Your driving instructor will nurture you through the formative period of your driving education, so you need to choose well. Sometimes they will need to boost your confidence and other times they will need to bluntly tell you where you have a surplus of confidence over your actual driving ability.
Given that this is one of the most important things you’ll ever learn to do in your life, how do you choose what driving instructor to use?
Ten helpful tips for choosing a reputable driving school/instructor
1. Check if the instructor is qualified and what is their DVSA Grade
Many of the large driving schools and some smaller driving schools offering low priced driving lessons use trainee driving instructors which means that although they have had a certain amount of training they are not yet qualified and will be actually practicing on you!! All driving instructors must display their badge in the front windscreen. A trainee license is pink and a fully qualified driving instructors badge will be green. When you make a booking at one of these driving schools they are unlikely to tell you that your driving lessons will be given by an unqualified driving instructor but they will most likely charge the same price for a driving lesson. Your instructor should be happy to show you their DVSA Standards Check SC1 form or if they don’t, ask yourself why – A good instructor has nothing to hide.
2. Look for a friendly and approachable driving instructor
Why put up with a grumpy or miserable driving instructor? Your driving instructor should be calm, professional, well mannered, cheerful and above all patient because not everyone learns at the same rate. When you make your first contact with him or her try to imagine being in a car with them because after all if they don’t sound that pleasant on the phone they are unlikely to get any better when teaching you to drive. If you get things wrong is he/she going to be more worried about their car or about your driving lesson?
3. Will you get one to one training for the whole lesson?
Some driving instructors still do what is known as “piggy backing” which used to be seen as part and parcel of driving lessons years back. However, over the years it has gradually faded away due to improved instructor training which has lead to better quality services being provided by a number of driving schools. Unfortunately, it hasn’t disappeared completely and some established driving instructors continue to piggy back pupils. If you don’t know, ‘piggy backing’ means: picking up a pupil for their driving lesson with the pupil from the previous driving lesson still in the car. Then, the first part of the lesson consists of taking the previous pupil back to their drop-off point during YOUR lesson time!!
This practice is frowned upon by the DVSA and should not be tolerated. If you pay for a driving lesson then that is what you should get and not have someone else sitting in the back putting YOU off your lesson. Driving instructors that use this technique will have plenty of excuses as to why it doesn’t matter, or even why it’s a good idea. But, the reality is, it’s about making more money at the expense of lesson quality. When an instructor uses the current pupil’s driving lesson to take the previous pupil back to their house, they are essentially creating extra time and money. This is because they are eliminating the unpaid, ‘non-lesson’ time taken up when driving between pupil pick up points.
However, the truth is that a pupil who has paid for a 1 hour driving lesson should expect exactly that – an hour long lesson focusing on their syllabus. Put another way, if your lesson is ’roundabouts’, it’s going to be tricky for the instructor to incorporate and teach that subject whilst thinking about the quickest way to get the previous pupil back to their drop off point. They might say there are roundabouts on the way, but it doesn’t take away from the fact that there is an ulterior motive behind the drive which ultimately means, until the previous pupil is out of the car, 100% focus is not being given to the current pupil.
It becomes even more obvious that lesson time is being wasted if you are expecting to learn a manoeuvre. Put simply, you are taking time out of your lesson to drop the last pupil off when you should be learning and practicing. There should not be 10 minute drive to the last pupil’s house which is thinly disguised as part of your driving lesson. At the very least, the presence of a stranger sitting in the back of the car changes the atmosphere and the dynamics of the lesson.
Because driving instruction is mostly a solitary career, it’s easy for instructors to use piggy backing. In fact, we have had pupils from all the major driving schools tell us it was happening in their lessons. It’s fair to say that this will be a choice made by the individual instructor, not the school and may well be happening without their knowledge. Happily, one to one driving lessons are seen by most driving schools as a good selling point, which means pupils are much less likely to experience piggy backing these days.
