Oppidan's Poet Laureate 2018

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

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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

https://www.standard.co.uk/lifestyle/london-life/review-of-mentoring-school-a3815031.html

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

Digital Dystopia: "Living for Likes"

In an age when likes on an Instagram photo count for popularity, prestige and likeability, it seems apt to question the role of social media in the younger generations lives. A ‘like’ has superseded its function as a mere recognition of an attractive photograph to now signify a plethora of subliminal meanings.

It is widely known that humans seek approval and this is now disturbingly sought through intangible and simplistic ‘likes’ from other people. Further shocking is the scientific finding that our brains have learnt to actually release a hit of dopamine when we see those love hearts appear on our Instagram page. People have caught wind; the likes of politicians, scientists and health organisations have expressed their concerns about the ubiquitous nature of social media. So how and why are these effects so toxic?

Well what does a ‘like’ really mean? In is simplest form, a ‘like’ is a momentary click of a button to acknowledge a post of another person, whether this be on a beach somewhere exotic, or at a fancy restaurant. It is pleasing to the eye and therefore we ‘like’ it. The true toxic nature of this form of communication is how it is received. As the ‘like’ numbers increase, as do our endorphins and subsequently so does our self-worth. However, how often do people ‘like’ things on Instagram and not actually ‘like’ it? Semantics are distorted in the virtual world; a ‘like’ on Instagram, a lot of the time, is a fleeting double tap of the finger and then instantaneously forgotten about. Ultimately, our own sense of self-worth is dependent on other people’s momentary finger-tap.   

Considering that social media forums like Instagram are now an intrinsic part of children’s lives, the cause for concern has heightened. If children are learning to validate people through a screen, then perhaps it’s time to do something to change this misconception. Likes do not equal neither popularity nor worthiness, and yet teens are obsessed with the number of ‘likes’ on their photos. Given that humans are instinctively competitive creatures who compare themselves to others, a feeling of comparative ineptitude is an escapable problem.

So, what do humans do? We seek help and advice. Of course, the irony is that what causes teens so much angst also acts as a vehicle to promote good mental health and wellbeing. Instagram is flooded with self-help gurus whose advice manifests itself in meditation, healthy eating and yoga. However, this is where social media comes full circle, as teens resort to comparing themselves with this small percentage of women who do manage to stick to the tripartite mantra of well-being gurus, and consequently feel inadequate. 

The effects on the human brain are toxic, but even more so for those brains that are developing and maturing. What, therefore, is the solution?

We must be mindful. By being aware of the growing attachment to social media, we should learn to manage our digital lives and avoid becoming slaves to ‘likes’. Of course we must not blame ourselves or our children for the compulsive need to check Instagram daily, as these networks have been skillfully designed to keep us coming back for more. We must practice “digital detoxing” and teach the younger generation the importance of finding pleasures away from their screens. The positives of social media have been widely discussed and the ease of ability in connecting with others is self-evident. Despite this, we mustn’t allow it to infiltrate into our conscious minds and warp our perceptions of what self-worth means forever.

By Tilly St Aubyn

Life as an Oppidan mentor

I started as a mentor with Oppidan whilst completing law school in London. I needed a job that fitted alongside my studies, so flexibility was crucial, and Oppidan very much fitted the bill. I had actually been babysitting for an agency in London (their only male babysitter!) and, as much as this was a great experience, I soon realised that mentoring for Oppidan was a more time-efficient job which I found ultimately more rewarding. Since finishing law school in June 2017 and with my training contract with a City law firm starting in February 2018, I have begun mentoring more and more for Oppidan over the last 6 months. And I have loved every moment of it! Finding myself on a mentoring job in Florida for a week, sitting on the beach in 30-degree heat whilst London was freezing, actually made me think twice about swapping the impending long hours sat in a dark, gloomy City office for more experiences mentoring on a warm beach!  

So, what’s it like as a mentor for Oppidan? A few words spring to mind straight away: interesting, fun, different and, occasionally, inexplicably amazing.  

