Have we got it all wrong?

I have been reviewing my recent driving instruction and although I am feeling quite satisfied with my results for this year, I am always aware that there is never any room for complacency and when one is having a good patch, one has to be guarded, since the next one is likely to be downhill. I believe that in order to progress, it is necessary to be regularly analysing the reasons for any successes as well as the failures and just as we ADIs do, I was wondering if the DSA has been reviewing the past 70 years of the Driving Test and if they are planning for the successful future of their clients, or if in fact they are actually planning for the successful future of the DSA.

I am sure that when many ADI's review their own work, they increasingly wonder where they are personally going in the profession and maybe wonder whether the direction we are being led is either necessary or correct? It is so easy to proceed in the usual way and support the status quo, but that does not always lead to progress and asking how and why there are failures and successes and how to address them is often quite difficult. I then questioned if the DSA is actually happy that its business seems to be based on the failure of its clients and if in fact the clients' successes are secondary to politics and the bottom line. Why is the national failure rate of learners so high? Why is the failure rate of instructor training even worse? Why are so many drivers being lured to become PDIs?

I specialise in teaching those who have emotional, physical, educational, perceptual and ageing problems etc., but I am not anything special as an instructor, my driving is no better than anyone else's, I make mistakes and have always had frus­trating memory problems, so why are most of my clients successful ? Have I got some special formula for success, or are many instructors being led in the wrong direction by the Government and the training industry? Why do some learners fail repeatedly and yet are told that just by PMA (Positive Mental Attitude) and trying and trying again they will in the end succeed when what they actually require is an identification of their needs, an analysis of their problems and a specific targeting of these problems to help them achieve success and not a repetition of what has been pre programmed for them. Should the emphasis be on HOW we teach and not WHAT we teach? If we were led by our customers instead of our masters, would we in fact be more successful and would we in fact be focusing on teaching PEOPLE instead of teaching DRIVING?

My clients tell me that my success is because I treat them as people, get to understand their personal needs, address their specific needs, don't patronise or shout at them, am enthusiastic, make driving interesting, have faith in them and do not try to fit them into the system that I have to teach, but try to analyse their problems and discover the way which is best for them to learn. I know that other instructors work on the same basis, but this seems to be fundamentally against how we are expected to "instruct" by the DSA and consequently in conflict with many of the training policies. Driving is both skill and knowledge based and personally I feel quite insulted to be called an Approved Driving Instructor. It smacks of obedience and the army and telling people what to do, but we now have a different clientele than that of immediate post war. The term trainer to me implies training the unthinking to perform without independent thought, so I use the terms teacher or tutor, but even those terms do not really describe what I do in facilitating clients' learning and helping their individual development to enable them to take ownership of their learning, achieve their goals and so function independently of me. Is learning to drive actually more about emotions and psychology than techniques and are we making it more difficult than necessary for many of our clients and failing many of the others?

In my previous incarnation as a specialist teacher working within the Educational Psychologist Department, I encountered many pupils whose love of learning and chances of success had been destroyed by the system they were expected to conform to. Many adults hate maths or languages and feel a failure because of the way it was taught to them. The love of learning is primarily initiated by the teacher and consequently so are the clients' chances of success or failure. I believe it is primarily the fault of the teacher if the client does not enjoy or succeed with their driving and whilst in a school situation, there is always the problem of a large class and the demands of the many versus the individual, the driving instructor has no excuse for not identifying or addressing the individual needs of the client.

The DSA seems to want us to work to a syllabus to produce homogenised clients to fit certain pigeon holes which are easy to classify and control, but is this for the benefit of the client or the system? How many ADIs think the revised more rigid Pass Plus has been a retrograde step which actually restricts learning and the flexibility of teaching to the clients' needs? Is our professionalism being degraded by these imposed systems? How many of us find the idea of a prescribed log book or lesson plans pointless for the experienced ADI? I do not underestimate their value when training to be an instructor, but they soon lose their value when we become skilled at meeting the needs of the individual person and where the setting of attainment targets may be very destructive to their enjoyment and subsequent ownership of learning. If clients are taken back to the mystique of a new subject, instead of developing skills they already know, they stiffen up, are scared and are overwhelmed by the complexities of the new subject and the vast amount they have to learn. Are we making driving more complicated in order to protect our own expertise, instead of building on what our clients already know?

How did you learn to become a driving instructor? Did you build on your own experiences or accept how you were taught as being the correct and only way to teach? Were you told to do it one way, even though maybe you doubted whether it was the correct way for you and your personal experiences may have pointed you in a different direction? I would value proper personally programmed CPD with input from differently experienced ADIs as a replacement for Check Tests, but I wonder if the CPD being planned is really to help us meet the needs of the clients or to get us to fit more conveniently into a Government system which is more easy to control by the use of statistics. I would like to see more input from educational and behavioural psychologists to help us understand our clients and the problems they have, so the basis of our CPD would be client based rather than the Government telling us, "You must do it this way," on which you will be assessed. Assessments are not the way forward as they cannot foster real learning.

If we demystified driving and made it less complicated, it would not be too difficult to improve the pass rate, but the implications to the industry as a whole would be enormous. If we at the grass roots do find a better way, are we going to be discredited at check test level by the DSA which seems to have a vested interest in propagating failure rather than understanding the reasons for success? If instead we looked towards success, the DSA could then tackle other road safety issues to keep up the level of income extracted at present by these constant streams of failures. By creating a system of failure we have become a self propagating industry which only thrives because of the failure and misery of others. It would require a radical change in the attitude of the DSA and the education and preparation of instructors as at present we are restricted by being controlled by a system which reduces us to ticks in boxes and attaining what is in effect a standard of failure? This unnecessary failure of our clients leads to the "success" of our industry.

I pose the question; has the DSA got it all wrong and therefore by association: HAVE WE GOT IT ALL WRONG? Should we actually be looking towards the success of our clients? Should the next 70 years he different?

John Brown (Specialist teacher for those experiencing difficulties in learning to drive.)

First published in 2005