Monthly Archives: June 2017

I love my driving lessons

In this blog from Tom Ingram (Owner of BIG TOM Driving School), he discusses the benefits of using a driving instructor that can adapt to your learning needs.


If I asked you how would your Mum or Dad teach you to change a punctured car tyre, how would they go about it?  Your parents know you very well, they know how you tick.  They will instantly be able to think of ways in which to get the message across to you.

I’m not asking you to imagine or explain how you go about changing a tyre, I’m asking you HOW to practically change a tyre.  The distinction is that this is not a knowledge test, a test of how well you can recall details.  Instead you are being asked to recall a sequence of ACTIONS, and the reason why they are done in a particular order, to ENABLE you to change the tyre.  You will then either be prepared to try it out, or not.  Some will be quite content with the theory knowledge and others wont be satisfied they have learnt it until they actually try it out. 

So in this simple example of changing a tyre, I am introducing to you the idea that the learning has to actually mean something to you, you have to connect with it in such a way that goes beyond recalling of facts. The goal here is to effectively, safely change a tyre – which involves the mental skills of remembering a sequence and the reasons for it, as well as the practical skills of changing the tyre.  I am suggesting that your parents will know very well the best ways in which to facilitate your learning this new skill.  I am also raising the question of whether you tend to be content with knowing knowledge for the sake of having the theory in your head, or whether you realise that practical skills do actually require practical practise.

The relevance this has on learning to drive is that to become an effective, safe driver, it will involve you learning mentally “what to do” as well as turning those thought processes into action so that the practical skills can also be developed.   Driving is not an activity centred around intelligence.  There are different techniques available to facilitate the required learning.

One technique that we use here at BIG TOM is called “commentary driving”.  It is very empowering to pupils as it helps them to understand this balance between the cognitive processes involved in driving (anticipation, judgement, spatial awareness, identification, assessment, decision making, reflection) as well as the practical skills (multi-tasking, co-ordination, fine motor skills, posture, use of the senses).  When a pupil sees a demonstration of commentary driving by the driving instructor, they can immediately relate to the goal, and they are then encouraged to practise it in a stress-free manner with no criticism of any errors made.  The benefit for the pupil is that they can recognise instantly this need to think about what is needed to do, before they start actually doing it….. just like you would do if you were about to embark on changing that tyre.  This skill of thinking PRIOR to taking driving actions is essential to develop in order to sustain road safety for you in the long term.  So pupils will describe what they see around the vehicle, and then explain what they need to do BECAUSE of what they have seen.  It might involve recognising hazards, assessing risk, identifying a speed limit change, planning for a roundabout by using the signs and road markings, choosing options based on their preferences, anticipating the actions of others….. but the common theme is that there is methodical thought going on before they take action such as change speed/direction or take observations.  They are not checking the central mirror every 8 seconds while driving so as to show an examiner that they are checking the mirror (albeit for no apparent reason).

It is a practical example of how pupils on the BIG TOM Intensive Driving Course are encouraged to develop the skill of meaningful and personalised learning in order to help them drive safely.   It complements very well with the established learning technique of verbal reasoning that pupils are naturally often very happy to do while they drive around.  And this is the key to effective learning; identifying techniques that enable a pupil to practise within a stress-free environment that is surrounded in skill development rather than focussing on driving faults.   

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Intensive Driving Course Resources

The BIG TOM Intensive Driving Course is backed up with a bucket load of resources for customers.

The BIG TOM 5 Day Intensive Driving Course has been assisting customers to pass driving tests for several years.  At the heart of the ethos of the driving school is a desire to provide high quality, good value driving training for customers who are looking to obtain their driving licence in a faster way than the old fashioned ‘pay as you go’ route.

The effectiveness of the training is achieved by providing resources that assist learning.  There are numerous ways in which pupils are offered the opportunity to initially discover key driving skills, reinforce the learning by making it meaningful to them, and check for understanding and knowledge in how to refine and apply the skills to real-life situations.  This is all backed up by timely and effective feedback methods that help to develop independence, self-learning and the responsibilities of being a safe driver.

