mission statements of the increasingly popular Pre-U and the Extended Project Qualification, has cemented this more deeply. In short, children who can engage with current affairs and political issues with humble curiosity and confidence are rewarded in abundance. 

There is compelling evidence that increased understanding of current affairs correlates with increased academic performance across the full range of subjects. That is, even when allowing for similarities in educational and socio-economic background, there seems to be an indirect relationship between engagement with current affairs and broader academic performance that sees increased performance even in seemingly unrelated subjects such as maths!

The fundamental aim of a parent, so goes the adage, is to make themselves redundant. I try to order my mentoring according to the same maxim, and a core part of the joy of working with Oppidan has been getting the chance to talk at length with Henry, Walter, and the team about the values and skills we should strive to leave our mentees with. ‘Humble curiosity, confidence, and adaptability’ can sometimes become something of a tag-line, but in the day-to-day work of a mentor it acts as a yardstick against which progress and value can be measured.

I’ve had the privilege of seeing several children grow in their understanding of political events and relationships over a number of years. At each turn, this engenders a level of humility and confidence that empowers them throughout their daily lives; and, as they grow older and their lives become increasingly complex, a social and intellectual adaptability shines through. These are nebulous terms, of course, but in practice they allow a child to take their learning beyond the classroom, to experience themselves as a member of the community, and to nourish themselves as life-long learners. After all, in the trenches of the adult world, the newspaper often represents our great daily opportunity to learn. 

Our workshops are structured to help children engage with the pressing importance of politics and to develop their analytical skills. We believe that through group engagement and the interactive nature of the workshops, we are taking a vital first step towards providing a platform for children to engage with political discussion as equals.

By Michael Slade, Oppidan Mentor & Speaker


Our first current affairs workshop will be on Tuesday January 16th at 5:30pm and arrives in time for a busy few weeks of school 11+ and 13+ interviews in the latter half of January. Accordingly, it is pitched at an appropriate standard for these age groups. The bedrock of the workshop’s content will be the week’s three central stories. We will be unpacking the importance and relevance of each story, and throughout we will be considering how different media coverage can alter our view of each story. Using a variety of media, the workshop will  act  variously as a lecture, a political discussion group, and political theatre. 

To book your ticket for the event at Second Home, Holland Park, please email  

We all need a mentor

We all need a mentor

We all need someone in our lives to help guide and direct us when the journey ahead seems unclear. Whether it’s a colleague or an old friend, help from outside the family has its value.  

That care helps motivate. It establishes game plan. It engenders cooperation. It inspires drive, clarity and builds self-esteem. Having somebody who makes it their business to nurture and care is vital for a child of any age, regardless of background or ability. Take the following cases and see if they resonate.

Emily is 10 and has her 11+ exams for the local school. She’s bright but feeling anxious and wants to make her parents proud. Sophie is 13 and quietly struggling in a big senior school. She misses the slower pace of life and the smaller year groups. Her mum doesn’t really understand. Tom is 16. He faces GCSEs but wants to drop out of school. He wants to spend his days playing hockey but can’t find the motivation to tackle his exams.

These young people are successful and bright. They may have supportive families, great teachers and loyal friends. But whatever their level, children are faced with both internal and external challenges and uncertainties.

We all need a mentor.

Sir Peter Bazalgette agrees. In ‘The Empathy Instinct,” he suggests that one-on-one support helps improve emotional intelligence with children. He argues it would be the mark of a “profoundly empathetic society” for this conditional to become an imperative. If everyone were able to talk freely with a trusted source of support, we would be far more willing to cooperate as a community.

The importance of one-on-one support for children is immeasurable. In his vision for a more empathetic future, Bazalgette argues for a culture in which “every young child gets the one-on-one nurture and stimulation they need to give them their own functioning empathy circuit.”

If we believe Bazalgette and indeed are able to create an environment that assesses and cultivates the emotional intelligence of every child, then this has exciting implications for the potential of the next generation.

How then do we create that environment for children? Is it possible to do that within a family dynamic? Can we rely on teachers to do this?

Is it possible for parents to inspire and encourage children without causing them added stress? Are parents able to be both the enforcer and the motivator? Some schools and parents may say ‘yes’ to this. In our experience, the majority will say ‘no’. The complexities of these diverse roles imbalance and frustrate many families.

Mentoring is the alternative. A mentor sits neatly between a school and a family. The concept of mentoring in the working world is nothing new. Law firms, sport teams, musicians and multinational companies all employ internal mentoring schemes to help juniors progress. And yet the role of the mentor in education is still to be fully understood.

Confidence is at the heart of a child’s development. Sports psychologist Richard de Souza identifies seven key areas in achieving high performance and confidence features centrally. A mentor’s impact is widespread: helping to reduce stress, to contextualise targets and to foster to a natural curiosity and a desire to learn. A mentor exposes a child to the outside world and helps to encourage organic motivation without unnecessary pressure.

