In BIG TOM’s tenth year of business, we ask the question of how you like to learn?
We discuss this subject with owner, Tom Ingram:
Q. How did the driving school all start?
A. It was simply my family circumstances at the time. I had two very young boys who kept on getting ill from childcare provision and my wife and I realised quite quickly that we needed to adapt how we organised our lives.
Q. So did you become a full-time Dad at home?
A. Initially it was doing the primary school runs, attending parents days where you join in with the activities in the classes, sports day, Christmas play etc. My driving school gave me the opportunity to control my work commitments. And it worked very well – the boys sickness levels reduced dramatically, instantly.
Q. Where did you start driving training?
A. Peterborough first of all. But now BIG TOM intensive courses are provided as far north as Lincoln, over to Boston, Stamford, Grantham. It has been a true success story.
Q. And is it just intensive courses that you have run?
A. No not at all. When I first started, I was doing pay as you go driving lessons and occasionally people would ask me to do block lessons over a shorter period. When I learnt to drive, which admittedly is a while ago now, there were no such things as intensive courses. Now though, we only run the BIG TOM intensive driving courses.
Q. What is the attraction of them?
A. I can only speak about BIG TOM courses because the way we teach is fundamentally different to other intensive course providers.
Q. How is that?
A. Perhaps I could ask you to imagine being at a beautiful ski resort abroad somewhere; let’s say in America. You have never put skis on before; this is your first time. Your instructor comes over to you as you nervously wait with fear of the unknown. She explains to you that the red poles in the mountain ahead are the goal for the trip. Within a few days, she will teach you how to ski down that hill, through the red poles, not knocking any over, and on to the finish line. On hearing this news, you are very disappointed. This is not your idea of how you want to ski. You had no ambitions of downhill skiing between red poles. But on you go. The next 5 days are spent skiing monotonously down that mountain, through the poles, 10, 20, but more like 70, 80 times in total. By the time you are done, yes you can indeed ski down that hill, between the red poles, but in the process, you have been turned off of skiing for life – it has been a journey of pure hell. You vow never to ski again for the rest of your life. It was painful to keep hitting those poles and fall over, it was incredibly boring doing the same thing every day, and actually, you don’t feel very confident to ski. This is what I would encourage you to think about when learning to drive. BIG TOM has never, ever been about coaching people how to pass a driving test. Don’t get me wrong here, there will I’m sure, be some providers who are happy to do precisely that, and that is a matter for them.
Q. But if the goal is to pass the driving test, what is wrong with training on test routes?
A. It is mind-numbingly dull, the repetition. It is not teaching someone the skills needed to drive anywhere. It is not only unsafe for the pupil but unkind because once they do pass the driving test, they realise how ineffective the course was at helping them to feel confident driving around in regular journeys.
Q. How would the public know about this difference though?
A. By asking the detail of how the driving school works. It’s a bit like these “guarantees” that you hear of.
Q. Oh yes, they sound brilliant.
A. And what you need to understand is actually what you are receiving with this guarantee.
Q. Well what I’ve heard is that if you fail, you just get free lessons until you pass.
A. And this is a common thing I hear all the time. An endless supply of free driving lessons is not viable. It is more likely one remedial driving lesson for each major driving fault committed on the driving test.
Q. And what’s wrong with that?
A. Well, it would be like giving one free lesson on the ski slope because in your test attempt you hit one of the red poles on the right. So you have a free lesson, and on your next go, you hit one of the poles this time on the left. So you have another free lesson. On your third attempt , you miss one of the turns and don’t get through the poles. And on it goes. It is a very superficial way to learn whereby the taking of a test is the method to learn to ski. In effect, you are just re-taking tests. Eventually, you will manage on one occasion to get through all the poles, not touching one. Good luck though with the rest of your ski experiences because your skill base is severely limited. So in summary, yes you did receive a form of guarantee; but the result is far from desirable. Insurance premiums are as high as they are for newly qualified drivers for a reason. People should also beware as it will be they who have to pay the fee for all these test attempts – they are expensive!
Q. If it is as bad as you make out, why are these businesses doing so well?
A. I’m not entirely sure they are doing so well to be quite honest. But that aside, it all comes down to the influential marketing. It is incredibly enticing to a young person who wants to learn as soon as possible, to go to a provider who teaches test routes. That is at the end of the day, what the person wants, to pass the driving test. But little do they know how they will be feeling about the experience they have had, after passing the driving test.
Q. Do you know this is happening?
A. I hear about it continually. A customer of mine recently in Grantham told me his girlfriend went on one of these kinds of courses. She did nothing else for five days but drove around 3 test routes. Low and behold, on test day, she passes her test. All well and good, until she tries to drive her boyfriend to the cinema in Lincoln where she is struggling to even stay on the road such are her feelings of low confidence.
Q. That sounds awful.
A. It is awful and prevalent. Yes, the goal of passing the driving test was achieved, but now this poor girl is driving around not feeling safe, and frankly, by driving off the road, not being safe. This is the problem; people, generally speaking, consider the goal of being coached to pass the test.
Q. So going back to my question earlier, what is the attraction of intensive driving courses? They sound nasty!
A. BIG TOM courses allow our customers to learn in a safe environment, skills to help them build ability and confidence. We can still get our customers passing driving tests much quicker than the average period of 7 months, but we do not compromise on the quality.
Q. How do you do that?
A. We don’t teach to test routes. We use the DVSA Driving Standard as a comprehensive framework of driving training.
Q. Why would I want to do that rather than going with someone who helps me to pass the driving test quickly?
A. That is at the heart of the matter. It is an excellent question. Ultimately, customers have the choice as to how they go about learning to drive. But as I said earlier, remember my story about skiing.