Owner of BIG TOM Driving School, Tom Ingram says:

“Over the years what I have discovered as being absolutely essential is that pupils recognise the range of skills needed to be a safe driver, and develop the techniques that enable them to recognise where their strengths and weaknesses are.  No-one is suggesting for a moment that all drivers end up performing perfect, robotic driving behaviours, but where my course really assists pupils is in putting some proper context to the training so that the skills are practised and refined, rather than having a notion of simply performing driving actions in order to please driving examiners on the driving test.  It is this connection between driving behaviour and the resultant consequences that is essential for newly qualified drivers to recognise and develop in the early years of qualifying.”

Tom who has a BTEC Level 4 Award in Coaching for Driver Development continues:

“There are a range of influencers on newly qualified drivers that directly impact on their driving behaviour and it is essential for professional driving trainers to provide responsible training that encourages pupils to become “thinking” drivers.  The pressures on pupils to pass driving tests like they are some kind of academic exam that has no practical relevance are immense, and everyone around their inner circle has a part to play in attempting to ensure that drivers who want to take driving tests are truly ready and feel confident in the day to day challenges of modern life driving.”  

BIG TOM Driving School  Enquiries:  Sales: 07756 071 464



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Bourne driver proud of his driving test result

Dalton Marsh from Bourne (shown here) passed his driving test at Peterborough on Day 5 of his BIG TOM Intensive Driving Course

He was very proud of his result as he recorded a “clean sheet”; no driving faults committed at all on his driving test.  He needed to pass urgently so that he could drive himself to his workplace in Peterborough in the week, rather than relying on lifts from his Wife who also had to take their 2 very young children. 


This is what he said about his experience with BIG TOM:

“I had a great week with Tom, very professional and polite.  I enjoyed his teaching style, calm and patient which suited my learning style.  Overall I feel I’m a much better driver than when I started.  Big thumbs up!  10/10” Dalton Marsh from Bourne

Tom Ingram, his driving instructor and owner of BIG TOM Driving School said:

“Big congratulations go to Dalton.  Another zero fault driving test result is really encouraging to see, that is a good standard of driving.  But perhaps more importantly Dalton is showing once again that the BIG TOM 5 Day Intensive Driving Course is well developed to offer the opportunity for customers to obtain their full driving licence within 5 days.  He is one very happy chap and I am so pleased for him.”


BIG TOM Driving School  Enquiries:  Sales: 07756 071 464



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Systematic approach to driving

In this blog Tom Ingram (Owner of BIG TOM Driving School) provides some explanation to the expectation driving examiners have when they observe a driver on a driving test.


Until driverless vehicles become the norm and as long as we have humans driving vehicles we have the potential of sporadic driving behaviour; we are not robots and we are prone to allowing our driving behaviours to be affected by our emotions.  Stress, irritability, mood swings, fear, anxiety will all affect how we drive.  The causes for these mixed emotions are varied and a product of day to day living.  Other road users can instantly “push our button”, our environment such as lack of parking at home can make us angry, even the weather eg heavy rain or 30 degree + heat can all affect how we feel.  To try to combat this fact the DVSA (Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency) have stated in their Driving Standard under the heading of “Drive the vehicle safely and responsibly” that they expect to see a “systematic” approach from a driver on the driving test.  As you might expect from them, they choose their words carefully.  By using the word ‘systematic’ they are wanting to express the need to see logical, consistent, efficient and planned driving behaviour.  By having this consistency instilled in the driver, s/he is more likely to continue with the same behaviour in differing contexts as mentioned above.  In effect, they are wanting to see evidence that a driver will maintain driving standards in any situation that they happen to be in.  We all use vehicles for so many different reasons, some pleasurable, some a necessity and sometimes, quite frankly, we would rather not be driving at a given time – but, regardless of how they feel, drivers still maintain standards of driving by falling back to a system that ensures safety.  If a driver has no regard to this expectation from the DVSA then it raises the question if they intend to “drive the vehicle safely and responsibly”. 

On the BIG TOM 5 Day Intensive Driving Course, this expectation is raised with our pupils because the DVSA rightly require professional driving instructors to do this in a “meaningful” way for our pupils. 