The first thing that struck me about Oppidan was that you’re called a mentor, not a tutor. Mention the ‘t’ word and you’ll receive a stern look and correction from anyone at Oppidan. Perhaps cynically I thought this seemed like a trivial marketing ploy, but once you speak to Walter and Henry (the passionate founders of Oppidan) you begin to realise that they’ve found a subtle, yet fundamental difference in education that highlights what can be wrong with one-on-one support for children.

You may ask yourself, what is the difference? Well, it’s a little bit like answering the question, what’s the difference between a manager and a leader? The best analogy I’d use is to imagine a group of 12 people pulling a big stone along a road. A manager sits on top of the stone and tells the group how and what to do. A leader will also tell the group how and what to do, but will do so whilst pulling from the front of the group, showing them how and guiding them towards their objective. In many ways, I feel this is the same with tutors and mentors: tutors teach, mentors teach by leading - a subtle yet incredibly powerful difference to a mentee.

I remember my favourite teachers at school were the ones I looked up to and could relate to – they were mentors, not just tutors. This has a massive effect on the children you mentor that has enormous long-term implications as they progress through their schooling.

Secondly, the team at Oppidan are fantastic. I had known both Walter and Henry before I started mentoring, so maybe I’m a little biased, but the passion they have for Oppidan and the services they provide, as well as education in general, is remarkable. They are both incredibly knowledgeable and two of the most naturally gifted mentors I’ve seen in action. However, the day-to-day point of contact at OE is the wonderful Tilly, who is always available to answer all questions and queries. As a team, from my experience, they are incredibly supportive to their mentors. They explain everything, from first meeting a new mentee, to model lesson plans, to how their charge out rates work.  

One thing that I really like is the fact that Oppidan don’t take advantage of the mentor by adding on large commission to the price they charge the client for your services. They keep a flat rate no matter what your rate is or how many hours you do. This means you can earn a fairer and generally higher rate compared to other agencies, who might have you on a lower rate as they have a higher fee. In my opinion, this is better for both the mentor and the client. They also get to know their mentors really well, asking about their styles of teaching, their personalities and interests, and their strengths and weaknesses. They then repeat a similar process when talking to Oppidan’s clients. This means they can then match a suitable mentor to each mentee, and this immediately makes the mentor’s job easier, and increases the chances of a really successful partnership going forward.

Finally, the opportunities Oppidan offers are incredible, both domestically and abroad. If you’ve got some free time during the school holidays, there are always some amazing jobs to exotic countries all over the world. I have been lucky enough to travel out to Florida with a great family in my time and, although I was carrying out some intensive mentoring, I had time off to explore the area and get the all-important winter tan. During the summer, I was able to work at one of Oppidan’s Summer EduCamps. It was the sort of camp I would have relished as a child; nothing like the ones run by senior schools or big organisations that I used to go to. There’s a focus on a child’s enjoyment and teaching vital life skills that will be beneficial to them as they go on with life, from good manners and proper etiquette, to how to cook and debate, to how to catch a water balloon from 50 metres away – the list is endless. The atmosphere on the minibus back to London after the camps says it all – laughter turns to a quiet murmur, then turns to silence, as everyone, including yours truly, falls off to sleep. The excitement and fun catches up with us all!

To sum up, working as a mentor at Oppidan has been a fantastic experience for me personally. It’s the perfect job for those looking for flexibility and working with children supports core values and principles that are applicable in pursuing other career paths. With the advantage of relative youth, as a mentor, I have been able to offer advice and direction to school children, away from the targets of school work, which I hope will have given them the structure and support they have needed to progress throughout their years at school. 

By Charlie Goodwin 

 

Mentoring under the Microscope

“I appreciate what Oppidan are doing, treating children like young adults, stimulating their learning whilst having fun. His confidence is through the roof as is his self-esteem and self worth – this is a godsend.”

