In this article, Driving School Dave shows you the real reasons pupils leave driving instructors and how by addressing a few simple areas, you can improve pupil retention, referrals and happier pupils.
Some time ago now, when Trevor Wedge was Chief Driving Examiner (anyone remember him?) for the DSA as it was, he told me 2 facts. The first fact I knew the second surprised me.
- The average amount of lessons taken by a pupil to pass the practical driving test is 47 hours of professional driving lessons and 22 hours of private practice (when taken as one hourly lessons).
- The average pupil uses on average three professional driving instructors. So they are changing their driving instructor twice before taking a driving test.
I was shocked by the second statement. “That can’t be right, Trevor,” I said. “I don’t lose any of my pupils to other instructors.” So, he asked me “well Dave, what are you doing right to keep them?”
It made me think, if averages are correct then some pupils must be using 4 or 5 instructors or even more.
Being part of Middlesex University and having my Middlesex account, I was able to do a little research. I already knew that the driving school I worked for at the time had a lot of instructors. I also knew that a lot of those instructors were losing pupils. So, I did some research.
I asked the instructors of this school and posted on a forum some years ago the following question.
“Why do pupils leave you?”
This fell into 2 camps
The reasons generally given by pupils were:
- “I’m going on holiday; I’ll call you when I get back.”
- “I can’t afford them at the moment.”
- “Mum/dad says I need to use their friend…”
- Or they just hide behind the sofa when you call
Instructors blamed the following;
- “The pupils are crap.”
- “The school I work for is crap.”
- “They only book for the offers, then they move on to the next offer.”
- Or they actually believe the reasons above the pupil gave them.
You can already see that the reasons why instructors thought they lost pupils was completely different to what the pupils were saying.
As part of the study, I also asked pupils using my Middlesex ID:
- Were they taking driving lessons (I already knew they were)?
- How many lessons have they taken?
- Do they do 1, 1 ½ or 2-hour lessons?
- Are they happy with their driving instructor?
- How many professional driving instructors have they used?
- Why did they leave their previous instructor(s)?
The results were very interesting and certainly did not match the above reasons given or the belief of the instructors. Bearing in mind they were talking to someone from a University doing research and not the instructor or driving school.
The main answers to these questions were:
- “My instructor kept shouting.”
- “My instructor was always late or cancelling lessons.”
- “I did not feel I was making progress.”
- “We just drove around while they played on their phone.”
- “My instructor was smelly.” (Smoke/BO/food/worse!!)
Let’s look in more detail at each reason…
Reason 1: “My instructor kept shouting”
In reality, I don’t believe that all the instructors were shouting. If instructors skip the ‘analysis’ stage and go straight to ‘telling,’ pupils perceive this as shouting.
For example, “you didn’t check your mirrors, check your mirrors in the new road,” or “you’re going too fast, slow down.”
In each of the above examples you’ve gone from ‘identification’ to ‘guided practice’ (telling).
Does the sound familiar?
“Your bedroom’s a mess, tidy it up”
“Why have you not washed that cup up, wash it up now”
It does not work for teenagers at home – nor in the car with learners!!!
Reason 2: “My instructor was always late of cancelling driving lessons”
This is still one of the most common complaints we hear in the office, despite social media forums being full of instructors complaining about pupils cancelling!!
I believe that if pupils are complaining about an instructor, the relationship has already broken down. Pupils do not complain about us if they are happy – rather they support us with whatever it is that causes us to miss the lesson. It’s human nature to help one another.
Occasionally we all need to move or cancel and if you have a good relationship (professional) with the pupil, this should not be a problem. But it needs to be a 2-way thing, if your pupil needs to cancel or move a driving lesson then this should be OK too. I mean on the odd occasion of course; habitual cancellations are dealt with another way. The trouble is, there’s one of you and many pupils and if a few pupils cancel, it can feel like they’re all against you. I’ve pondered the cancellation thing many times as I see it regularly in the forums. Did I get cancellations? Yes. Why did they not bother me? Because I did something else. I used to think, great I can do some studying or go for a nice breakfast or get the car cleaned. I turned the negative into the positive.
Reason 3: “I wasn’t making progress in my lessons”
One of the most common things I see when observing is a driving lesson with no goal. The instructor just delivers a driving lesson with no real aim, a bit of junctions, a bit of roundabouts, some meeting and a manoeuvre thrown in.
Pupils need a structure, a tick list to see what they’ve done and what’s left to do. So, structure your lessons in-line with the DVSA syllabus and use a good lesson record card. I’ve always used two:
- One for me
- A duplicate for the pupil
We would fill them in together in the lesson recaps. It also helps the pupil decide what they want to do next. Remember, client led learning. My own driving school post these to the pupils and my instructors have access to download their copies. We send them to the pupil to encourage their use.
Reason 4: “The instructor was playing on their phone during the lesson”
OMG I honestly can’t believe this still happens so much. Apart from the facts it’s illegal, it’s extremely un-professional. The pupil is paying for your time and not for you to play on the phone – or for that matter run your business during THEIR driving lesson. You should not take bookings, send text messages or anything else.
Reason 5: “My instructor was smelly”
A very difficult one as it often takes someone else to tell us. But the simple fact is, pupils were saying their instructor smelt of BO, foul and even worse…
Often, an instructor has told me they smoke but they add, “I don’t smell of smoke.” I’ve actually had to tell them, “yes you do,” normally to their horror. Remember it’s illegal to smoke in a driving school car and if the vehicle smells of smoke, a driving examiner can refuse to take the car on test. And simply making your car smell of smoke with a hint of pine, doesn’t work…
Also, vaping in the car – not illegal, but we’ve had complaints.
I once counted 6 different take-away wrappers in the back of an instructor’s car when doing check test training and one felt like it had the remains of a fish supper in it…yuck
So let’s get to the point
- Pupils will rarely tell YOU the true reason why they leave.
- They WILL tell their friends/parents/the DVSA.
- There is a lot we can do to ensure pupils stay with us.
- And ultimately tell their friends good stuff about you.
If you’ve heard any horror stories about instructor etiquette, or if you can think of any reasons why pupils have left you, leave a comment below.
P.S: Look out for more content on this subject and others on this blog in the very near future.
Dave Foster MA, Dip.DI (or Driving School Dave) is the most qualified driving school owner in the country, after completing his Master’s Degree in Driver Training Education in 2011 at Middlesex University. He also holds a diploma in Driving Instruction and is a Cert Ed. qualified teacher. Dave is the founder and Managing Director of 1st 4 Driving Ltd, and also looks after over 15 driving schools across the country on a consultancy basis.