Designing an Evidenced-Based Programme for the Tutoring Sector: What the National Tutoring Programme Can Teach Us About Social Mobility & Education, with Liberty King: Podcast Transcript

Ludo Millar
Hello, and welcome to the Qualified Tutor Podcast, the podcast that brings you the latest in the world of tutoring EdTech and education and hopefully inspires in us a big change that each and every one of us is capable of.

Qualified Tutor is an industry-leading tutor training organisation and an online tutoring community for 1000s of tutors around the world. This podcast is the voice of this community, where we aim to hear from tutors, teachers, entrepreneurs, coaches, business experts, students, tutor printers, and more from the world of tutoring about what inspires them every day, how they can help tutors like you and what they’ve learned about tutoring along the way.

The question is, what will you learn today?


Ludo Millar 1:49
Hello, and welcome to the 129th episode of the Qualified Tutor Podcast. My name is Ludo Millar, the host of this podcast. Welcome back to regular listeners, welcome to any of you for whom this is your first time listening to the Qualified Tutor Podcast. And of course a huge welcome to today’s guest, Liberty King. Liberty, welcome to the podcast.

Liberty King 3:02
Thank you very much for having me.

Ludo Millar 3:05
Liberty is a former English teacher and also has an MEd in International Education Policy which focused a little bit on social and educational inequality. And over the last couple of years, as well, has combined all of that with her former role as Tutoring Liaison & Programme Manager at the National Tutoring Programme of which our audience I’m sure has been engaging with at least to some degree over the last couple of years and perhaps is continuing to do so to this day. And Liberty also combined that role with her position at the Education Endowment Foundation to whom we, Qualified Tutor, owe much of our pedagogy and practice, to the EEF, a wonderful resource and research organisation there.

Liberty is currently a Senior Strategy Consultant at Cairneagle, which is a consultancy firm that specialises in the education and in the edtech sector. So a rich background, past and present, in the education sector. So there’s a lot for us to learn from someone with your experience and your insights, Liberty. So lucky me and lucky you, dear listeners today. But Liberty, thank you for coming on to the podcast, I know you have a very busy schedule. So we’ve been able to find a moment or two in and amongst that to bring you on to record but the regular listeners will know that we have a segment that we use to find out a little bit more about our guests at the start of each episode. So Liberty, I gather that being able to locate some old school reports was not necessarily possible but there’s a general kind of tendency is there that you remember from teachers feedback, is that right?

Liberty King 5:01
Oh yeah. It’s funny, my mom has just managed to send through some old school reports. But I said to her I need something that’s quite amusing or that highlights how I was at school. And she says, her texts to me just now is ‘There are literally no amusing tales, you’re always so well behaved’. So she thinks I’m very uninteresting at school. But the reports that she sent through are from when I was in primary, but I do remember, in secondary school, it was kind of a similar theme, really, I kind of liked school, I got on well, at school, though I did tend to get in trouble a bit when I was older, for talking a bit too much in class. I think I’m sort of a very ‘work hard play hard’ kind of person. So I would always work hard in class and kind of do my best. But I also liked chatting to my friends and being silly in the corner of the classroom with my three or four best mates.

So that’s what I remember consistently from secondary school. But it seems like when I was at primary school, I was very much just wanting to impress all the teachers, all the time from these reports, it’s been saying she likes to be noticed by putting an enormous amount of effort into everything. She’s always very polite and helpful. Yeah, I think I was always a bit of teacher’s pet when I was a bit younger.

Ludo Millar 6:22
That feeds a little bit into your why then, Liberty? I mean, would you say that you have a why? And if so, what would that be?