Mr. Velez

August 2017

At the risk of self-promotion, this testimonial from an Oppidan parent encapsulates the breadth of education that mentoring allows.  The narrative of mentoring and the success it brings focuses on support, direction and guidance. It highlights the role of the mentor in promoting development and potential commensurate with a child’s ability. It advocates humble curiosity, confidence and adaptability as the soft skills associated with “slow education” at the expense of prescriptive target-based tuition. In turn, this helps foster independence at school and at home, and a sense of self-worth which goes some way to helping manage the stress for children and parents in pursuing academic challenges.

It is self-evident that the mark of a good mentor is the rapport they are able to nurture with a student. This should be obvious. If the student doesn’t trust or value the mentor, little progress is made. We often say that the difference between mentoring and tutoring is intrinsic: as the relationship develops, the shift happens organically and the mentor takes on a different role that transcends academia. Once the child is invested in you, the sky is the limit as to what can be achieved. You are as much a mentor in the enthusiasm and the personality you bring to the lesson as you are in the actual content of the lesson.

As already discussed, the ethos of mentoring stresses encouragement, empathy and creativity within learning: above all, a sense that learning is fun and to be taken advantage of. But how does that manifest itself within a lesson? This is a question Henry and I are often asked. “The narrative sounds wonderful but what will you do differently?”

Mentors differ in their approach to one-on-one teaching not only in the personality they exude within that lesson but also in the way they teach and the content and the creativity they bring to it. A child will more likely do well with a teacher they like, but there are also specific techniques that help engage and promote active learning. Through these, they take mentoring from a frilly add on to something tangible which produces results and practical progress.

1.)   Lessons must be student led: Too often tutors follow the same passive form of teacher-led teaching at schools. Instead, students of whatever age must be encouraged to take the initiative on what they want to learn and what they think would be beneficial to study.

2.)   “I teach, we teach, you teach:” Research shows that if a child has to teach the material they have learnt, the material is far better understood. A move from lecturing to discussion and then onto teaching ensures marked improvement and gives children the confidence to be able to tackle difficult material.

3.)   Active Learning:  Encourage movement during lessons. Whether that be through placing an exercise on each side of a table and moving around it completing each exercise, or simply taking the lesson outside, taking a lesson outside a classroom environment helps a child relax and feel at ease.

4.)   Focus on Self-Projection: Lessons should involve situations where children (and mentors) are asked to present, to speak about themselves, to debate, critique or question an article, passage or piece of literature. The Radio 4 game show “Just a Minute” is brilliant preparation for interviews as well as vital in learning to project.

5.)   Mentor - Child Performance Reviews Mentors and their charges should spend time focusing on how the other person is performing. A novel concept at first, barriers are broken down and it’s hugely rewarding for the child to take control of the lesson.

6.)   Demystifying the Comprehension: There is reason to suggest that the comprehension is the least popular task within the English syllabus. And rightly so – the concept is disconnected from what students take satisfaction from: real-life learning. A good tip is to practice comprehension skills on the book that child is reading – they’ll take far more interest in something they are already invested in.

7.)   Overcoming Perfectionism: Allow a child to be wrong. Often. Discussion on “thunks”, a collection of questions with no simple answers, helps children understand the process and train of thought and the need for clarity in explaining their reasoning.

8.)   Super-Curricula Studies: A brief from a parent to improve a child’s English or Maths should still involve aspects that go beyond what the curriculum dictates should be taught. 20-word summaries of books they have read, poetry analysis contextualised within what they are learning at school, art history or even situational thinking (working out the date of historical events based on clues you are given) help keep things fresh in otherwise often-dry subject matter.

9.)   Lesson-Analysis Oral plenary sessions at the end of a lesson help round off what has been learnt and negates any sense of confusion within the child. What has been learnt? What are the key points? How do you evaluate what has been learnt? How could you apply this knowledge?

These techniques are neither novel nor are they the only way to make a success of teaching one-on-one. But if in a small way, they help change expectations and make the child look forward to the lesson, then I would argue progress is being made.

