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18th October 2022
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24th October 2022

Standards Checks for driving instructors

Owner of BIG TOM Driving School Franchise, Tom Ingram, offers his advice about standards checks. 

There is nothing quite like the subject of driving instructor grades to stir up emotions. In this blog, I want to offer my guidance to any instructors reading who are finding the subject is creating anxiety or sleepless nights or affecting their instructional performance. 

It is not unusual for professionals to be observed while performing their job role. People will naturally react in diverse ways to being observed. And while at that moment, as uncomfortable as it is – believe me, I am one of the worse – it is best just to see it as a moment in time. It does not define you. What happens in that 1-hour period, DOES NOT DEFINE YOU. 

How each of us perceives things is deeply personal, and if you find that the subject of standards checks really affects you negatively, do not just settle for that realisation, really try to understand why you feel the way you do. This is no different to how we would advise our learner pupils when it comes to their feelings about the driving test yes? It is a skill to be able to meaningfully assist pupils who are terrified of the driving test. 

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What is happening here is that while we think about being assessed, we feel threatened. We start to have irrational thoughts of losing our green badge, looking stupid in front of our pupil, being humiliated by our peers due to receiving a lower grade. And those feelings of fear, become all-consuming. As such, in moments of fear, one of our three evolutionary reactions from deep within the brain can be triggered: fight, flight or freeze. You might be able to recall how you have previously reacted on a standards check and which of these reactions relates to what happened. 

The good news is that there are things that you can do to minimise the three f’s. We offer you free training on this subject when you join the BIG TOM Franchise; for those who feel they need it. You will benefit from it and so will your pupils when you help them. We run our daily lives on emotions, and it would be foolish to consider it a weakness, far from it, it is what makes us unique. 

Getting back to the outcomes of the assessment for a moment. If something significant crops up, then yes, there is a need to really focus on that skill that is lacking. But most results will either be A or B grade – the vast majority. I believe whichever grade an ADI gets; it can easily result in negative outcomes. An A grade and the ADI thinks they are the best thing to have been in the driving training industry since magnetic L plates were invented (aren’t they just trash?!), complacency sets in, and training standards drop. A grade B result and the ADI spends the rest of their career until the next assessment considering themselves lower class, somehow inferior and useless with an inevitable reduction in training standards. 

There are two points I would make about the outcome: 

  1. Shock, horror, some people ‘game’ the assessment. There are so-called “trainers” out there who advise ADIs to be very selective with regard to the type of pupil they present, the location they go to, and the subject they cover. While it is natural human behaviour to act in this way, quite whether it fits with what the DVSA have in mind for the purpose of the assessment is another subject but try not to take results too seriously; many trainers simply ‘coach’ a result for their client [round of applause]. 
  2. The idea that a person’s instructional ability can be meaningfully assessed in the space of a one-hour driving lesson involving one pupil, every 4 years is frankly, for the birds. This is a controversial statement, and difficult to corroborate but one I passionately believe is true. Just because a statement is hard to evidence, does not in itself make it false. But it would seem, the DVSA also have their doubts because they are selecting the timing of assessments based on driving test results and outcomes now, rather than the previous standards check grade. If the DVSA thought that Grade B instructors need to be re-assessed before Grade A instructors then they would systematically recall them sooner, but they prefer to recall instructors from the outcomes of driving tests, not the previous grade. It is possible that they have recognised the limited validity of the assessment in terms of its capacity to accurately assess instructional ability. One only needs to have seen how many Grade A instructors were on the spreadsheets shown to us all in August 2021, when the DVSA introduced this new recall system, to realise that Grade A ADI’s are commonly being recalled for standards checks due to driving test outcomes. But in the interests of objectivity, I do currently have a FOI request submitted on this subject. To get instant notification of the result subscribe to the ADI Union Forum. 


I take the view that it is far more constructive to consider our skills as needing to be in a state of continual refinement. There is no benefit to complacency. No matter what our grade is, we should always be looking to improve. We all have our off days, we do not operate like robots; I had a stinker of a lesson yesterday and have made time to accurately reflect on it. If you can raise your self-awareness so slight blips in performance can be identified and analysed, then continual improvement will result. In the induction training given to instructors who join BIG TOM, we cover the subject of raising self-awareness because the skill is as beneficial to our pupils as it is to us. 

Franchise Information Memorandum available on request – recruit@bigtom.org.uk