A mentor mediates within a family to allow parents to focus on the positives of family life. With clear expectations and a disconnected impartiality, a mentor can bridge that difficult conversation that frightens even the bravest parent.

Children’s efforts in school are directly linked to their sense of self-worth; that is, that quiet belief in their own ability. A mentor is there to encourage their charge towards realistic goals, achieved through planning and perseverance.

A report for the Children’s Commissioner reviewed more than 350 mentoring programmes across the country. Though they inferred promising signs of positive change, they argued there was “no guarantee of mentoring’s effectiveness.” Nebulous concepts like mentoring shouldn’t necessarily have to be proven to be effective. You can’t measure the efficacy of something intangible through simple data; you simply have to have faith in a system that’s designed to nurture and support, in the right way and for the right reasons.

Amid the growth of the tuition sector and increasingly anxious young people, schools are turning away from prescriptive methods of assessment. The Consortium has moved towards a one-hour interview for entrance to senior schools while Wellington College have chosen to scrap high-stakes examinations at thirteen. This is a fantastic start. Professor of Psychology Carol Dweck suggests that “than an overemphasis on intellect or talent leaves people vulnerable to failure and fearful of change.”

If parents trust the great work schools are doing and are able to see the role of the mentor as something of genuine and necessary importance for children, then there’s every good reason to look forward to an empathetic education for emotional intelligence. 

By Walter and Henry

5 important skills to teach your children: By Oppidan Mentors

There is a theory that the current education system is geared too much towards a binary assessment of children. Too much weight is given to a child’s innate technical ability to understand and digest subject matter. Children are evaluated on the dual notion of good or bad.

At Oppidan, our aim is to implement a more holistic approach to how children are assessed. 

We believe teaching should focus on the intangible attributes that make up the real self-image of a child. This way, a path can be laid to help determine the best approach to take, individual to them and to their way of learning. Our mentoring philosophy provides, we hope, the much-needed change to help children tackle the current challenges they face. Our approach helps children feel empowered, independent and confident throughout their learning, 

I asked five of Oppidan’s mentors which skills they thought important to teach their children, away from the foundations of technical subject-specific tuition. 

1. Overcoming perfectionism

‘Children should try and distance themselves from what other people think. They should trust that all they need to do and worry about is doing their best. It is vital for children to know early on that mistakes are not only “ok” but also essential for their development.’

2. Building self-worth

‘Tutors often focus on the importance of confidence, particularly in interviews for pre-tests. This is a mistake; instead, tutors should help guide children to feel comfortable within their own talents and their own successes commensurate with their ability. Self-esteem is vital, not least, in presenting in front of one’s own peers.’

3. Being adaptable

The values on which we judge employability are in a state of perpetual change and children must be given the tools to adapt to these shifting expectations.’

4. Enjoying education

‘Children should aspire towards a humble curiosity in a wide array of subjects in order to value their education for the sake of education, not because “it is in the test”.’

5. Valuing empathy and cooperation

‘In our radically changing modern context, the ability to empathise with fellow students will be a defining factor in a child’s long-term success or failure. Tutors and mentors should help students learn to work as a team and to trust the abilities of others.’

Oppidan's Poet Laureate 2018

Douglas - Oppidan Camp ‘Poetry Laureate.' Easter Camp 2018


Many might think that this camp is just more work.

However really it is a big thump-on-the-knee.

Oppidan is just like doing art work.

With Dragon’s Den you can make your own company.

And with languages, history, poetry tests, capture the flag, human charades.

It is positive to make your last vocally cracking games probability like Ludo.

Oppidan is sure to make you explore the wonders of our adventurous brains.

Socially, rather than academic war and destroys our fears for our future aims.

Oppidan is a bulging chance to win. Never something you should consider and bin.

Douglas' Diary - The Evening Standard, April 2018

When I was told I was going to the Oppidan Camp, I thought it would be like school or having a tutor. It was not.

Take maths. We were taught by students who were the same age as us. This was good because they understood the way we think.  

The child teachers would write on a white board. We were encouraged to make suggestions for solving problems. What I liked is that we were in a relaxed environment. We sat on sofas. 

We managed to cover almost a whole year’s lessons in an hour — or at least that is what it felt like. What was exciting for me is I learnt all about pi, and measuring the diameter and circumference of circles.

In languages, it was impossible to hide our weaknesses. We stood up in a circle, and one of the tutors would ask us to translate Latin and French vocab. If we got it wrong, we would lose a life. And after we lost two lives, we would have to sit down.

It felt like a game.

Then we were put into teams of three people. We were lucky that a boy in my team was bilingual in French. Each was given a Latin or French word. We had to write down all the declensions. The first team to finish got a point. My team came second. 