By Walter Kerr 

How to Choose the Right Mentor

Children are wonderfully diverse and the way they learn best differs case by case.  As such, pairing each child with a mentor is a thoughtful and methodical process and one that requires diligence and sensitivity. The key is the fit: to find a mentor that works with your child as an impartial yet fully engaged part of their education. Once your child looks forward to their time spent with a mentor, the toughest barrier is broken and both independence and enjoyment can be found in their sessions together.

As client manager for Oppidan Education, I take the greatest care and responsibility in researching the best possible match for both the child and mentor. To do this, I find out important, fundamental details including similar personality traits, interests and hobbies, as well as looking at their respective schooling and whether that will be an added benefit to the child. The mentors we employ and those that work best with children have the requisite experience and the know-how with regards to specific teaching methods and curricula. More than this though, the match is personality based. I look for empathy, enthusiasm and their ability to engage a child fully in the process of learning.

A key element in choosing the right mentor for a child is to look at the way in which a child responds differently to male and female interaction. It’s often difficult for young boys to empathise with older girls and vice versa. With entrance procedures for co-ed schools, registrars look at how girls and boys interact for the first time at assessment day, and so for families applying to these schools, it is often in fact better to have a mentor of the opposite sex work with their child.

I establish how much the child needs motivating and encouraging; quite often one session with a mentor is enough to change their expectation or perspective of what is required of them.  A long chat on the phone or a meeting in person helps establish who best will work with your child, and once I have found the two most ideal mentors and subsequently discussed them with you, the choice is down to the client and it is on their lead that a plan is put in place. Very often trial sessions are a good way to figure out if the chemistry between the child and mentor is right.

A huge satisfaction in my job is watching the developments between a successful pairing take place. If the mentor is helping the child to be happy, fulfilled and achieving at their very best, we have done a good job. Whether working towards a tangible target such as passing Common Entrance, or perhaps focusing on the soft skills we associate with confidence and conviction, successful pairing can have a monumental influence on a child’s educational and personal development. Witnessing the all-round happy outcome it breeds gives me great satisfaction and motivates me further to help pioneer a different approach to one-on-one teaching.

By Tilly St Aubyn

Oppidan EduCamps 2017 – A Busy Summer

In July 2016, Walter and I sat down to discuss the thought of putting on a summer camp for some of the children we had worked with in London. We fondly remembered our own prep school days and happy memories of camping, both at home and on school trips. There is a sense of adventure and simplicity to those memories, to a time when little else mattered and great fun could be had without the need for modern or technological comforts. We had seen first hand how our mentoring ethos took roots in the outdoor setting of the Peligoni; a different set-up to our regular one-to-one tuition and mentoring work in London, but one that worked just as well. We put our heads together for how children could take advantage of their holiday time, to prepare for school tests and transitions, while having a great time and making new friends. The idea of the camps has been to subtly infuse each and every moment of the day with value-adding moments; to help children mature and learn while having fun. Just as our mentoring ethos dictates, a child’s education shouldn’t forget the soft skills that are in fact the hardest to pinpoint.

On this basis, we founded Oppidan Camps with one core principle: to take learning outside of the classroom. After two successful trial camps in 2016 that took place in Wiltshire and in France, 2017 brought ten ‘educamps’ and well over a hundred children to Oppidan’s various sites in Wiltshire, Berkshire and Hampshire.

The camps have taken on three forms: private camps at a client’s own home, school camps with us and finally our own camps with varied groups of children who often don’t know each other at all.

The menu has included a plethora of activities, many of which were simply things that Walter and I loved as children. Dragons Den business pitching, creative writing, maths on the tennis court, poetry and performance workshops, cooking, team sports and challenges, capture the flag, rocket building, tent pitching, lake swimming, fire building, BBQing, marshmallow toasting, ghost storytelling, German Spotlight and a sometimes slightly chilly night in one of our canvas bell tents. We have loved every minute and it’s been phenomenally rewarding to see such a positive response from the children too.

