Tell me what you see in the mirror
5th February 2023
Driving Instructor for Beginners 2
26th March 2023

Driving Instructor for Beginners 1

Over the coming few weeks, this blog is going to feature a series of “Driving Instructor for Beginners” articles featuring the owner of the BIG TOM Driving School Franchise, Tom Ingram. These articles are specifically aimed at trainee driving instructors and newly qualified DVSA-registered driving instructors. The articles will be click-bait free, devoid of scary-sounding headlines or SEO-targeted content and refreshingly light on self-promotion.


To kick off the series, Tom starts with the following article as an introduction. 


We have in our industry a regulator who is somewhat obsessed with test data; it is not unusual that a regulator who is keen on monitoring performance will choose to concentrate on test data but I think if we are not very careful, our entire industry will soon become unhealthily entrenched with data. Driving instructors are primarily concerned with developing safe drivers who are skilled and confident to handle day to day driving post-test. Our regulator is primarily concerned with monitoring performance using metrics. We do education, they do assessment. I am not suggesting that driving instructors have no concern as to how the regulator assesses learner drivers and PDI’s, but the scope of the education should not be limited to that criteria. We have seen in schools across the UK the effect of the regulator OFSTED, and the impact their inspections have on the day to day running of a school. Students at school regularly encounter more than one “test” in a day, whether it be high stakes or low stakes, it is still a great deal of time doing tests. And yet, the evidence is unclear as to how beneficial the focus on testing is for the students. It may be effective at preparing students for exams, but how much joy and depth of education is being lost by doing all these tests? 


And so, unsurprisingly, the act of ‘learning’ soon becomes a question of understanding assessment criteria to pass tests. Learner drivers and PDI’s naturally want to know what behaviours they need to do to pass the appropriate tests. Learners are not necessarily asking how they become a confident and competent driver so they are safe on the roads. PDI’s are not necessarily asking how they develop skills to run a successful driving school business. In effect, the “goal” has changed to one of test passing rather than meaningful learning. The meaning of education changes, a new world of artificiality and incomprehension is created, where there is more importance placed on ticking boxes and monitoring percentages than there is on the quality of the outcome. 


Two examples include: 

A learner wants to know if touching a kerb while doing a reverse parallel park would still pass a driving test or not. 

A PDI wants a list of MUST SAY verbals to start and finish a Part 3 assessment. 


The thought isn’t in the learner’s mind of whether hitting a kerb demonstrates a lack of care or effective observations, or a poor attitude to safety, or even if the kerb could be any other object including a pedestrian. No, what they want to know is, would it pass the test or not. The criteria for passing of the test is more important than appreciating what skills are needed to do a manoeuvre safely, and what is it that either improves the outcomes or negatively affects them. 

Likewise the PDI wants to learn parrot fashion key words or sentences for crucial times in a lesson. Not because the dialogue with the pupil is important and crucial to a good working relationship, no, the reason is they want the examiner to hear critical words regardless of context, and that will ensure the assessment criteria is being met. The PDI will most likely disregard such lingo in driving lessons once qualified, because the true benefit of the phrases was never explained or owned, other than “the examiner will want to hear you say…” 


In both examples, the true loser or victim is of course the pupil. For sure, many pupils will happily agree that as long as they pass the driving test, they are a happy customer, but we all should be aware that you cannot force someone to act/behave in certain ways. Newly qualified drivers and instructors will have behaviours that are personal to them, and influenced by a variety of factors. Pretending that temporarily influencing behaviours for the purposes of tests is beneficial to long-term road safety or successful businesses is not ‘serving’ a customer at all, and certainly not serving the industry we all work in. 


But the silent killer of this situation is that when a regulator is very much monitoring test data, then the educators/trainers quite understandably start to genuinely believe that test outcomes is actually all that matters. Any readers with teacher friends will know this fact only too well. It takes a brave soul to speak contrary to the powers of groupthink and regulatory policy. We are all hard-wired to survive; many of us will happily tow the line and announce test passes for learners and PDI’s on social media, to feed this narrative of presumed “value” to customers. But it of course actually means very little. Are those trainers who publish these test successes staying in touch with their customers and monitoring their long-term safety record or business success? Out of all these newly qualified drivers that the trainer happily announces to the world, how many are having an accident in the first two years of driving? How many of the newly qualified instructors are still in business two years down the line?  Unfortunately, our regulator currently shares little concern beyond short-termism test data, and consequently, trainers follow suit.


The missing link in our industry is often a lack of context. It has never been explained by the DVSA what the effect of driving test monitoring of driving instructors will have in the industry – other than apparently “raising standards”, whatever one chooses that to mean. You would think that road safety might be a key trigger of such regulatory action, but no, the DVSA has never given any explanation of how road safety is predicted to improve by the monitoring of driving instructor test performance. And even more recently (14/03/2023), the DVSA made the following announcement: 


Is it reasonable to expect improvement in assessment scores from Part 3 qualification to the first standards check? Why? Is that backed up by research or just an opinion?

Let me offer a contrary opinion: 

PDI’s who are trained merely to pass qualifying tests, will not necessarily agree or own the teaching techniques that they have been offered. The techniques may well be tried and tested to ‘work’ for the purpose of satisfying assessment criteria on a test, but the new instructors very quickly realise that those techniques are hopeless for providing authentic value to customers – so they stop using them. They start to treat pupils like human beings with thoughts and feelings, they recognise the diversity in needs that pupils present for driving training. They immediately recognise how utterly meaningless and ineffective these techniques they learnt by rote are, once qualified.  

But then, 6-12 months later, up pops the Standards Check and there is a DVSA examiner expecting the newly qualified instructor to revert back to meaningless and ineffective techniques. And some people who have a conscience and possess integrity, decline to treat even that one pupil on the Standards Check, with such insulting and unprofessional service. And in that context, is it really a reasonable expectation of the DVSA to see improved scores between Part 3 and the first Standards Check? If their data is suggesting that fewer newly qualified instructors are continuing to use assessment techniques and even going one step further and using other techniques, one could argue it raises the question if the regulator (and their examiners) are qualified to identify what an effective and meaningful working relationship actually looks like over a 45 minute assessment. 

If we have, as we do, driving instructor trainers who provide ‘rescue’ Standards Check training, who themselves, trigger a DVSA Standards Check – is that not in itself, all you really need to know about the meaningfulness of this sub-standard training?   

To be successful in business, which I imagine any reader of this blog with aspirations of being a driving instructor would desire, I would suggest that to benefit customers we offer high-quality training. One sees this point proven in the marketplace, where driving instructors covering the same area charge vastly different prices for driving training. Word gets around, there is nothing a business owner can do about that fact. If you simply get pupils to pass driving tests, that are ill-prepared for driving safely post-test, do not be too surprised if your pricing reflects that fact. 

So my overriding theme for this introductory article is to advise that before you embark on a new career as a driving instructor, you ensure you surround yourself with professionals who provide meaningful training and have your (and your future pupils’) long-term road safety and business success in mind. Trainers who resort to loud, repetitive social media posts about test success, I would suggest should be avoided like the plague (or Covid if you prefer).  

In the next article, I will be referring to the skills needed to be a successful driving instructor.