"We'd like to speak to teachers" - Anouszka's AQA Assignment

Anouszka Tate has been producing “Inside Exams” for AQA. And she’s loved it…

I’ve interviewed merciless politicians, broken devastating news to the nation, and edited audio with panicked hands as it was going out live. Then I was told my next project would be to create a podcast that desperately time-poor teachers would choose to spend time listening to. Plus, it would be powered by an exam board that – by their own admission – said teachers are incredibly cynical about. I wondered if producing Inside Exams might just be my biggest professional challenge yet.

 As it turns out, the AQA team have been a joy to work with – not just because they’re genuinely great fun people, but because they’re brave. It takes courage to acknowledge your perceived weaknesses and tackle them head on. In public. On a podcast that’ll live forever.

 They’re aware that teachers can feel frustrated by an apparent lack of transparency. So, we begin the podcast with a question direct from a teacher in their classroom. We’re not letting them dodge questions they’d rather not answer. On research calls and in the studio, AQA have given us permission to probe them, play devil’s advocate, pry out the information they hadn’t dreamt of letting leave the four walls of their offices before. This is what will ultimately be most helpful for the listener.

 Teachers and students alike imagine intimidating examiners plotting their next press release in a mysterious fortress. Instead, we’ve found delightful people, vehemently passionate about their work. Although each interview with an AQA staff member is only 15 minutes on the podcast, we spend a good hour getting to know each other in the studio. It’s worth investing that little bit of extra time to make sure the personalities shine through any initial nerves.

 Fundamentally, podcasting as a medium has already done a lot of the work for us. Intimate and conversational by nature, it’s more human than most, but we made a point of extracting the most interesting little nuggets of information: ‘…yes but how does it feel when this happens?’ ‘What thoughts are racing through your head at that point?’ A podcast like this craves the personal anecdotes that might feel normal to AQA staff, but are new and hugely insightful for teachers.

 Crucially, Inside Exams is from the perspective of the teacher listening. Presenter Craig Barton is a maths teacher / social media influencer / Louis Theroux of education extraordinaire. He’s well-loved and respected by his colleagues and followers. Teachers otherwise sceptical about how fruitful a time-consuming jaunt to AQA HQ might be are more likely to come along for the ride because they implicitly trust Craig’s judgement.

 The second chat of the podcast sees Craig talking to a fellow teacher. Another brave decision from the brand behind the show – they have even less control over messaging here. Ultimately, the risk pays off though. Hearing friendly voices swapping tips and sharing similar struggles is extremely reassuring for the teacher listener. Simply by association, AQA – that slightly scary exam board – have made them feel that way.

 Inside Exams is a brilliant example of how branded podcasts can simultaneously satisfy commercial clients and captivate listeners. AQA appreciate that in order to best serve their customers, they don’t always have to just toe the party line. The age-old cliché says that people won’t remember what you said, but how you made them feel. By creating a podcast, AQA are making frazzled teachers feel supported, entertained, and valued. That’s what they’ll remember when they unplug their headphones and start their first lesson of the day.