Though the scheduling and execution has almost seamlessly gone to plan, the camps involve a huge amount of work and we’re grateful to all those who have helped. Firstly, thank you to our parents, without whose support Oppidan would cease to exist. Thank you also to Tilly who has worked tirelessly in the office to take bookings and arrange the minutiae of each camp. To our mentors: a brilliant group of young and enthusiastic people who have entertained and inspired at every turn. And lastly, thanks to our chefs, who have slaved from 7am to 10pm to ensure that the best home-cooked food ends up on the table.

But what plans for 2018? We have big ideas to make Oppidan Camps a permanent feature on the summer calendar. We hope to offer Oppidan EduCamps throughout the summer with exciting additions to come.

By Henry Faber 

Five Reasons to Hire a Mentor

Tutoring is certainly subject to its fair share of misconceptions. In the most narrow of definitions, the tutoring market sees academic support as target-based, prescriptive teaching with utilitarian goals and short-term rewards. This is exemplified by the parent who employs the help of a tutor to bolster their child’s chances of passing an exam or assessment. For many, the proof is in the pudding. Testimonials for tutors often read, ‘let’s wait before we give our verdict’.

To judge one-on-one support in this way is fundamentally limiting. Tutors may indirectly improve a child’s chances to succeed in exams but rarely are they wholly responsible for the attainment of better grades. Schools and teachers are already doing a brilliant job in providing the support children require. They therefore neither need, nor seek to endorse, the extra support tutoring brings. Their remarks about the industry are scathing at best.

Role of the Mentor

If academic tuition is here to stay, and the rising number of tutoring companies would suggest so, what can it offer away from the ‘promise’ of better grades? Better put, can teaching outside the classroom, in whatever form we ascribe it, work harmoniously alongside schools to provide direction and stability for a child?

Contrary to popular belief, spoon-feeding a child the material to pass an exam is not the most important benefit of a tutor. The most productive step a mentor can take is to help children invest their energy in the process of learning. What excellent mentoring does is illicit in a child the foresight to see what his or her education can bring. It should foster confidence in children and should give them the conviction to succeed on their own. In this way, they return to school with renewed enthusiasm for their subjects and a sense of perspective that will help them reap the rewards their education is offering.

I asked five of Oppidan’s mentors which skills they thought important to teach their children, away from the restrictions of the syllabus:

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.’

By Walter Kerr 

School Choices: A Pre-Test Purgatory

Half a million children educated in the private system, ever-increasing numbers of international students and rocketing school fees: we live in transitional and uncertain times for the world of private education. And yet, for those applying to over-subscribed private schools, competition for places is stronger than it has ever been. Increasingly complex pre-testing by schools, and indecision and uncertainty on the part of parents, has led to a painful purgatory at 8+, 11+ and 13+, with testing challenges for students, parents and schools to get the right fit. Only ten years ago a child would have had a first choice school and a back-up. In today’s climate, parents often come to us with a list of ten schools from which to choose.

In my experience, parents are fairly sure on what they want from a school. To preach too much on the choices available would be to teach my grandmother to suck eggs. Parents will ultimately make up their own minds, but here are some tips and tricks that might help along the way.

Academics: of course exams are important, but they are only the finish line. What path do they take to encourage learning? Schools like Oundle have adopted greater breadth to their curriculum through programmes like ‘Trivium’, while Winchester have always shown breadth through their famous ‘div’. In time, I’m sure more schools will follow suit. The facilities: how forward looking is a school? Is there construction in process or in the pipeline? Schools must constantly invest in their facilities to stay ahead of the curve. Boarding life: if the school offers boarding, how modern and comfortable are its dorms and rooms? Schools will always have a shiny new boarding house to show off, but can they offer up a consistent quality of life for your child across age groups? Whether boarding or day, ask the right questions of the Head concerning pastoral care; will your children be happy and, above all else, safe?