However, it does go on and if you are concerned about it, the first thing to do is to ask up front before booking your driving lessons. Any good driving instructor will be happy to clearly explain their policy. If you’re already having driving lessons where piggy backing is happening, you have the right to ask for one to one lessons and of course, the right to move elsewhere if you aren’t happy. If you don’t want to ask your driving instructor outright, you could always say that you’re not confident with someone else sitting in the back of the car and it’s effecting your ability to learn.
In summary: Piggy backing is not an acceptable part of driving instruction – whatever the reasons given! Insist on one to one driving lessons and make it clear that it’s what you are paying for!!
4. Never let your instructor make you feel stupid
If you make a mistake your driving instructor should help you correct it without making you feel stupid. If you need to go over something again and again until you get it right then your instructor should understand this and be patient and not let you feel bad about it.
5. Your instructor should always be punctual
Your driving instructor should pick you up on time and not drop you off before the end of the lesson. If this is unavoidable due to unforeseen circumstances your instructor should make up for lost time at the earliest convenience.
6. Your instructor should be fully committed to your lesson
Your instructor should NEVER use their mobile phone or eat snacks during your lesson as they would be committing a driving offence and it is not safe anyway. Can they really be teaching you whilst having a conversation or texting someone else? Is the driving instructor giving you their 100% undivided attention and concentration? There should NOT be any snack breaks, cigarette breaks or toilet breaks (unless absolutely necessary). A good driving instructor will always allow time for these things between driving lessons.
7. Will your instructor use proper lesson plans and progress reports?
Ask your driving instructor if they use lesson plans covering the whole DVSA syllabus and carry out your lessons in a structured way. A good driving school will give you a list of subjects that need to be covered with diagrams and plans to help you understand the various topics. If necessary a whole lesson should be devoted to some of the topics, especially roundabouts which is where most accidents occur. A good driving instructor will always discuss with you at the beginning of the driving lesson the subjects that are to be taught and the lesson aims and objectives. A full discussion about progress made during the lesson and plans for the next lesson should take place when the car is stationary at the end of the lesson and not while the student is still driving.
8. Positive feedback and encouragement
It is very important that your driving instructor should praise you when you do things well and not just tell you when you have done something badly. Being praised and given encouragement enables you to know that you are actively learning and making progress. Constant negative remarks are bad for everyone and make you feel like you are never going to get things right.
9. Don’t get talked into block booking lessons in advance
There is nothing wrong with block booking to save money but you should always be able to get most or all of your money back for unused lessons if something goes wrong and you can’t continue or even if you decide to change your driving instructor. Beware of the small print!!! Lesson prices are always top of any new pupil’s list of questions for a Driving Instructor. Many driving schools offer “Special Introductory Rates” when you start but prices soon shoot up after a few lessons. Consider this: is it worth saving a few quid up front when lessons then end up costing more and you may end up taking twice as long to pass your test anyway?
10. Always choose a driving instructor that cares about you and your lessons
Some driving instructors only care about taking your money and not if you are happy with your lessons or not. At the end of each lesson you should feel good about what you have learned and be looking forward to the next lesson and your driving instructor should make sure of this. You may want to consider having longer lessons so that you can vary routes and practice more subjects and not just keep going round the same old routes.
Finding an instructor
Reviews and social proof
Ask around to find out who is the best instructor in your area. Look at reviews on online review websites (though, be aware that it’s easy to make fake reviews, both good and bad).
Use Directgov’s postcode-based search to find an instructor near you. For example enter your postcode into the form, click ‘Find Nearest’ and you’ll see a list of local Approved Driving Instructors – name, phone, email address and distance from your location. If the email address looks like it’s a personalised website (i.e. not a Yahoo, Hotmail or Gmail address), you can probably deduce their website so you can check that out before calling.
Independent driving instructor, or a driving school?
Some drivers work independently and you will deal with them directly. Others work as part of a school with several drivers. Make sure to talk directly with the driving instructor that you will use to make sure you feel comfortable.
Remember that you can be taking practical driving lessons while you are also learning your theory – click here for the car questions for free. An instructor will help you with any areas that you find difficult, giving you real-world examples in a driving situation.