Liberty King 6:32
I would say I have a why. And I think my why is certainly and for a long time has has been to strive to inspire people to push beyond perceived limitations. And I think I’m very keen to make sure that everybody is aware of how far they can go. And has the confidence to push for that as well, and I think ‘perceive’, I say ‘perceived limitations’ very, very consciously, I use that word specifically, because I think limitations are often put on people by others, because of how people perceive them due to their background or their abilities, or whatever. But I also think that limitations often come from within as well. And a lot of people, I think, put limitations on themselves and don’t strive for certain things or go down a certain path, because they just think that it’s not for them, or that’s for someone else. That’s not for me. So I think my why is certainly to help people reach beyond those perceived limitations, both from other people’s perceptions of them and their perceptions of themselves.

Ludo Millar 7:47
Yeah. And that is a huge part of the work that you have done for a number of years. I mean, that’s- and your master’s was focused on social and educational inequality. I mean, how have you come to work in driving social mobility through education then Liberty, how has that come to be [such] a large part of the work you do?

Liberty King 8:17
It starts really with my own experience in life. So I come from a traditionally working class background. For a number of years at secondary school, we were eligible for free school meals. And I did very well in my GCSEs, I worked very hard at school. And, as I was saying earlier, I was a bit of a teacher’s pet. But it also meant that I ended up getting very good grades at GCSE, and my mom kind of noticed this. Probably from a young age, but from my early teens, she really was pushing me, saying that I could do X, Y and Z, I could go to university, I could go to Oxford or Cambridge and I didn’t know anybody that had been to university when I was younger. No one in my family had been, none of our family friends had been to university, it wasn’t commonplace for people that we knew to go to university. And so just before 6th form began when I was in Year 10, my mom saw an advert in a local newspaper for a private school that was in our county, in Buckinghamshire which is next to Milton Keynes, which is where I grew up. And they said in that advert that they had scholarships and bursary options, and so she contacted them and told them about the grades that I was getting, and then I was invited to interview and take some exams etc.

And the long story short was that I got into this private boarding school for 6th form, which was really a life changing moment, because I was surrounded by a completely different peer group. I had a very different educational experience. I mean, the fees to go to the school were annually more than my mom earned in a year. So it was definitely an eye-opening experience. But I think what it really highlighted to me was the difference in opportunity that is available to people based on their income and their family income. And I obviously feel very lucky that I was able to experience that for 6th form and the two years and I do think that going there probably played a large part into why I was able to obtain a place at Oxford for my undergrad. I’m not sure if I would have got into Oxford had I stayed at the state school, that I don’t know, but I know that I got an immense amount of support at this private boarding school and interview prep and reading through personal statements. And just having smaller class sizes when I was in 6th form and having resources that I just had never even realised were resources that you could get in an education system. So all of that stuff, I think, really sparked this fire in me to make sure that those kinds of opportunities are not just preserved for a few and are more accessible to people from a range of backgrounds.

Ludo Millar 11:14
Yeah, that’s a story that will resonate with a few people very powerfully, I think. And with a lot of people in an equally emphatic sense. I think that’s a story we hear a lot, isn’t it, in the education sphere is the imbalance between what people are able to achieve in education and therefore in later life, just by where they live, their geography and their parents’ earning power, that kind of thing.

Now, I want to talk a little bit about the National Tutoring Programme, of course because it’s very important to the tutoring sector at the moment, and is something that you have been involved with, to a certain degree. What can you tell us about what you learnt from that first year of the NTP that you worked on, and what that tells us about education in this country?

