The 11+ Pre-Test: What's the secret?

Henry and Walter were delighted to host our 11+ event for parents and children on Friday evening. An anecdote-led discussion on the pre-test process as a whole, we hope the talk was informative as well as pressure relieving, and will have laid out suitable plans for those taking the ISEB, preparing for interviews and entering the transition stage for senior schools.

Questions centred on the following topics:

  • The best preparation for the 11+ 

  • Can parents get it wrong 

  • Advice on schools and processes

  • Resources

  • Parent and Child Management 

The best advice we can give for parents is to see the schools you’ve applied for as part of a horizontal hierarchy; each school is in their own right fantastic and unique, and if you are able to relax through the process, that will rub off on your children and will in turn greatly improve his or her attitude, application and preparation for such a process.

Good luck and for any questions, just shout!

The Oppidan Team

Oppidan School Days: Critical Thinking @ Farleigh School

Oppidan was delighted to be invited to Farleigh School on Monday 30th September to work with 90 children across Years 6-8 on the group aspect of their upcoming interviews to senior schools.

The workshops consisted of four main elements; the purpose to ignite confidence in each child’s ability to present, debate and critique ideas, and to help give them draw out a sense of identity and a way of positioning themselves within a bigger group.

We started with a trust game in which children had to step into the middle of a circle if they agreed with the statement read out - the idea being to tackle any preconceptions that they ought to think differently because others do also. We moved onto critical thinking and group discussion on current affairs, poetry and paintings, before finishing with the ever-popular Dragons’ Den Business Pitching.

To a child, every member of each group engaged with the process and I believe left with lighter spring in their step. Children were given live feedback which they loved to hear and had the opportunity to critique the way our mentors organised the sessions too. To listen and to then respond - that is the ultimate challenge at that age - and we loved seeing the development of these skills come out throughout the day.

T-shirts and wristbands will be handed out at assembly to the winner and runner group in each group, and we look forward to hearing how the assessments go!

The Oppidan Team

To Praise or not to Praise

How to praise children

By Marina Oswald

When your child does well in an exam or gets a gold star from school the usual responses may be along the lines of the following:

·      ‘Well done!’

·      ‘Good work!’

·      ‘Look how clever you are!’

 Whilst all of these responses acknowledge a child’s success, these forms of praise are fundamentally limiting. A throwaway comment may seem harmless, but studies (Mueller & Dweck, 1998) have shown that the focus on success rather than effort or learning can have a negative effect on a child's performance.

 Over the past few years, Carol Dweck's teachings on Growth Mindset in particular have been applied in schools throughout the UK. There are also ways in which parents can encourage the development of a child's mindset outside of school walls. In the late 80s-90s, Carol Dweck found that children who focus on end results over effort made more mistakes by not seeing the importance in how they got to those end results. By changing the way in which we praise children, we can help them to associate effort with achievement.

There are three types of praise:

·      Basic praise - 'Well done'

·      Intelligence praise - 'Look how clever that was'

·      Effort praise - 'I can see you put a lot of effort into that and have learnt a lot, you deserve that result'

By focusing on effort, we are teaching children how to be successful - working hard rather than resting on their laurels (which children tend to do after being told they are clever or gifted a number of times).

 Oppidan directors, Henry and Walter, were recently invited to talk on an episode of The Parent Practice podcast with Elaine Halligan, which included a discussion on ‘descriptive praise’. Similarly to effort praise, by changing the way we praise children and becoming more descriptive we are telling them specifically why they have achieved success. Descriptive praise is not exclusive to academic success, it can be used in lots of different circumstances to develop good habits.

 Examples of descriptive praise:

·      ‘You worked so hard to produce that, the time you put into it has paid off’

·      ‘Thank you for letting your brother choose first, that was very patient of you’

·       ‘You were very kind to hold the door open for that person’

 Learning about the best techniques and approaches to education is at the forefront of Oppidan’s ethos. Oppidan regularly hosts workshops for mentors on themes such as Growth Mindset, Mindfulness, Game Plan and Motivation. We learnt about how to praise children in the last workshop theme mentioned – How to Motivate Children. The next installment of the Motivation Workshop will take place in November.


·      Mueller & Dweck (1998). ‘Praise for intelligence can undermine children's motivation and performance. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology’

MUSTIQUE | Notes from a Small Island

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

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

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

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

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

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

Walter Kerr
Co-Founder & Director

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

Meet the Oppidan Team: Alex and Alice

Alex Hogg
Marketing Manager

Who was your mentor growing up? 

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

What does mentoring mean to you?

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

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

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

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

Alice Evans
Client Manager

Who was your mentor growing up? 

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

What does mentoring mean to you? 

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

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

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

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

The Lost Art of Handwriting in a Digital Age

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

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

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

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

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

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

Olivia Buckland,

Oppidan Education Partnership & Schools Manager

Mindfulness in Education: Oppidan Mentoring

Mindfulness in Education

The Building Block to a Happier Future

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr Stephanie Payne

Extremities At The Extremes: The Science Of Temperature

Friday 22nd March 5:30pm Holland Park

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

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

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


An Oppidan Event: Conspiracy Theories in the 20th Century

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

‘When fairytales do come true’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Oppidan Young Leaders Programme

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

Making our students part of our future.

Tilly Cripwell: Oppidan’s First Young Leader

February 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tilly Cripwell

Friday February 22nd 2019

The 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

Bilingual Confidence: A Double-Edged Sword

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Olivia Buckland

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

Dealing with Maths Anxiety: How to Improve Performance in Maths

Dealing with Maths Anxiety: How to Improve Performance in Maths

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Olivia Buckland

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The philosophy recruits the mentors.

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

11+ Pre-Test Interview Preparation

Oppidan’s Mentoring at Summer Fields

18th October 2018

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

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

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

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

Interview Tips

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

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

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

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

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

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

The D7: Oppidan Education & a Wimbledon Champion

Mentoring exceeds tutoring.

Watch the video to find out why.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.