Some of the key principles include:

Making effective observations prior to changing direction or speed

Acknowledge the consequences of poor driving standards so as to prevent recurrence

Drive in a manner that gives due consideration to the needs of anyone around the vehicle

Assess risk in any given situation so that timely appropriate action is taken to maintain safety

There are a variety of techniques to encourage these principles to be learnt and applied in every day driving.  Our pupils are shown the benefits of developing thoughtful driving actions as opposed to just wanting to pass the driving test.  The reason why this distinction is made is because it is entirely possible to achieve the goal of passing the driving test WITHOUT developing these key principles.  To be coached on driving test routes and through a learning process no more involved than “trial and error”, a pupil would be suitably prepared to pass a driving test but this is not the hallmark of professional driving training.  This might achieve the goal of obtaining a driving licence, but it falls far short of preparing a newly qualified driver for the challenges of safe driving in the years to come.  It effectively is short changing the pupil who then pays dear for the consequences to follow.

This kind of driving training involves pupils performing driving actions that defy any kind of logic or meaning eg checking a mirror every 8 seconds, doing a right blindspot check before moving off to the left, approaching all roundabouts automatically in the same gear and speed. 

Preparing drivers for real life driving situations involves helping them to appreciate that driving on roads is a fluid, evolving process where challenges are presented from road design, behaviours of others, limitations of the vehicle, familiarity of the area and concentration levels of the driver.  The conditions are not sterile like that in a school/college environment.  Our pupils are given the opportunity to appreciate how these factors impact on how it makes them feel whilst driving, and they are encouraged to reflect, and think about their ability to manage these situations.  The emphasis on the training is one of self-development as opposed to strict compliance of instruction.  


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BIG TOM Intensive Driving Course Content

This blog enables readers who are considering how they want to learn to drive the opportunity to knowingly choose between providers of driving training for their own particular needs.


BIG TOM driving training is centred around the thoughts and driving actions of the pupil rather than concentrating on driving faults.  The training concentrates on the fact that human behaviour is motivated by emotion.  What this means from a practical point of view, is that the pupil is encouraged to consider what influences their own driving behaviour as it will be these influences that ultimately control how they drive, rather than the “commands” of a driving instructor who is only in the pupil’s life for a relatively short period of time.

Safety whilst training is essential and this inevitably does involve explicit instruction at times, but just as important is the development of skills so that learning can continue after a learner passes the driving test.  These skills can only be developed if the driving instructor creates an environment within which a pupil has the freedom to learn about how their thoughts and feelings affect their driving behaviour.

Some of the key skills that you will be encouraged to develop include:

Understanding the responsibilities involved in driving a vehicle around safely and efficiently on public roads

Developing learning techniques that will be meaningful and effective in the LONG TERM

Considering how driving behaviour is affected with day to day living

Identifying personal strengths and weaknesses associated with the planning and taking of journeys

Fostering the potential for continued learning by identifying essential thought processes

Being able to identify ‘increased risk’ when driving and appreciating the skills required to manage critical incidents

The ability to recognise the differing phases of effective learning and the differing contexts of driving tests versus real life every day driving


In the interests of providing professional driving training that delivers on effective learning rather than coaching pupils how to pass driving tests, BIG TOM Driving School actively complies to the DVSA Driving Standard.  The key to developing safe drivers is by creating “thinking drivers” and those thought processes have to be learnt – it is a skill in itself.  Thought processes have to be practised, refined, evaluated and this takes time and a methodical approach.  As such customers of BIG TOM are given the opportunity to become aware of the need for these thought processes and how to develop them.  In line with the DVSA Driving Standard, this driving school does not instruct pupils how to drive by ‘forced compliance’.    


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Not all driving instructors are the same

In this blog from Tom Ingram (Owner of BIG TOM Driving School) he explains why not all driving instructors are the same.  This subject is a common source of confusion for learner pupils and their family/friends.

