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I've been an Approved Driving Instructor for close to 20 years. In that time I've seen some real challenges, from just starting out, to the financial crisis of 2008, not to mention other internal problems that have made running your business very difficult. Do you remember Groupon & Wowcher? These may have been great for the consumer but crippling for businesses. Many felt they needed to jump on the bandwagon. You don't need to be an approved driving instructor to run a driving school. Anyone can set up a business and sell driving lessons if they have instructors available to take the lessons.

In 2011 there were some 46,000 approved driving instructors on the register. At the same time in 2021 there were around 38,000. In this time there has been no significant increase in those wanting to learn to drive. The birth rate tends to stay very average. Its my personal opinion that the register is still too high. Oh......I nearly forgot!!!! Instructors had to close their businesses for 9 months because of covid. Along with many other service providers which were hit hardest. I don't want to go over old ground. It was a numbers game and certain businesses were picked up. You may have thought, with the backlog of driving tests reaching well over half a million students we would have been fully booked for months ahead. The problem is as Driving Instructors we rely on Driving Tests. This is what drives the market forwards. People take lessons, then take a driving test. Its that simple the process begins again.

Back in April 2021 when most of us knew the pandemic has passed and no further lockdowns were going to be stomached by the British public many driving instructors went about their business as close to normal as possible. This was a good time. Although the pressure to help students pass the test over the summer was greatly increased, many stepped up to the plate and put in the hours required to get the 1st time pass. During lockdown I had time to plan for my clients tests, and book tests in advance. There was also enough students wanting lessons that meant any gaps in my diary were quickly filled.

Summer tends to be the busier period for instructors. We have a large amount of students returning home from Uni, along with others that are basically free from sometime during May right through till September/October. You also have more flexibility in your diary as clients have more free time to fit around our schedules. It reduces the downtime between lessons.

What I expected to happen

I was expecting an all hands on deck approach. After all we had a huge crisis. Half a Million students wanting driving tests, that's before you even begin to address those who have missed their chance from cancelled theory tests, and just missing the boat. There was silence. Literally silence. No extra tests were made available. We were approaching summer with a chance to really maximise the working week and nothing happened. We drifted into winter again with a bigger problem than we started with. Did instructors get blamed for the long wait?

The DVSA have started to recruit more examiners, but they are barely replacing those who have either left or moved onto other positions. They came up with a system that monitored driving instructors students who are presented for tests. The aim being that if you increase the pass rate you reduce the waiting list. I don't know many instructors who want to present students for test too early. Its false economy! We make money from driving lessons, driving tests take up an enormous amount of time in our diaries. So not only did we need to try to recover our losses for 9months we now needed to manage the students we present to driving tests with a 6month waiting list. I'm not suggesting its a bad suggestion, just merely the timing of this and the fact many of us were unpaid for 9months it was not received well by the majority of those in the profession.

Nearly 12 months on from the last lockdown Nearly 12 months have passed and we are in serious trouble. There seems to be no real solid suggestions on how this problem can be resolved. This is how our businesses are changing. If driving instructors need to adapt to the changes then so do our clients.

What changes need to happen

Firstly its important our clients understand that studying for their theory test should be placed well before they want to start driving lessons.

This will allow instructors and students to book their driving test in advance. Removing the need to find a cancellation for the first driving test. It also allows instructors time to manage changes. So if for example you plan a test 6months in advance, you only need to monitor the progress every 4 weeks to assign another test if needed.

Managing our diaries

Not everyone passes first time. It would be great if they did, as the problem would evaporate overnight. The aim is and always has been to get that first time pass. Once the wait for tests grows it becomes harder to plan an effective training program. With the added pressure on Instructors to perform and the wait for tests, its building up to an unhealthy mixture.

What should the DVSA be doing

At the very least they should be sitting down with driving instructors and actually coming to some sensible solutions. In the past many driving instructors have applied to become driving examiners. In one year I recall there being some 7000 applicants who were driving instructors. Now, of course the demand for lessons has grown so there are less instructors looking to switch sides. The pay gap has shortened. Driving Instructors are now earning close to what driving examiners get paid, so the switch is less attractive. Recruitment is the key. We need more driving examiners. We also need driving examiners to be working additional hours in an attempt to get movement within the system. Currently the difference in a weekday and weekend test is £13.00. Its my opinion that people would be willing to pay a premium for weekend and evening driving tests and this could then be passed onto the examiners.

Cancellation checkers

These have always played an important part of my business. Though in recent years the use has escalated, we now almost have a black market for driving tests. People paying upwards of £250 for a driving test. No one has the time to sit around on a computer all day in the hope they find a driving test. But these systems have almost cancelled each other out as they are ineffective with so many people looking for tests at the same time. Most cancellation checkers cost around £20/£25. They work independently from the DVSA booking system, but gain access via the 'Change Test' route.

What does this mean to driver training?

There are many changes that will need to happen in order to make the process of gaining your driving an easier process. Taking and passing your theory test before you start driving lessons will make a huge difference to the way instructors can handle your practical driving test. Ensuring your focus is on safe driving and not on passing the driving test. Taking regular weekly driving lessons. Being prepared to allow for some disruption within your training where instructors need to accommodate short notice tests. There are some students who fail driving tests. Being prepared to stop lessons to allow for another student to pick up their lessons again. Consider private practice in the down times.

It means for at least the next 12 months possibly 2 years people will need to get use to struggling to find a driving test they want. The cost of taking lessons will therefore increase overall. The days of someone starting lessons in June and passing before September are far behind us.


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