Reflections of a driving instructor Pt2 Ep 3 The end goal
When we consider what the end goal is in a training programme, we can realise how different the setting of goals within driving training sessions is so different to what ‘the end goal is’. Effective goal setting before training sessions is a game changer in my opinion. When I first started off as a driving instructor I very much underestimated the benefit of thinking through a specific goal before setting off. This is where parents on private lessons can easily fall down too but there is some very good advice for them within the “Planning” section of “The Official DVSA Guide to Learning to Drive”. Setting goals well positively contributes to a safe learning environment, motivation, enjoyment, progress and awareness levels.
In a driving learning environment, really thinking through the end goal will dramatically increase the chances for successful outcomes. Unlike what occurs with elite universities when they describe their entry criteria for a degree course as A*, A*, A with driving, pupil, instructor and funder all need to be on the same page properly understanding what is ultimately trying to be achieved – learning to drive is not an academic achievement. It is common for the end goal to simply be stated as, “I want to pass”. So pupils come in to the working relationship with that goal and expectation, I just want to pass. Consequently, conversations, thoughts and feelings are centred around the assessment criteria of the tests because the pupil understandably thinks that if they can properly realise how high the bar is, then they can work on achieving that height. All very logical, perfectly reasonable and entirely flawed.
I recall a very bright pupil telling me that she was in a competition with her friends to see who could pass their driving test first with as few driving lessons as possible. Although she stated that her parents were apparently supporting her in this end goal, it was an end goal that I personally could not work towards and our training together came to an abrupt end.
The assessment criteria for driving tests and instructor qualifying tests addresses certain skills needed for the practical skill of: driving or facilitating learning. It will not be all the skills and perfection is not required because with the passing of time and gained experience, skills will continue to improve. But a way I like to think of it is in terms of damage limitation. Our regulator wants to test to ensure there is a minimum standard of competency; it just makes sense for maintaining safety on the roads, upholding standards in the industry and ensuring training is ‘fit for purpose’. As a side note, this is one of the interesting aspects of the current CEO’s attitudes to standards; she clearly thinks little of a national driving test pass rate of 45-50% and yet despite what has been a focussed effort for 2 years, the pass rate remains stubbornly at the same level.
If the end goal is simply to “pass the test”, undoubtedly that can be achieved relatively easily (perhaps with a few attempts needed), but the competence level will be mediocre – it has to be if you think about it because the only skills practised were those being tested and they represent only a sample of the total needed. As I say above, that mediocre level will ensure that the minimum standard is there, but it will be just that – “scraping a pass” as the saying goes.
For some, that will be fine, absolutely fine. They do not desire any higher competence levels. You will typically hear these people saying, “Well, I passed didn’t I? A pass is a pass at the end of the day”. Which is of course true, no denying that point. So, given that we should be expecting some people to take this attitude to how they learn, what precisely are the consequences of taking this approach to qualifying for both learners and PDI’s?
If a learner only practices what could come up in the driving test then the first thing to say is that the outcome will very much depend on where the test is being taken. Pass rates vary considerably across the UK from 30% to over 80%. The main reason for this is that certain locations have differing degrees of technical difficulty in terms of infrastructure e.g. demands within built-up areas, a lack of dual carriageways, the presence of complex multi-laned roundabouts, the average speed of traffic in that area etc. It is of course possible for there to be regional differences for the provision of quality training, or cultural differences about the attitude towards learning or road safety e.g. consider how attitudes may differ between learners who have experienced driving only in an inner-city location compared to one who lives in an extremely rural area. So you might say there is an element of ‘postcode lottery’ involved, although, there is no stipulation from the regulator that a person who lives in a certain location must take their test within a certain radius of it. But if there is likelihood that a learner driver is going to be driving anywhere in the UK (and perhaps even beyond) then there is clearly a risk associated with deliberately choosing a testing location that has an above average pass rate with a below average technical challenge. I have no personal knowledge of this subject but I would imagine that this is something the regulator is very aware of, and does all it can to ensure assessment standards are as equal as possible, but it must be quite a challenge. Just in the region that I serve, the pass rates vary from mid 40% up to mid 60% and the technical challenge is correspondingly considerably varied e.g. one test centre location may ask a candidate to emerge on to the A1 on the driving test and another may not even have a national speed limit dual carriageway. One location may have steep hills exceeding 10% gradient, and the other no hills whatsoever. Clearly, these differences will affect outcomes on tests but even more so for the person who passes having only practised in that area. That newly qualified driver faces the prospect of driving in considerably different driving conditions post-test once they start to drive across the UK – conditions they have as yet not experienced.