To be legally entitled to charge for providing driving training in the UK the driving instructor must be registered with the authority called DVSA (Driver & Vehicle Standards Agency).  Part of the reason for this is to strive for there to be a consistent approach to standards of instruction across the industry.  The DVSA produce “driving standards” which driving instructors are to work to so that there is this uniformity within the industry.  These standards are freely accessible online via the www.GOV.UK website: “National Standard for driving cars and light vans” and “National standard for driver and rider training”.  If a driving instructor knowingly ignores these standards when they go about their daily work, they are providing no more value to a pupil than could potentially be achieved by a willing and enthusiastic parent/friend/grandparent.

The DVSA state the following in the above:

“In the context of learning to drive or ride, the instructor brings to the learning process their hard-earned knowledge, understanding and experience.  If they rely simply on telling the learner what they should do they will probably be able to teach them enough to pass their test.  However, all the evidence suggests that learners in this sort of relationship do not really change the way they think and quickly forget what they have been taught.  There is a better chance of a long-lasting change in understanding and behaviour if the instructor:

Presents their knowledge, understanding and experience clearly and effectively

Listens to the learner’s reactions to that input

Helps the learner to identify any obstacles to understanding and change

Supports the learner to identify strategies for overcoming those obstacles for themselves”

The DVSA monitor the performance of driving instructors approximately once per 4 years by viewing just one driving lesson conducted for an actual pupil.  BIG TOM Driving School is fully committed to adhering to the above DVSA work practices every single day that it assists pupils learning to drive and trainee driving instructors learning to qualify as a driving instructor – it does not comply to the standards on one lesson every 4 years.  The desire is to strive to uphold standards in driving training every single day the driving school is working with pupils.

There is a public perception that all driving instructors are the same, and provide the same service.  There is a wide range of “value” that is provided to pupils across driving instructors and as the standard makes very clear, whilst some driving instructors might be happy to “coach” pupils to pass driving tests by constantly telling them how to drive, all the evidence suggests that in the long term this is providing very little actual value to their customers for achieving driving standards that will improve long lasting road safety.

Ultimately, pupils have a choice as to the quality of training that they receive from driving instructors in the industry, and this is very often reflected in the price that the driving instructors charge for their service.  It is on that basis that the public are provided with such stark differences in driving training prices from driving instructors and I hope this blog takes some of the confusion out of the situation.


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Minimising risk when driving

On the BIG TOM 5 Day Intensive Driving Course the subject of minimising risk when driving is introduced to you pre-course within the exclusive “Customer Update Videos” that are made available to you.  One of the reasons why this is an important concept to become familiar with is because it is certainly not a given that this will come naturally to all, and the fact that a pupil can “drive” does not in itself mean that they are minimising risk.  So it is one of these invisible skillsets that relates to a particular mind-set of how one drives.  There are many characteristics involved and in this blog, Tom Ingram (Owner of BIG TOM Driving School) will expand on 2 of them: driving ‘defensively’ and the identification, assessment and managing of hazards. 


Take 10 seconds to empty your mind of the second by second clutter, take a few slow, deep breaths and try hard to concentrate now and literally imagine in your mind the following scenario.

You are driving towards a large multi-laned roundabout, you have read the roundabout signs on the approach and identified which lane you need to be in for your exit.  It is the middle lane of 3 in front of you.  In front of you are a handful of cars across all lanes with 3 of them in your middle lane, about 100 yards ahead of you.  Behind there are vehicles in all 3 lanes, but just one in the middle lane which is a long long way behind you.

You are approaching in 3rd gear at 30 mph.  Can you picture this scene in your mind? 

You notice that this roundabout is controlled by traffic lights, however, you cannot see any lights illuminated.  There are in total 3 traffic lights in front of you on the entry to the roundabout but not one of them is lit with red, amber or green.

You see the 3 cars in front of you in your lane, one by one flowing on the roundabout and not stopping. 

What do you do?

If you have really engaged in this blog, you will now have come to a decision.  Because when you are driving, a decision you WILL need to make as you approach this hazard.  I appreciate that you could have bypassed the decision making when you read this blog, you might now be reading just to ‘cut to the chase’ but in reality, when driving, you have a responsibility to identify this situation in front of you, assess the risk it poses, consider what options you have in dealing with it and make a decision. 

