BIG TOM Driving School Case Study #1

BIG TOM Driving School (0800 689 4174) is expanding, and actively looking for people who might be interested in joining the world of driving training which is often very rewarding and can be rather challenging.

One of the key benefits of becoming a sole trader, is that as the owner of the business, you can choose your work conditions.  At BIG TOM Driving School we offer Driving Instructors the option of choosing the duration and period in the day that works for their personal circumstances.  The benefits that I can provide is in the advice, support and experience being offered having been in the industry for 7 years, and by being able to provide the level of workload that meets your needs – so there is no marketing experience required on your part at all.  This will significantly increase the chances of your new business not failing in the first 2 years of trading.

However, I am very much aware that before embarking on the effort required to re-train, it would be beneficial to have some kind of insight into the life of a Driving Instructor.  There is much to be gained from getting a sense of the actual work that goes on behind the scenes and in the car when providing driving lessons.  Without this insight, how would you really be able to assess if this is the kind of job that will appeal to you?  This blog is the first case study to provide you with precisely that insight.  It is current and it is real; whilst the identity of the individual concerned remains anonymous he had provided his consent for me to publish this case study, and for that I am very grateful.  I do not offer this as an opportunity for other professionals in the industry to cast judgement on either me personally or my driving school – I am running a very successful, profitable driving school.  It is however offered as an opportunity for “would be” candidates who are considering joining the BIG TOM team, to get a flavour of how things are done.  It will go into detail, that’s where the devil is apparently, and in my experience it is precisely this point that can make the difference.

When I talk of making the difference, it is worth considering for a moment what I am actually referring to there.  Mums and Dads across the UK can take out their young ones for driving lessons, there is nothing legally stopping them, but the crucial difference is that they are not demanding money in return for the experience.  Unlike us, they are relying on good will between them and their son/daughter, trying to remember good driving techniques, and a little bit of luck that nothing untoward happens along the way.  In the 7 years my driving school has been in business, I have not had one single accident/collision incurring any injury or damage at all – there is no luck involved in that.  A Parent will try their utmost to ensure that nothing awful happens when they take their young one on a driving lesson – they will rightfully EXPECT nothing awful to happen when their young one goes on a driving lesson with a Driving Instructor.  But more than that, this is the world of learning, education, personal development, training, however you like to phrase it.  When we are paid for our service we should be making sure that progress, confidence, achievement, ability, competence, experience are all being attained in a positive, upward trend, because if not, far from assisting our customer, we are in fact putting obstacles in the way to their personal development. So, whatever happens, it is good to keep in mind what our goal as a professional Driving Instructor actually is – our goal is a satisfied customer.  Customers come in all shapes and sizes, with varying emotional baggage, physical and mental ability, influences and attitudes to learning – it matters not, it matters not one iota, what DOES matter is that in the process of providing our service, we satisfy our customer.

I offer the following Case Study as an opportunity to raise awareness of the life of a Driving Instructor, and provide some basis to consider what skills and mindset is expected.


Case Study #1 – Jo

Jo is a 17 yr old male from a mid-sized town of about 40,000 population.  He lives with his Mum who is divorced from her husband.  Next door to him live his Grandparents, his role model in life is his Grandad who he respects dearly.  He has an elder brother who is 20 and lives with his Dad.  He did have another older brother who unfortunately died in a road traffic accident 8 years ago at the age of 16.  Jo had previously boxed to a high standard, boxing was in his blood and in the history of his family background.

It was his Mum who contacted BIG TOM Driving School after she searched Google online and could see lots of results for BIG TOM.  Once arrangements had been made I was then told to call Jo’s Dad for payment of the course which came in total to £1335, which he did on the same day without any delay.

On the 1st day of his driving course, Jo informed me how close he had been to passing his theory test, but as we travelled around that day (4 hours), it was very apparent to me that he actually had very little theory knowledge at all.  There appeared to be a large disconnect between what Jo was telling me and what I was witnessing.  He clearly had previous driving experience, and when I gave him a tip of how to control the car from rolling back when waiting to emerge from a T junction with a hill, he picked it up immediately.  However, whenever I attempted to engage in conversation about his goals for learning to drive, enquiring about his attitude to learning in general and his learning preferences he was completely switched off.  I attempted to outline how we can monitor his progress as he goes along, giving him different options for the level of engagement and ownership.  There was very little eye contact, he was visibly agitated, we had yawning, we had non-committal answers, we even had “I don’t know, whatever you think”.  As such, it was obvious to me from the very start that Jo was taking on no responsibility as to how he learnt, or how he intended to gauge the effectiveness of his learning.  It actually went further than that, when I asked Jo what his objective was he said “To pass the test as soon as I can”, nothing particularly unusual in that response.  When I asked if he could foresee any barriers that would prevent that from happening, he rather worryingly quipped “No, I actually NEED to drive Tom, if I don’t pass the test, I’m going to drive anyway with or without a licence”.  People will sometimes say things they don’t mean, but sometimes they will say it and mean it.  Always reminds me of a young female pupil in Peterborough many years ago, who gave the most honest and interesting answer to one of my questions I have ever experienced.  When we pulled up in Morrisons Car Park, and sensing that the learning curve was pretty flat at that moment, and wondering why that might be, the answer I got back while the pupil looked me straight in the eyes ….. “apathy”.  I don’t think I will ever forget that one word answer for as long as I live.