Putting to one side the bare essentials of school life and the choices on offer, the process of choosing a school must be more parent focused than school focused. At Oppidan we suggest practical and productive tips that will ensure your child’s school ends up being the right one.  

First and foremost, be proactive. Too many parents come to us too late in the day and there is little that can be done. Engage with the process early on, find out what your options are and above all, visit the schools. I have heard long and laborious conversations, even within my own family, concerning what options are available and how they match up. Time spent theorising is wasted until parents have taken the time to visit a school and speak to its admissions team. At this point, the process really begins and the to-do list grows.

Secondly, be realistic. It is essential to manage parents’ expectations in order to ensure a successful fit. Above all, this is about being fair to your child. With the right advice from your current school or a consultant, a parent should soon gain an objective perspective on their child’s suitability for a certain school. There is then no use trying to fit a square peg into a round hole, and if parents aim too high or wide of the mark,their end result will disappoint.

Thirdly, a list of schools should reflect variety and options. There is little point selecting five schools that all share the same assets and pitch themselves at the same academic level. Finding this variety is about being hands-on with schools and doing your best to know them well. By understanding what is special about what they offer, you will be in a better position to create a short-list that is varied, realistic and exciting: whichever school ends up the winner.

Next, be decisive. The dithering parent is so typical of a complicated educational climate like this. Longer waiting lists and wider options do not help in leaving parents too little time to make their minds up. A decisive approach to school choices will ensure that there is calm, yet assured, action taking place. Children feel more at ease with the process, as do their parents.

Finally, it is vital never to be rude about any school, whatever your personal views. Too often I have seen children infected by the harsh opinions of their parents, only to end up being sent there themselves. Children have a tendency to repeat these thoughts at school, leading to an unnecessarily cruel hierarchy of school placements in an already intense and competitive environment.

This list of tips and tricks is primarily aimed at parents, to whom the great share of the work applies, but let’s not forget the children themselves. Parents will have their own idea of how much to involve their child in the decision-making process. Above all, I would advise consistency in their approach. The last thing a child needs is further anxiety with tests and interviews on the way, so if calm and comfort can be maintained, purgatory can be avoided altogether.

By Henry Faber 

Five Top Tips for Choosing the Right School

Visit the school: The only way of making an informed decision about your child’s education is to go and see the school for yourself. Meet the staff, the teachers and the matrons, chat to the students about what life is like there, visit the boarding houses and see the new facilities being built. Above and beyond any brochure, you’ll know straight away if the school seems the right fit. 

Ask the right questions: Aside from graduate prospects and league tables, it is vital to know what sort of education your son or daughter will be getting at that particular school. Does the school focus on independent learning? Does the teaching style transcend exam requirements? Is the focus directed on academia or on an all-round school life? The ethos of each school is different and it is essential to know your options before registering.

Manage your expectations: It is of paramount importance to be realistic about your child’s education. Pushing them towards schools that are too academic and watching them fail to gain a place can have long-term implications for that child; be fair to them and be realistic on what is achievable.

Be varied in your choices: Whether boarding or day, mixed or single-sex, forward-looking or traditional, having a focused ideal on the type of school you want for your child is to be supported. Try, however, to pick a diverse range of schools so that all eventualities, positive or negative, are covered.

Listen to your child: A child will directly or indirectly lean towards a particular school that you visit and their view must be taken into account. Children perform better in pre-tests to schools that they aspire to, and genuine enthusiasm for a school manifests itself decisively at interview.

Oppidan Education at The Peligoni Club – Summer Half Term 2016

Over this Summer’s Half Term, Walter and I had the good fortune to team up with The Peligoni Club in Greece to mentor for their Half Term week. The idea was simple: to create a dynamic environment in which to revise, to assist different ages and levels and to incorporate the easy-going ethos of The Peligoni into our teaching time with students.