So if you still haven’t made a decision, go back to where I start describing the situation, and really try to imagine being in this situation, driving alone, what would YOU do?

You see when you put yourself in the drivers seat of a vehicle, that action brings with it responsibility, you are responsible for the outcomes of your driving decisions.  This is something that can easily be ignored.  Driving a heavy 4 wheeled vehicle made of metal at speed, will in itself generate risk – risk for you personally in terms of your safety, as well as risk for everyone and everything around you.  One of the key skills of “driving defensively” is your ability to acknowledge your own driving behaviours and appreciate any strengths or weaknesses.  If you FAIL to do that, you are not accepting responsibility for the risk that you pose by sitting in the drivers seat.  Thinking to yourself what aspects of driving do I find challenging and easy is important, because having an awareness of when you are feeling vulnerable, less confident and more wary is the first step towards managing risk.  Paying no attention to how you feel when driving will affect the options that you consider to deal with hazards and even the decision making process.

One of the other concepts of defensive driving that is introduced to you early on the in course is the relationship between the speed you drive at and whether you would be able to stop within the distance that you can see you are able to.  Think about that one for a few seconds while you consider your action at this roundabout.

But a core skill of safe driving is actually identifying a hazard in the first place.  Your eyesight needs to be able to spot them in advance, your mind-set needs to be willing to accept that hazards arise at short notice, so you need to be alert and responsive.  A hazard is anything that forces you to change speed and/or direction.  So accepting that the roundabout ahead represents a hazard is a key skill in itself.  However, you then need to assess it.  Normally with traffic controlled roundabouts, the flows of traffic are being controlled but things are not ‘normal’ here.  The traffic lights are not working.  In terms of assessing a hazard that should now bump this particular hazard right up in priority in your mind – how can you assume for example that with traffic lights not working, that there will NOT be traffic coming from your right?  Does the fact that 3 cars in front of you have all just entered the roundabout not 5 seconds before, mean that it is a given that you can also enter the roundabout?

In terms of risk assessment then, this situation is now ringing alarm bells in your mind; whilst the position of vehicles around your car cannot be ignored, in terms of risk they are incredibly lower risk compared to the roundabout ahead which has the traffic lights out.  What options do you have?  You could decide to do a complete stop at the roundabout and observe what is going on.  You could reduce speed, lower the gears, not take it for granted that it is safe to go, and proceed with caution, now treating it like a normal roundabout without lights.  You could blindly follow the cars in front and decide that for some reason which is not immediately entirely clear to you, copying the car drivers actions in front is the right option to take. It would be entirely understandable (albeit undesirable) if in my example above you decided to continue in the manner of the other 3 cars and entered the roundabout.  It is often a hidden trap to pay too much attention to what others around you are doing, and allow them to influence your own driving behaviour.  

Assessing risk is a skill.  Not everyone automatically picks this up immediately.  Being able to judge the significance to you personally of what you are seeing up ahead (in this case broken traffic lights on a roundabout) is a skill.  Being able to think through your options and imagine the possible consequences for each so that you do a meaningful dynamic risk assessment takes time to develop.  Some people are more able to consider possible consequences than others, this may be due to lack of previous experience, or an inability to appreciate how their presence on the road at a given time can affect other road users. 

So my first piece of advice to my customers is make sure you watch the videos that we have prepared for you before you attend the course.  In doing so, you are coming on to the course already with the awareness of the skills that are going to be developed – this is smart learning, it will make your in-car learning experience more efficient.

Secondly, as can be seen by the above description, there are many skills being developed when you are on your course and no-one is expecting you to instantly be good at these new skills, but I would encourage you to at least attempt to think of driving ability in terms of gaining skills rather than focussing on driving faults committed.  With all new skills that we develop in life, you need to have your awareness raised initially, then have the opportunity to practise them in a methodical way so that safety is not compromised while you learn.  New skills need regular, good quality practise in order to develop.

Lastly, if you have any questions at all, please feel free to drop them on the videos that you are watching – being able to learn outside of the in-car environment is a really smart action to take.     


BIG TOM Driving School  Enquiries:  Sales: 07756 071 464



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