These are testing times, indeed, for driving instructors
Since coming out of the Pandemic and the lockdowns that went with it, the demand for driving tests is causing huge problems nationwide. Driving instructors are finding it massively challenging and stressful to continuously juggle and balance their pupils’ expectations and needs, parents’ expectations, test waiting times and test availability.
For example, an instructor decides to postpone the pupil’s test because they are clearly not ready. Or the pupil goes for their test and fails – not a ‘bad’ fail, with one serious and a couple of driver errors. In both cases, the next test date could be five months down the line; and the instructor is presented with the dilemma of what to do with the pupil to keep their standard high enough for the new test date.
In some cases, the pupil will, inevitably, fall off the radar. They may have run out of funds, or they simply do not understand the need to take lessons to keep their standard high enough. In addition to this, the instructor has a long waiting list and may need to fill their diary with new pupils, taking the place of those waiting for their test. Sometimes, an agreement is made that the pupil will return for a few lessons just prior to the new test date and then the instructor has their work cut out to get the pupil test-ready again.
In some fortunate cases, the pupil agrees to take a lesson every two or three weeks throughout the waiting time, and this is probably the best-case scenario.
The greatest catastrophe with this situation is that the instructor becomes test-focused and therefore fault-focused
They dump their coaching and client-centred learning techniques in favour of short-term solutions that are just too focused on getting the pupil ready for their test.
You might wonder, so what?
The reason this is a catastrophe is because a totally test-focused approach does nothing to develop lifelong skills of self-evaluation, judgement and decision-making. Transferable skills, that can be applied in all the new driving experiences the post-test pupil needs to manage, are not being developed, when the training is all around identifying, analysing and remedying faults. Fault correction is primarily addressed through rote-learning; and this technique does not equip learner drivers with the skills necessary to reflect and make safe decisions when out driving on their own.
As it is, we know that one in five newly qualified drivers is involved in a serious crash within the first 250 miles of driving post-test. We also know that research has shown that those drivers, who are able to recognise a ‘near-miss’, are less likely to be involved in a crash.
The ability to recognise a ‘near-miss’ comes down to self-awareness and self-responsibility – the driver has to be self-aware enough to analyse their part in the ‘near-miss’ and take steps to avoid something similar happening again.
In other words, their driver training needs to focus on the development of self-evaluation skills
A goal-focused approach - where the instructor discusses and agrees the goal, the structure of the lesson (including how much help the pupil needs), and the practice areas – encourages the pupil to take responsibility for their own learning and, through reflection and self-evaluation, helps them identify what they need to do to improve. These skills are drawn upon when the pupil has passed their test and is out driving on their own.
Under pressure, with a test date looming – or the pupil only taking rare lessons on the run-up to the test – the risk is that the goal-focus approach goes out of the window and the instructor resorts to test-focused training.
So, what is the solution?
The solution sits with the instructor, whose job it is to, consciously and deliberately, remain in a client-centred relationship with the pupil.
A client-centred relationship is based on the belief that ‘learning comes from within’. In other words, the pupil has all the resources that they need to become a safe driver; and it is the instructor’s job to facilitate the process of drawing this out of the pupil and filling in the gaps in knowledge, where necessary and relevant.
Practically, this means the instructor needs to work in and around the pupil’s individual context – their reason for wanting to learn to drive, providing opportunities to give them ‘real-world’ experiences whenever possible.
The instructor needs to set their intention, not to talk about the test; and not to focus on faults. Instead, to focus on goals.
Here are some examples:
1. Ask the pupil to drive themselves to a near-by town centre (following signs for Town Centre or Station or Hospital, etc.). Once they have navigated through the town centre, they need to follow signs to get back onto the ‘A’ road and drive home again.
Ask them, what they would like to get out of this (the Goal) and how they would like to do it (the Structure). They might want a few moments on their own to plan their route or to look at Google Maps; or they might be happy to get on with it and have a go. You might choose to scale the goal – say, it is to do with becoming confident that they can navigate themselves on the journey, where zero is they have no confidence and ten is they have total confidence.
Tell them, they will be driving as if on their own. You are simply there to keep the car safe and will not comment on their driving unless you need to manage the risk. Remind them you have the dual controls (if this is the case) and they can, therefore, concentrate on their goal, knowing that you will keep the car safe.
Once the car moves, be happy to sit in silence. However, remain alert, observing the pupil and the surroundings, so that you can step in with clear and well-timed prompts, if necessary; and so that you can intervene verbally or physically, again, if necessary.
When the pupil pulls up after the drive, use your teaching and learning strategies to debrief them. Draw from them what they were particularly pleased about and why. Ask them if there is anything they would do differently another time. Scale them again and see if their score has changed since the initial goal-setting conversation.
Spend time on this, because this is where the true learning takes place – through reflection and self-evaluation.
Discuss anything you feel they need to work on, including any safety critical incidents where you needed to intervene to manage the risk. Be positive and speak about development and improvement rather than focusing on where they went wrong, made a mistake or messed up.
2. The above example can be adapted so that the pupil drives to a friend’s house or to work or to a multi-storey car park. This can also be done with the satnav.
3. Task the pupil that they are going to drive for an hour (assuming a 1.5-hour or 2-hour lesson). During this time, they can go wherever they want but they must complete all the manoeuvres. Here, it is good to tell them the manoeuvres must be completed to a test- standard and that, if they don’t think it would pass the test, they must do it again – this works well because they are self-evaluating their performance and measuring it against the driving test with no input from you.
Again, set a goal – what do they want to achieve by the end of the hour.
During the hour’s drive, say nothing to them about their driving, unless you need to manage the risk. Do not critique them – no praise and no mention of faults. If it seems appropriate, put them under a bit of pressure by reminding them how much time they have left and how many manoeuvres they still need to complete.
Remember where the learning takes place and spend time debriefing the whole drive, particularly discussing how they felt under pressure and whether it affected their driving ability. Notice if you had to manage the risk more as the hour advanced and let them know about this. Relate this to post-test driving and discuss what strategies they could put in place to mitigate the risks of driving under pressure.
4. If you have two or three pupils in the same situation – waiting for a test date that is months’ ahead – get them all out together for half a day, giving each person the opportunity to drive for an hour or so. This can be a great experience for all involved.
Remember to ask each person to set their personal goal – what do they want to achieve? And avoid talking about faults (or the driving test) – just manage the risk. Here, the risk might be as much to do with the driver’s skill-set in dealing with the distractions of two peers in the car, as with anything that happens outside of the vehicle.
The development of lifelong driving skills is key to a pupil being able to pass the first hurdle of the driving test
It enables them to experience real-world driving, and this helps them develop their own strategies and resources for managing the stress and pressure of driving in any situation – even the driving test, which becomes easy by comparison.