Meet the Oppidan Team: Alex and Alice

Alex Hogg
Marketing Manager

Who was your mentor growing up? 

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

What does mentoring mean to you?

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

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

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

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

Alice Evans
Client Manager

Who was your mentor growing up? 

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

What does mentoring mean to you? 

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

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

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

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

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.

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.

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

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