Liberty King 12:12
I think I had two big takeaways really from that, working on that kind of initial setup and design of the NTP in year one. I mean, I know it’s evolved quite a bit since we initially worked on it at the EEF. But I personally had two big takeaways. And I think the first was really around this importance of keeping evidence at the core of education interventions. Obviously, the EEF, evidence is its bread and butter, and making sure that the education sector is kind of using evidence in the right way to support the students who need it the most. And the NTP was really a significant accomplishment to design a programme that was grounded in evidence, but was also appropriate for different sectors of the tutoring market. And that was seen in the fact that we had applications from a huge range of companies, and charities and non-profit organisations and local authorities, school groups, universities. But I think maintaining quality and fidelity to evidence in scale up is a difficult challenge. And, for example, we know that some schools and tutoring organisations perhaps would have preferred a bit more flexibility around certain aspects of the programme design. But because the programme was designed, based on what we know works in tutoring interventions, and that can be supported by the global evidence base, it kind of just really reinforces the idea to me that it’s incredibly important to start by grounding things in evidence, but then building in necessary flexibility when implementing at scale or at pace and ensuring that these adaptations are made iteratively through feedback from data and from the sector and making sure we’re constantly having that conversation with the sector. So that it’s not just, ‘Okay, we’re just going to implement this and that. That’s it, we just did it based on the evidence. And that’s what we’re going to do’ because the programme actually changed quite a lot throughout just the first year because of feedback that we received, because of the data that we were seeing. And starting by grounding it in our evidence base was crucial.

And then I think the second big takeaway that I learned from working on the NTP in the first year was really around and hopefully the listeners of this podcast will appreciate this, the commitment of the tutoring sector that exists in this country. So I knew of the impact that tutoring could have based on the EEF’s evidence when it was implemented correctly, how it can be a very high impact intervention, in addition to classroom learning, but why understanding of the impact of tutoring was really the scientific understanding. But then it was really brought to life for me in that when we had the application round, and we had just under 400 applications. And it was so heartwarming to see the whole sector really rally around this programme, especially as it was something that had never been done before. And it just yeah, it just really proved to me and showed me how committed the tutoring sector is in this country to improving outcomes for students.

Ludo Millar 15:31
So did you take- I mean, obviously, you mentioned that this was an admittedly ambitious and pioneering project. I mean, what basis did you have for designing the programme? Were there international case studies that you’d seen or was it really just off the back of years of the EEF’s understanding of one-to-one and small group practice?

Liberty King 15:56
So this was really a programme that had never been done before in this way. There had been similar kinds of tutoring interventions in other countries or in our country that we had tested and that either we had tested or that we had the evidence from other studies that had been done. So a lot of the core facets of the National Tutoring Programme in year one, for example, having a 15-hour sustained block, preferably having it in one subject, ideally having it one-to-one, but understanding that cost is a factor. So 1:3 is a kind of compromise, where you’re not going to be sacrificing the quality, but it’s more accessible to people and to schools. All of those kinds of designs of the programme were based on what the evidence has showed us can have the highest impact in tutoring interventions. So that is taken from global research and also research that the EEF had done themselves.

Ludo Millar 16:56
Yeah, it was. Whatever has come of the NTP and I don’t necessarily think this is the space to discuss all of the logistics of it and the implementation, the design of that, and the fact that it was rolled out in the time period that it was, will always be an incredible feat. And can form the basis of similar designs in years to come. I mean, obviously, the NTP is not ending at the end of this year, it’s continuing on in whatever guise, so it can still take the foundations of what the EEF designed. But, I mean, obviously, you no longer work for the EEF and I’m sure that some of your team members at the same time have moved on, but was the general feeling that at the end of that first year that the system had been successful? That it had achieved what it had set out to achieve?

Liberty King 17:59
It’s hard to answer that question. Because it kind of implies that there’s an endpoint. The evaluation of the impact of the NTP is still ongoing, as I understand, and I think the impact of something this big is, hopefully, something that is also ongoing, in terms of achieving what was the kind of bass numbers to achieve, for example, funding, and the number of organisations that can deliver tutoring to enough students and those kinds of high-level numbers, I suppose. Yes, that was achieved. But I’m hesitant to say, first year, everything’s achieved, we did what we needed to do, because I think the answer to that is that it is ongoing, and the point is that education is something where the rewards of the work you put in are seen for those young people in years to come. But at the base of it, tutoring was delivered to hundreds of 1000s of students across the country. And so I would say that was certainly an achievement for the first year.

