Response to the standards check announcement

Wow what a stir!

The DVSA have certainly got everyone’s attention with their latest email. If your pass rate is low, expect a standard check sooner.

But let’s look into this and why this is happening.

driving instructor standards check
The DVSA will start taking your pupils’ faults into account when prioritising standards checks

For those who missed it, DVSA sent out a communication yesterday indicating that instructors who have had a ‘substandard test’ or ‘failed to attend a check’ will be prioritised for future standards checks. They have confirmed that they will also be using information in your driving test analysis report (including your pupils’ serious and driving faults) when deciding who to prioritise. This means that ‘high performing’ ADIs will be identified by the DVSA as driving instructors who are “less likely to need support”. They will also be offering a 20-30 minute voluntary engagement call 8 weeks ahead of your standards check, where the examiner will talk you through your test analysis report, which you will be able to request a copy of.

Firstly, I realise that the following advice is not going to be accepted by many driving instructors. But these are my own thoughts from working for over 20 years in this profession and culminating in a vast array of experience, qualifications (including my Master’s Degree in Driver Training Education) and success. If you don’t agree, by all means pass on by.

For 20 years I have heard the DVSA (or DSA as they were once known), say how standards of pupils were low and many are presented to test too early. Given that, it has always amazed me how the answer for many is to to change the test – or to add or remove certain manoeuvres.

Let me be clear, I know how difficult it is with the combination of pupil pressure, parental pressure, and financial pressure to put pupils up for test early. I’ve been in test centres (as we all have) and heard instructors openly say “she ain’t got a chance” or “there’s no way he’ll pass”. I made the mistake once of asking “…so why put them in if they’re not ready?”

I’ve sat in the back of lessons when doing part 3 or standards check training with instructors whose pupil is, according to them, ‘test ready’, and yet they are still giving instruction. Even on the day, going to the test centre, some are outright instructing. These pupils are clearly not test ready.

Back in the early days as an instructor I started collecting my own personal test data. Every driver fault, serious and dangerous fault was marked off by type, route, and examiner. In six years of data there were barely 5 dangerous faults. I noticed a trend for two things, driver faults for gears and driver faults for positioning. So, I spoke to examiners and asked them for advice. I said I had noticed my trend and what was it they were seeing. So I set about correcting this. I always monitored results and if I saw any future trend, I would attempt to sort it. It’s all too easy to ignore the driver faults we get as instructors and dismiss them as unimportant.

Now look again what I said in the last paragraph.

It’s all too easy to ignore the driver faults we get as instructors and dismiss them as unimportant.

I took responsibility for those pupils’ faults as mine. I realised every pupil failure was my failure. I didn’t take this to the extreme but looked at how I could improve my teaching to eliminate any trends. I didn’t dismiss it as ‘nothing I could do’ – as there was!

And it worked.

My test pass rates got higher. I kept fine tuning this all the time. “How can I be a better instructor?”, was always the question at the forefront of my mind!

The examiner’s perspective

I know my mindset earnt the trust of the examiners. Let’s face it, they are human and have a job to do.

Driving lesson
Driving examiners are only human…

Just imagine you’re the examiner for a second. You walk down to the test centre waiting room, call the pupil’s name and they’re with an instructor you already know has a poor pass rate – or tends to have pupils displaying the same faults every time. What are you feeling? When that pupil makes the very first fault, what do you begin to think? “Oh, here we go again.”

Now change the situation. As you walk into the waiting room, the pupil is with an instructor known for a higher pass rate, how do you feel as the examiner? When the first fault happens, what do you think?

Now, I know examiners shouldn’t let feelings come into it, but they are human and these thoughts are inevitable.

Let’s look at an even worse example. I’ve been witness to some shocking things in test centres. Instructors who start shouting at examiners for doing a bay park at the beginning of the test, instructors who go out and ask ‘aggressively’ why the examiner was looking under the car after a bay park. Or the instructor who refused to teach any show me tell me questions because it “wasn’t not his job”.

I was told in private once after a CPD event that almost every test centre had instructors who had 0% pass rates. They added, “and I bet you could tell me who they were!”. I didn’t, but I could have. One instructor used to proudly “in front of his pupils” say how the b******s upstairs (meaning the examiners) hadn’t passed one of his pupils that year. I really felt for the pupils. Especially sitting in a car with the same instructor with the remains of the kebab he spilt down his front 4 days ago still there (I actually witnessed the event!). These stories must resonate all over the country in different test centres. I’m amazed it has gone on for so long.

It’s the nerves…

A lot of instructors claim that nervous pupils are the primary reason for their low pass rate.

It’s true, nerves play a part, but I want you to imagine this:

A pupil is sitting in the test centre waiting to be called. She’s worried in particular about her roundabouts. So what’s going through her mind? She gets in the car, heads toward the exit of the test centre and she thinks… “I hope we don’t go left towards that roundabout.” Meanwhile the examiner notes a driver fault for something routine because they are not concentrating on the present.

I’d be nervous too! I do suffer with nerves; those who know me may know that. How I combat my nerves is by ensuring I am 100% confident in what I’m doing. Practice, practice and practice again. I took this into my lessons as an instructor.

Six weeks or so before my pupil’s test I’d ask them, “if your test was today, what would worry you?” I’d ask what they wanted to cover on that lesson and I bet you know what they said! The lessons leading up to the test were all about them driving without help (yes, occasionally I would add the “and how could that have been done better?” for example).

Why is it pupils who often go to the test with mum or dad for private practice tend to pass easier? It’s all down to experience. Pupils need to go to test knowing they can pass not just hoping they will!

Pupils with disabilities

If you’re an instructor who primarily deals with pupil who have learning difficulties or disabilities, the DVSA examiners will already know this. Normally you will have actually done more CPD than the average instructor too, so you will manage this.

A person with learning difficulties might need additional training to pass their test. This is a manageable process.

Yes, they might have additional nerves, or a reason why they might be particularly anxious. Again, as a professional instructor you can manage this. Perhaps get someone else to do the mock test to make it feel real. This is something I do occasionally for my instructors on parts 2 and 3.

So what’s the solution?

The bottom line is, the DVSA are trying to do something to improve pass rates, and I believe there’s a lot we can do to help. I know how difficult it is to get a test at the moment, our office staff are checking for tests for our pupils regularly throughout the day. And low pass rates aren’t helping to clear the backlog.

The situation with tests is massively impacting on my business too. I have trainees who could go out and help reduce the problem and help with the backlog, but can’t because there just aren’t any part 2 tests available.

We need to make sure every pupil who goes to the test is ready.

At the six week point I mentioned before, If I thought a pupil wasn’t going to be ready for their test, I would give them options.

  1. Postpone the test
  2. Get some more lessons in.

9 out of 10 would opt for more lessons.

They knew it was false economy not too. Either spend it now or spend it later. I think it helped that my pupils knew the advice I was giving them was honest, sound and professional. As businesses first and driving instructors second, it is up to us to manage this situation.

We find ourselves in extraordinary times and each of us needs to take responsibility and to work best of our ability help pull together. After all, you’ll have a better business to at the end of it!

On a related note:

If you haven’t already got your copy yet, I’ve written and produced a new Lesson Planner to help you give structured, productive driving lessons using the best coaching techniques. This is designed primarily to help you with your standards check/part 3 test, but will also massively help your pupils with loads of great diagrams to help you add visuals to your teaching. It covers every single part of the DVSA’s ‘Learning to Drive’ syllabus so every lesson is covered.

Simply put, it’s your new best friend.

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