Oppidan Forge Partnership With Soneva

Oppidan is delighted to announce a new partnership with luxury resort Soneva Fushi.

Soneva was founded by Sonu & Eva Shivdasani in 1995. They fell in love with the Maldives and have created a series of luxury paradise resorts. You can find out more about Soneva here.

We are delighted that Soneva is part of our Oppidan Overseas partners. Oppidan will be running a series of mentoring and revision workshops for children on the island.

Oppidan is first heading out to Soneva to run workshops over the October Half-Term; do feel free to get in touch if you would like more information on the partnership together.

Oppidan Mentoring | The Peligoni Club

Oppidan at The Peligoni Club

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

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

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

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

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

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

We look forward to returning in July.

Walter & Henry

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

Dr Stephanie Payne

Extremities At The Extremes: The Science Of Temperature

Friday 22nd March 5:30pm Holland Park

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

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

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


An Oppidan Event: Conspiracy Theories in the 20th Century

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

‘When fairytales do come true’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Oppidan Young Leaders Programme

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

Making our students part of our future.

Tilly Cripwell: Oppidan’s First Young Leader

February 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tilly Cripwell

Friday February 22nd 2019

The Magic Formula for Moulding Champions

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marina Oswald: Oppidan Client Manager

Meet the Oppidan Team: Henry and Walter

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

Henry Faber
Director and Founder

Who was your mentor growing up? 

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

What does mentoring mean to you? 

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

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

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

Walter Kerr
Director and Founder

Who was your mentor growing up? 

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

What does mentoring mean to you? 

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

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

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

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

Bilingual Confidence: A Double-Edged Sword

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Olivia Buckland

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

Dealing with Maths Anxiety: How to Improve Performance in Maths

Dealing with Maths Anxiety: How to Improve Performance in Maths

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Olivia Buckland

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

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.

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.’

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 

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 


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 

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+.