In public speaking, we were told to research whether social media had a good or bad impact on the world. I think that social media is negative, but I had to argue the positive side of it.  

One of my team did the introduction to the debate. I did the middle part: I made six points. Then it was an open debate, and we talked in a more relaxed way.

I learnt the important thing is to stay quiet and listen to what others are saying. Because then you can make an important point and win.

Outside, we did orienteering. There was an assault course where balloons filled with water were fired at us. Twice we played “Capture the flag”. I dodged all the teachers. The team I was on always won. And I captured more flags than anyone else.

The most enjoyable session of the week was Dragons’ Den. In my team of three, we spent the first hour inventing our business, making a plan, and designing a logo. 

Our idea was an app with recipes for how to use waste food. We were each given £300,000 to create our companies.

The mistake we made was we were too loud in criticising other businesses. We did manage to raise money from one of the Dragons. But we were told that we could not win the contest, because we were not respectful enough. 

We slept in tents. Before bed we roasted S’mores and told scary stories. I loved Camp Oppidan and want to go back.

D. Paisner

Easter Camp Review

An email from our mentor Charlie on the return leg of the bus journey home from our Easter Camp.

Dear Henry and Walter,

When you packed me off early on Tuesday morning with a bus load of teary, tiny terrors, the manner in which I return to London is highly surprising; a metamorphosis has taken place amongst the young adults as we now guide them back to their expectant parents. 

To a body, as they screech together in unison to some unpalatable pop song, there has been a huge change from the sniffling, shuffling and general downward gazing that came before. 

They are now imbued with confidence – not often in their lives have they had to, really had to, get out of their comfort zone and actually be involved. What a change it makes. 

Each of them is now aware of something special, their trump card. Very few are fortunate enough to learn that they can do ‘it’; that they can give ‘it’ a go, and they can fail, and it doesn’t matter one iota. Learning this the first step to becoming the person they will want to be. 

No one can grow up unless they are given the opportunity to. It has been a real pleasure to watch you all draw out those first steps from your charges this week.

I feel very privileged to have had the time to learn from your wonderful team this week. 

Thank you.

Charlie, Oppidan Mentor

Top Tips for US College & University Applications

Lots of people feel daunted by embarking on the US application process, but it can be immensely rewarding, and it’s not so intimidating when you get going. Having recently graduated from Stanford, I’ve written my top tips for ensuring your application is as stress free as possible.

1.     Start early – application deadlines can creep up very quickly, and often US applications can seem intimidating because there are a few different boxes to check. It’s particularly important, for example, to take the SAT/ACT exams in year 12.

 2.     Be true to yourself – it’s very easy to tell when an application is honest. There’s no point doing something just because you think it will look good – real passion is very self-evident and makes for the most compelling essays.

 3.     Don’t be afraid to be quirky – lots of universities are trying to ‘build a class’, which is to say that they’re looking for as many different types of student as possible. You never know, they might be absolutely desperate for someone with your passion for biomechanical engineering, or your juggling skills.

4.     Use all your opportunities – to make entry fair, universities don’t compare the achievements of their applicants directly, they look at what they did with the resources available to them. Someone who worked in their local shop to earn money to pay for their studies can be just as impressive as someone who climbed Mount Everest. Universities just want to know that you’ll use all the opportunities they will offer you.

5.     Ask for advice, but feel free to carve your own path – it can be great to listen to the experiences of people who have gone through the process, particularly because it’s a bit different to the UK system that most people know well. At the same time, remember that there’s no one right way to approach it, so follow your instincts.

 6.     Have faith in the admissions system – it sounds a bit trite, but universities are quite good at choosing students who will be well-suited to them. If you don’t make it into your dream school, it’s not a reflection of your merit, it just means there might be a better place for you to study and grow.

By Lucia Simpson, Oppidan 2018 Mentor & Stanford Graduate.

Tips from a Career in Mentoring

After more than three years working one-on-one with children, I have accumulated a set of notes that has helped me make this form of teaching as valuable as I had possibly hoped. No matter how short the course, the most important thing is the relationship. Spending time on this early on pays dividends, and makes it so much more enjoyable. Trust, I would say, is the most important part of a relationship; below are ways to make that come to fruition.

1.)   Encourage them to make mistakes, and make mistakes yourself (this shows that it is okay). Be self-deprecating from time to time; let them correct you and congratulate them for doing so.

2.)   Always leave time for reading. One of my favourite film directors gave this advice to young filmmakers: 'read, read, read, read, read. When you read, you beat the world'. Lead by example. Read to them with passion and expression. Raise your voice, be dramatic, lower your voice, and show sensitivity. Enjoy a measure of silliness.