With a beautiful location and perfect weather for the week, our job was made easy. A long list of academic and sporting challenges included poetry workshops for 11+ boys, GCSE revision for teenage girls and Maths on the tennis court for some early teen boys. Walter brilliantly put together an assortment of Maths challenges to be served up over the net, while I made the most of our Oppidan Poetry anthology with some sharp and enthusiastic 11+ pupils. With such a spread of ages and levels, the task seemed a tough one at first, but was soon made easier by such polite, hardworking and energetic children all around the club.

Our week at The Peligoni proved a brilliant start to a wonderful partnership with the great Peli team. It also showed that mentoring ‘out-and-about’ is the best way to work constructively in holiday time. The Peli was a perfect place to enjoy our mentoring work and we hope our students found their mornings less a chore, more a fun way to make the most of holiday time.

We look forward to heading back to the club next summer and with planning well underway, there should be a few more joint projects for the Oppidan/Peligoni partnership. Our deepest thanks go to all the Peli team both in London and Greece, and most of all, to our dedicated students, all of whom we so enjoyed getting to know and look forward to seeing again.

Mentoring: The Road Less Travelled

Robert Frost’s poem, The Road Not Taken, is a valuable teaching tool for all ages. A wholly approachable poem, it sets up a metaphor for the ‘traveller’ facing a choice between two paths; the first is rather more ‘worn’. To my mind, this path perfectly reflects the current state of the private tuition market: somewhat overused, dark and murky, under-regulated and an expensive risk for parents demanding better results for their children. If we brush aside the quality-control and trust issues that have beset the private tuition market in recent years, parents and schools still rightly struggle with the moral issues surrounding the never-ending rat race for places in top British schools. The question is always the same: how do I give my child a better chance to gain entry to a top school and achieve in the long-term?

In my role as a mentor I hear many parents demand answers to problems that can’t realistically be bought. Aims are utilitarian, practical, exam-focused. Particularly at 11+, parents are hoping for dramatic and often impossible improvements in psychometric testing results when, in reality, useful work is about acquiring the confidence, comfort and technique to approach assessment days maturely, both for children and for their parents.

Of course there is a place for one-on-one tuition. Specifically targeted help can be enormously useful. But are we perhaps forgetting the things that really matter? That children are happy, fulfilled and confident within themselves, and capable of doing their best. In the end this is all we can ask of them.

Mentoring has so far proved an attractive idea to parents and to schools. I have no desire to offer what schools do so well themselves (the teaching) but what they often admit they don’t have time for. Conversations with several of the most competitive, high-profile schools have proved this, and shown that schools are willing to work in partnership with mentors. Mentoring is the extra-curricular, the culture, the confidence and the added care. Mentors are young, brilliant, inspiring and fun. They combine the job of role model, tutor, advisor and impartial elder sibling. They offer support and care for both students and parents, and not just enable, but guarantee that children are able to do their best.

Though boarding schools have perhaps become less popular with modern parents, I continue to support the all-inclusive, independent and innately mature environment that most boarding schools offer. The same approach is at the core of mentoring. It is an ethos that defines mentoring not as a luxury add-on, but as an essential part of any child’s education. Mentoring helps to build up the organisation and independence skills needed to tackle the intensity of school life, and the variety to enjoy the time beyond it.

I for one hope that parents will feel confident themselves in the job they are doing for their children. Regardless of what school they end up at, what will children remember of their formative years? Rigorous testing in an ‘over-pressured cooker’? Or a balanced and memorable mix of solid school work and all the trimmings that can and should go with it.

It’s a common misconception that Frost’s poem only challenges us to be adventurous; it is also about avoiding indecision. He begs his reader to make a decision, to take hold. As children choose their own path forward, through schools, universities and jobs, there’s frustratingly little we can do to greatly alter their trajectory. Perhaps it’s best we show decisiveness and remind ourselves and them of the excitements that lie beyond the classroom, and the things that make life special. It is through those thrills that they will be encouraged towards greatness. With a little luck, they might even stand an inch or two taller when it comes to 11+.