Ludo Millar 19:12
Especially given all that you had to contend with and the fact that each of you individually was, as individuals who designed the programme, was living through your own stresses and anxieties of a pandemic.

So, yeah, I mean, just kind of turning our sights from evaluation of past programmes to what you want to see, Liberty, looking into the future there. You’ll be involved, I assume, in social mobility and to some degree for several years to come. Are there particular developments or even what developments would you like to see in educational and social mobility in the next five years or so? If I allow you to dream big, Liberty, what are some of the things that you predict we may see?

Liberty King 20:08
Well, I don’t know what we may see. But I know what I’d like to see. So I’ll answer that [LAUGHS]. I’ve actually been kind of re-evaluating my stance on social mobility and what it means for quite a while now. And I think obviously, my experience of social mobility and educational equality was very much from my own experience of education, and then working as a teacher, so very school-based, I think now that I’ve stepped away from the school focus side of it, and more into the work side of it, I mean, obviously, one of the main purposes of education is to support people to become functioning members of society and get good jobs so that they can sustain a lifestyle etc. So I think my understanding of social mobility is now being, not challenged, but it’s now being reframed [as to] what that means in the workplace, and how we can make that transition from education to the workplace for people.

And I think one of the main things that I would like to see in the next five years in education is, and social mobility generally is actually kind of- and I suppose ‘challenge’ is the right word to use here, is challenging our traditional view of what social mobility looks like. I am very aware that I had a very traditional social mobility experience, I came from a working class background, I did well at school, I got good grades, and that has kind of leveraged me to universities, and then to jobs, moving to central London and stuff like that. But I do feel for a long time that I held that view that that’s what social mobility had to look like, we had to find these bright, working class kids and support them to get to the top universities and making sure that that was all equal as far as it could be.

But now, I’ve kind of started to question that. And I’ve started to think, well, maybe that shouldn’t be the case because I was lucky to do well at school. I mean, I don’t want to say that it was just luck, I obviously worked hard. But I was lucky in the sense that, for example, I had a mother who advocated for me very heavily, and supported me at school. And I didn’t have sort of adverse experiences to the point where that impacted my ability to perform well at school and to do my exams in the way that I could. And I think having lights in the school, when I did the Teach First programme, for example, I was working with children that some of them had incredibly difficult home lives. And so doing well at school was not often their priority, or was not something they were able to put all of their thought into, because they had other stuff going on. And so I think almost the onus is on the work sector, as a whole, businesses, universities to really challenge what they’re looking for in candidates, because I think a lot of companies and a lot of barriers to getting into high performing jobs is, for example, they will ask for a university degree, but I think there needs to be some questioning about why that is. What is it that a university degree can demonstrate about someone’s ability that you can’t potentially measure through some other way? Because I don’t think that going through this traditional, get good grades at school, go to university is indicative of somebody being able to contribute to your company, and to where you work.

So I think it’s really about reframing this view of what social mobility should look like. And I’m not saying that we shouldn’t be doing those things. I still think there’s a lot of good interventions, there are plenty of charities and companies that are doing very good things in making these traditional routes of social mobility more accessible to people. And that’s very important, and we should continue [to be] doing that. But I also think there needs to be a conversation about reframing how we view social mobility and thinking maybe there’s actually other routes into the workplace that don’t follow this very traditional route. And you can see it with apprenticeships becoming far more commonplace. And I think that kind of stuff is starting to take hold. But the conversation I think is still very early days.

Ludo Millar 24:37
Thank you, Liberty. A really articulate portrayal of where social mobility can go and as I’m sure you know, many listeners and yourself perhaps yourself aware as well Liberty, you know, the words ‘social mobility’ does mean different things to different people. It obviously is relative where people are able to be more socially mobile and in what direction, so yeah, I guess that that word is thrown about a lot. And that’s a very refreshing look at it to see it not just to see it just being the clever working class child making it to Oxbridge. And also a little insight there perhaps into the next five years of Liberty King is, that’s where I say you’ll be headed.