3.)   Challenge students. Give them Shakespeare to read, without telling them it's Shakespeare. Help them memorise a poem. I spent one whole lesson on a short passage of Henry V. It was one of my most memorable and enjoyable lessons with a tutee who found English very hard, and rather boring.

4.)   Show them paintings you like, music you like, actors you like. You’ll enjoy it more, and they will as a result. Kids know when you're bored or excited. A certain degree of selfishness in this regard works wonders!

5.)   Write a long sentence, and have them cut as many words out as possible whilst retaining the same meaning. Follow George Orwell's 6 Rules for Writing.

6.)   Have short, sharp debates in writing. Which is better: football or rugby? Argue the opposite and argue your hardest. Give them two minutes to write, give yourself one minute. Show them your best, and model for them in the future.

7.)   Let them show you stuff they like. Turn it into an activity without them asking or realising (bring it up later on).

The more the sessions become a “partnership”, the better. Done well, one-on-one tuition has the ability to help engagement, increase self-worth and motivate a student to go above and beyond what is expected of them.

FW, Oppidan Mentor 2016-2018 

Beyond Story Mountains

Katherine Rundell, a fellow of All Souls, Oxford and the winner of this year’s Costa Children’s Book Award for the gloriously imaginative The Explorer, was recently asked in an interview why she writes for children rather than adults. “Children”, she announces, with the kind of breathless excitement that matches perfectly the narrative tone of her books, “are readers unlike any other kind”. She goes on to describe the inevitable moment during each of her book signings when a child will start relating to her in great detail their favourite scene. At this point, their eyes light up and they continue to run on with the story, adding events and characters that never existed in Rundell’s book at all, but are entirely of their own invention. “Kids make the books bigger”, she says, “they do half the work. It’s pretty remarkable”. 

It is a joy to read with a child. They feel stories in a way that I wish more adults could, taking ideas and pushing them into the most wonderful and unexpected regions. If a character is sad, they will cry out “oh no, poor them!”, or express outrage if another is cruel, or pause in reading to elaborate on the author’s depiction of a forest, building up the image with their own magical beasts and vibrant wildlife. It is the aspect of mentoring that gives me most pleasure; I sit back and let myself go with them, the world of the book opening up for me through their eyes.

The creative writing that school children must produce for exams is necessarily prescriptive. And yet, it still surprised me the first time I sat down with a student and asked them how they think one writes a story. I remember my own teachers instilling in me the notion that narratives are fluid, often refusing to conform to a fixed structure, but the child I was mentoring diligently drew out for me a “Story Mountain”. This, unfortunately, sounds far more interesting than it is. They continued by talking me through the necessary rising conflict, dramatic climax and declining tension that finally peters out into a neat conclusion, all of which corresponds to the slopes of the mountain. To me, this flat dissection of a story sounded more like a TV executive producer’s pitch for the next Netflix crime drama than a child experimenting with the short story form.

Of course, there are certain hoops that students must jump through in order to meet test rubric, but at times the language employed by examination bodies works to stifle imaginative thinking. This is, I think, where mentoring comes in. Having an hour or two uninterrupted to sit down one on one with a young person gives them the time to really engage with writing – as opposed to seeing it as another tedious box-ticking exercise. I had a student recently tell me, as we were writing a short story plan together, “Ok, I think I’m going to turn the story mountain upside down.” He turned the paper around and made it into a story valley, informing me that he would begin with a booming climax, then slow the narrative right down into a lingering mystery in the middle, before rising once more to end the story with a revelatory shock. In mentoring, you can take an enforced structure like the “story mountain” and tear it open so as to explore narrative from a completely new angle that enlivens and reinvigorates children’s understanding of storytelling.

Rundell’s language is some of the most original and unusual writing for children that I have read in years, and it has been a joy to discover her through mentoring. Once, after reading a particularly striking chapter of her book Rooftoppers, the eleven-year-old girl I was working with stopped and declared “the writer must have grown up in a wild jungle made of dictionaries”. Her writing teaches children that the English language can be wild and vibrant, that words can be tussled with and delighted in, and that the possibility for imaginative play within stories is limitless. There is one memory of my time as an Oppidan mentor that rings out as especially significant and gratifying. When helping a seven-year-old girl to get her head around similes, I told her “You can say anything is like anything”. “Not anything…” came the deeply suspicious response. But then we started trying together, and it turns out that an old man hunched over at a bus stop can be like a great grey vulture, the moaning voice of an aunt can slosh out like that brand of thick custard which always gets a disgusting rim on it, and time itself can resemble a fuzzy blue moment you can’t quite grab hold of. Creative writing should be seen as a powerful tool for young people, providing them with a voice and means of expressing themselves. Rundell is right when she says that children make books bigger; in my experience, their ways of seeing make things brighter too.

By Lamorna Ash