And so any new driving instructor really needs to be aware of the possibility of a customer just wanting to be trained to pass the test. But ironically, this is also happening in abundance for driving instructor training. The training scope for PDI’s can very easily be test-centric and about very little else other than the assessment criteria. Systematically “teaching” a learner driver with the overuse of techniques that can be useful in certain applications but becomes a blunt tool when used constantly is not adding value to pupils.
We can work with a very nervous pupil who struggles with car control but has a very good attitude to safe driving, and we can work with a very arrogant pupil who has natural aptitude for car control but a poor attitude to safe driving. Imagine if the pupil described latterly, trains for the bare minimum of the driving test requirements, and with luck on the day, manages to convince the examiner they are confident and competent. What a nasty combination that is.
Recent research from the DVSA suggests that only 53% of pupils feel ‘completely prepared’ prior to taking their first driving test, and yet 89% of learners and 70% of parents say that the driving instructor has the largest influence on the correct timing for taking a driving test. To me, this suggests that instructors should be more prepared to have very honest and open conversations with pupils about confidence and competence before deciding to book driving tests. As I have mentioned in previous episodes, we must be careful with placing too much weight on data, the fairly recent driving instructor survey in 2023 for example actually had responses from 14.7% of all ADI’s (5,797 ADI’s responded from a pool of 39,550 in March 2023). Furthermore, of those 5,797 ADI’s 73% of them had 5 or more years experience, and 49% had over 12 years experience. There are clearly a lot of newcomers to the industry who simply do not share their thoughts/feelings.
One could say that at times, there feels like there is an invisible force field between pupil and instructor. According to the above research, the pupil does not feel ready to go to test, and yet, an instructor is seemingly encouraging them to? But as discussed in Ep. 1, all ADI’s are being monitored and held to account for their pass rates – it is illogical for an instructor to entice a pupil to go to test too early. The industry average for passing a driving test is 45 hours with an ADI and 22 hours private practice – our regulator has done that national research twice now with very similar findings – it could be argued to be in everyone’s interests to fully embrace that research if we truly intend to start increasing driving test pass rates across the UK.
When I reflect on my own experience, I take far fewer pupils to test now and my pass rate currently stands at 85%. As was highlighted previously, it is generally accepted that more private car presentations for tests are being made these days compared to previous years and this seems to be backed up by my own experience. Even very nervous pupils, once they start to detect that they are making progress, will ignore my advice to keep on practising and insist on going to test too early in their own car. So you can imagine that if particularly nervous pupils are prepared to make that decision independently, then it is likely to be occurring a great deal across all pupils. I can say with confidence that if a pupil passes my mock test, they are very likely to pass a driving test. And yet, pupils will often ignore that fact. I imagine there will be many reasons why they ignore it, including financial pressure, time pressure or pressure from peers/parents to “give it a go”.
So as I consider my thoughts on this subject, what can I conclude? Quite naturally, humans will be highly motivated by doing what is needed to ‘pass a test’. And if that means robotically ‘performing’ on the day with behaviours that they do not intend to continue, then so be it. This is as true for learners and it is for PDI’s. Some of us are motivated towards performance goals as opposed to mastery goals, and likewise the amount that we allow our thoughts/feelings to change from the advice of professionals varies greatly.