I left the first session reflecting on what I had just observed.  I saw confidence, arguably, over-confidence bordering on arrogance, I saw a young, happy go lucky male who could already “drive” but was most certainly not engaging his brain while he was driving, and was getting his lefts and rights mixed up.  The co-ordination of hands and feet was there, he was bright, a quick learner, but he had a very short attention span, any more than 30 minutes he started to get restless – but we had already agreed a coping mechanism for that eventuality.  At this point, when asked if there was any trauma he had witnessed in a vehicle, or any problems of any nature that might affect his learning, he declined to give any details.  This is an important question to ask early on.  With the best will in the world, it can be extremely difficult as a Driving Instructor to deal with obstacles to learning, if you aren’t actually aware of their existence, nature, or root cause.  There can be many reasons why pupils and family of pupils decide to withhold this information, but nevertheless, in my experience, the question should be asked, and asked really early on.  The relationship between pupil and Driving Instructor should be built around mutual respect, trust, honesty and open communications.  As I reflected on my way home after that initial session, I had concerns about certain aspects of our relationship.  And if that wasn’t enough, I was acutely aware there was not a mutual understanding and acknowledgement of the responsibilities to be shared between us for effective learning, and certainly no existence of a self-need to continue learning after the test had been passed.  One of the vibes that I had picked up in our conversations on that first day was that money appeared to be no object for this young man; if he could buy a driving licence, that is exactly what he would have done, but in the absence of being able to do that, he would settle for his Dad buying my time, and that in itself would result in the same outcome of getting a driving licence.  The bit in the middle of his Dad and me, namely Jo, was conveniently being parked outside of the equation for reasons which I knew I needed to get to understand.

On the 2nd day, Jo was only able to attend for 2 hours rather than the planned 4 due to a hospital appointment.  There was some improvement in goal setting though.  Jo wanted to know more about the manoeuvres, unfortunately for me, he was only referring to them as “the test manoeuvres” which told me his head was still in test mode. But we agreed a plan of how he was going to achieve that goal, and there was some sense of normality when we were able to bring some semblance of structure to the driving session that included some reflection and feedback that turned Jo’s thoughts into his feelings of his actual v intended ability.  However, what had begun to creep into Jo’s driving style was body language of a driver that we tend to associate has been driving for many years.  The left hand was barely in contact with the steering wheel, the right hand was positioned at 12 o/c on the steering wheel, with the wrist being the only point of contact with the steering wheel and his fingers tapping away at the dashboard.  Never mind any consideration of how this would be interpreted on a driving test, these are the actions of a driver who has little regard for safety or proper control of a motor vehicle.  As a Driving Instructor we are constantly observing driving actions, assessing what are the consequences if a driver were to habitually drive in a certain manner. It is very easy to fall into a trap of expecting rigid compliance of driving actions from a pupil, thinking that we are doing them good by insisting how they steer, or how they do observations, and often all this actually does is ensure that these instructions that the pupil has had to comply with for the last 30-40 hours of driving training, and the driving test, are completely ignored once the test has been passed; purely and simply because the pupil was never given the opportunity to consider why a driving action needs to happen and what are the options available to achieve that aim.  However, steering a car using the underside of the wrist only does not fall into this list of options!  But it masks a more important issue, the brain.  What this driving action told me about Jo’s attitude to learning to drive.  On a driving test, the Examiners do not concern themselves with any level of interrogation when they see a driving action – it is graded instantly there and then with the outcome, and that is the end of the matter.  But we as driving trainers as opposed to assessors, have the opportunity to delve into the mind, understand why a driving action occurred.  It may be due to tiredness, nerves, deliberate non-compliance, a momentary lapse of attention, a distraction, a lack of perceived importance, fear, a sensory failing, overloading on the brain.  We get the opportunity to root cause why something occurs, whether to place priority on it or not, to choose if this is something that is deserving of more time and attention.  But all the time remembering that the manner in which we analyse must strive to be effective for the particular pupil, and if there IS a need for a change, then the change must be meaningful for the pupil – if the desired behavioural change is not meaningful to the pupil, we are achieving nothing other than lightly tapping the head of our own perceived self-importance.  The “value” we bring to the table is in relation to the long-term improvement of the pupils driving self-awareness, confidence and ability – it has nothing to do with sleeping soundly after insisting on strict compliance to 10 blind spot checks in a 1 hour driving lesson.  And the gap that we can often witness between a pupil’s perceived behaviour and their actual behaviour is very much reflected in real life after the driving test.  There are a bunch of reasons why someone will text while driving, or park outside a school on yellow zig-zags, or tailgate, or speed but as Driving Instructors if we can tap into their inner conscience, and help them to become aware of what they actually do rather than what they think they do, then we are in effect transferring that responsibility of considering the consequences of how they drive over to their shoulders, rather than allowing that label of responsibility to leave the car, once the pupil passes the test and drives unsupervised.