Ludo Millar 25:30
And now, a brief word from last week’s guest, Matthew Curnier.

Matthew Curnier 25:34
I don’t think I ever realised the extent to which the Qualified Tutor Podcast and everything that the Qualified Tutor team does extend throughout the tutoring field and the tutoring industry, sort of linking tutors up with families, with agency professionals, with other educators and practitioners. I really love the fact that there was this hub and it sort of feels like, you know, the links in the thread between all of the various disparate groups of people is Qualified Tutor. So that was fantastic to see. What did I enjoy about being a guest on the podcast was simply that Ludo is a very warm and generous host, and just makes you feel right at home. So it was fantastic to be in conversation with him. And finally, if you’re thinking about going on, and you’re a little bit on the fence about it, there’s only one way to jump, absolutely go and do it. It’s just absolutely superb.


Ludo Millar 26:42
Before I presuppose your answer to that, and just kind of bringing this conversation, this episode to a close here, because we must respect our listeners’ attention spans, we’re coming to the end of the 25 minutes or so there. But we love to finish these episodes by asking our guests what’s next for them personally, predominantly, but also aware that personally, that can tie in with with our guests’ professional lives. But what’s next for you, Liberty? What’s next for Liberty King?

Liberty King 27:14
Yeah, I suppose going off the back of what I was saying about this kind of reframing the view of what social mobility should look like, one of my roles is that I am on the board for a social enterprise called Goodwork, who are really, really trying to challenge this way of how companies are recruiting their early career talent. And we’re in the process of developing our pilot programme, getting young people onto a 6-month internship where we front load some workplace training with them. And then they have a 6-month internship with a company that is London-based. And the hope is that we will grow Goodwork to eventually run advisory services, and also just generally advocate to make early careers fairer and more inclusive, and more meaningful for everyone. So I do think the next five years, I’m very excited to be on the board for that and see where Goodwork is going to go in the next five years and being run by a very amazing woman, Felicity, who is doing a great job of setting up a programme with the support of the board. So yeah, I’m excited to see where that will go, because it’s very much early stages.

Ludo Millar 28:37
Yeah, well, how exciting to be involved in a project like that from such an early stage. Obviously, the work you did at EEF and as part of the NTP was all about pioneering that programme and setting the groundwork for what was to come later. So that’s clearly a talent of yours, Liberty. Liberty, thank you so much for joining us, I feel very lucky to have been able to interview someone who’s so involved in some of the most cutting edge social mobility work in the UK, and you’re certainly one to watch. So listeners, if Liberty is someone that you’d like to keep up with and to check in with then you can always connect with Liberty on LinkedIn, of course. But Liberty, if they want to get in touch with you in any other ways, what’s the best way for someone listening in today to get in touch with you if they have anything they want to discuss or if they want to fire any questions your way?

Liberty King 29:37
Yeah, I think LinkedIn is the best route to be honest. I’m on LinkedIn almost every day so I pick up messages quite easily. So yeah, happy to have a conversation with anybody who’s interested in that. Always happy to talk, as my teachers will have told you [LAUGHS].

Ludo Millar 29:53
Exactly. If you want to sort of ‘nerd out’ thenI’m sure Liberty would be happy to oblige. So Liberty, thank you very, very much. I hope you listeners were able to take something from that. And Liberty, I hope you enjoyed talking a little bit about what you do.

Liberty King 30:08
Yeah, it was great. Thank you, Ludo. I really enjoyed that session.

Ludo Millar 30:12
That’s really my pleasure. So listeners, next week will be the 130th episode, so a little bit of a milestone there and do check in for that. And we’ve got a really exciting episode to come next week as well, but Liberty, for one final time thank you very much. And we’ll speak again soon.

Liberty King 30:31
Thank you very much.


Ludo Millar

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