I like to keep in touch with Parents, particularly when training a young adult of 17.  In the main, Parents very much appreciate being kept in the loop, they are very grateful for keeping communication channels open – we are after all training their beloved in a life skill that can have fatal consequences if they are not trained well, and the Parents are often paying for the service.  Whilst our concern of the relationship between pupil and Driving Instructor is valid and necessary to consider, how pupils and Parents communicate is clearly not in our control.  The next day Jo was present for just 2 hours, due to not feeling well.  He asked to do some driving on country roads, and in particular bends, the actual reason for this request was going to surface a couple of days later.  But I was happy to assist with working on “limit points” to judge the severity of bends and get the correct speed and gear on the approach.  His learning was quick, he picked it up fast when he applied himself.  He openly mentioned about being dyslexic in this session which was easily remedied with a coping mechanism that we actioned immediately.  He was acting in a different manner from the carefree (some might say reckless) mode of driving; paying little attention to speed signs, traffic lights, proper handling of the steering wheel, all of this was out, in was a conscientious, thoughtful driver.  Clearly, the intervention of his Dad had an effect.  But he could not do more than 2 hours.  On reflection after that session, I had visions of a caged animal that was desperate to be freed.

The next day was a “no show” for Jo due to illness.  I managed to speak to his Mum in person who was indicating that his illness was mysterious but nonetheless apparently genuine.

On the next day, Jo arrived rather sheepishly in the car, saying he was still not feeling very well, but would try to do 2 hours instead of the planned 4 hours.  However, when he got in the passenger seat, after just a few minutes of me driving away, the pungent smell of alcohol was overbearing and Jo was swiftly returned to his home, telling me he had only had “a couple” of drinks the day before.

This was undeniably a ‘low’ for me, it was disappointing, and not a little insulting – and resulted in another phone call to the Father who understandably was getting infuriatingly frustrated.

The next day I made further attempts to keep the training relevant to Jo.  He asked to do more training on the reverse parallel park, in particular controlling the speed so as to control the position.  Jo achieved this goal, within a short period of time to his satisfaction.  On one of his intervals, we spoke about role models, and Jo spoke of the respect he has for his Grandad.  I relayed my concerns to Jo not about passing a driving test, he would breeze a driving test, but more about the safety of him and others once he passes his test.  We talked about the factors of road safety, what Jo can control and what he can’t.  We spoke of coping mechanisms for the factors that he has no control of.  He openly informed me of the nature of the death of his 16 yr old brother 8 years ago, who had been driving and slid off a country road bend in to a tree and died.  We spoke of my role in his driving training, what my job entailed, and what value would I be able to provide to him as a Driving Instructor above and beyond what a member of his family could provide if teaching him how to drive.   We spoke about the legal aspects to driving, and whilst he had good knowledge of the system of points being totted up on his driving licence, and how that differed to someone who had been qualified for a longer period of time, he openly acknowledged he had very little knowledge of actual driving offences.  He had little regard for the law.  He stated that he will very likely be driving all over the UK once he has passed his driving test, but he realises he has little knowledge about the Highway Code.  He informed me that he had booked up his 2nd attempt at the theory test, and that he had more time to do study.  I started to discuss with Jo about the need to “own” the learning process – gather the elements that were meaningful to him such as responsibility for safety, learning the law, monitoring his progress in a truthful, honest way – and not be shy to acknowledge and deal with any shortfalls.  I drew an analogy with his boxing experience and offered him to open up about how boxing training conditions a fighter to be absolutely focussed and confident in their ability.  He described it as “isolated” which was exactly how I felt his driving training was going.  We had time to review what he felt went well for him, and what could have been better.  He then independently set up the agenda for the next days training.

This is a “moment in time” snapshot of my opinion, as a Driving Instructor, of my work with a pupil.  Obviously, our pupils do have their own opinion which can and often will be very different to our own.  Their preferred style of learning is much more important than our preferred style of teaching; everything must be done to try and identify with pupils needs and accommodate them to their satisfaction.  There are a variety of reference material that I would bring to your attention. Just click on the links:


BIG TOM Driving School Customer Charter

National Standard for Driver & Rider Training

Guidance for Driving Examiners Carrying Out Driving Tests

Guidance for Driving Examiners carrying out Instructor Tests

The GDE Matrix (download)


If you are interested in this Case Study, and feel that you would like to find out more about training to be a Driving Instructor with BIG TOM Driving School.  Get in touch.  Here are details of our current campaign that closes 31/1/16.

UPDATE (1/2/2016): Our recruitment campaign has now formally closed – thank you. Tom Ingram (Owner)


BIG TOM Driving School   FREEPHONE: 0800 689 4174