A driving instructor provides guidance on how to drive a vehicle safely on the roads, enabling students to gain a full understanding of all aspects of driving in order to increase their skills in a specific area or to gain a full driving licence.
The fundamental role of the driving instructor is to provide tuition to students who either want to pass their driving test, or who want to improve their level of driving.
Everyone who wants to drive a vehicle of any description will need to acquire a licence, and the vast majority of the average driving instructor’s workload will involve students wishing to pass their exam in a car.
The hours can be long and demanding. Instructors often work by themselves as a self-employed person, even if they run a franchise for a larger driving school. The only hours that are paid will be those during actual instruction, and the time spent moving between lessons is at the instructor’s own expense.
The job is becoming increasingly competitive as more people are attracted to the idea of working for themselves. However, this has led to a lack of work in many areas.
Due to this lack of work, many instructors now work only part-time hours, fitting their driving tuition around another job, using it as a way to bring in some extra income.
The biggest cost when running a business is the car. Fuel, upkeep and repairs all have to be accounted for, and they can be very expensive. However, some franchises will provide the instructor with a car, especially if the franchise fee is high.
A driving instructor’s earnings will vary depending on the level of experience and the type of work that they are involved in. As an indication of total yearly profit:
- First year: £15,000
- With some experience: £23,000
- Very experienced: £30,000
This again will vary depending on whether the instructor works for a franchise or independently.
However, whatever hourly rate is being charged, the instructor must take into account that a car can cost up to £9 per hour to run, with fuel costing an average of £80 per week if working full time.
The obvious goal of the driving instructor is to develop the driving ability of their student in order to make them more confident on the road, or to gain their licence. The responsibilities involved can include:
- Preparing students for emergency situations.
- Informing them about the maintenance of the vehicle.
- Being a guide to the student, answering questions and reacting to situations that will arise on the road.
- Increasing the student’s Highway Code awareness.
- Ensuring that the student is gaining an increased awareness of using the road and the responsibilities that that entails.
However, outside the lessons, other responsibilities will include:
- Maintaining the car and making sure that it is safe.
- Organising lessons and rearranging times.
- Attracting new business, perhaps through local advertising.
- Dealing with tax and insurance issues.
Being a driving instructor is a job that carries a lot of responsibility, and the qualifications required reflect this.
All driving instructors must train as an (ADI) Approved Driving Instructor before they can begin to take classes. This will involve registering with the DSA (Driving Standards Agency) and taking a number of exams.
The DSA ask that you meet the following criteria:
- You have held a full driving licence for four of the last six years.
- In the last four years, you have not been disqualified from driving.
You will also be subject to a CRB (Criminal Record Bureau) and motoring conviction check, as well as an eyesight test, before proceeding with your training.
There are a number of specialist training schools where you will be able to work towards passing the ADI, all of whom offer various levels of length and cost.
In all cases, you must pass three exams to be placed on the register:
- Part 1 – Theory Test: this covers all aspects of psychology, motor mechanics, motoring law, and the theory of teaching.
- Part 2 – Advanced Driving Test (1 ½ hours)
- Part 3 – Teaching Ability Test: in this test, the examiner plays the role of the pupil.
Part 3 can be taken straight after Parts 1 and 2. However, the student could choose to apply for a Trainee Licence after Part 2. This lasts for six months, and is designed to provide the trainee with some real teaching practice. For this, a qualified ADI will be needed as a sponsor to oversee progress.
Whether applying for a Trainee Licence or not, all of the exams must be completed within a two year period, and only three attempts are permitted to pass Parts 2 and 3.
A driving instructor will need to combine teaching skills with those of driving a car to perfection. The most important skills will include:
- An excellent driving ability.
- A calm and level head.
- Being able to inspire and create enthusiasm, and to give instructions clearly.
- The ability to react to potentially dangerous situations.
- A system of planning lessons that will provide a steady progression to qualification.
- A high degree of patience for dealing with difficult students and other road users.
- Enthusiasm for the job.
In most cases, the hours will be long and demanding. Early starts and late finishes are common, as the instructor has to accommodate the needs of the student.
In all cases a lot of travelling can be expected, both during and in between lessons. As the instructor will want to keep time between lessons to a minimum, drop-off and pick-up points should also be appropriate.
Driving instructors are subject to all of the hazards that driving on the road presents, with the added pressure of being responsible for a novice driver. At times, students will become distressed and agitated, and it will be the instructor’s job to calm them down and wait until they are ready before going back on the road.
The hours of work will vary depending on a number of factors, such as how much they are charging and how many students are booked in for a certain week. The goal is to have a steady stream of lessons, but the reality means that certain weeks will have fewer hours of paid work.
Instructors will have to plan ahead for such weeks, especially seasonal variations, which can see a significant drop or rise in the amount of work available.
Although no experience is necessary to apply for the ADI exam, apart from the conditions already mentioned, it may be useful to consider:
- Experience in teaching, training or working with people.
- Significant driving experience.
Applicants should ideally be over 21. Although not compulsory, the insurance will be less, and therefore schools are more likely to take the trainee on.
The AA offer a unique ‘pay as you learn’ approach, whereby you can train to pass the ADI exam at the same time as receiving payment. This can lead onto employment within the company, such as setting up your own franchise in their name.
The Instructor College also provide NVQ training and the possibility of setting up a franchise through them once you are qualified.
BSM, part of RAC, offers the opportunity to train through them and work for them as a franchisee.
Working for a franchise
Franchise fees will vary from a low fee (£75 per week) to a high fee (£250-£300 per week). This can clearly take out a significant proportion of the instructor’s earnings, and will have to be carefully considered.
If paying a higher fee, the benefits to consider will be:
- A car included in the cost (but not fuel expenses)
- A ready supply of students
- A higher hourly rate
- Brand recognition
Having qualified as a driving instructor, there are other options to consider.
Instructors can move into specific areas of instruction, such as bus driver instruction, LGV (Larger Goods Vehicles) instruction and PCV (Passenger Carrying Vehicle) instruction.
The DIA (Driving Instructors Association) also offers CPD (Continuing Professional Development) schemes, in order to increase qualifications and experience. These include the Advanced Instructor and Examiner qualifications through DIAmond, and an NVQ in Driving Instruction.
All such qualifications will mean that the instructor can demand higher fees.
Other options can include progressing to a Senior Instructor or a Driving School Manager, possibly through the DSA.
Although a few instructors manage to find work as Road Safety Officers for their local council, these positions are very limited.
The Gerry Brennan School of Motoring offers driving tuition, theory test tips, and support throughout your journey of learning to drive.
Allan Edwards has been a driving instructor for 18 years, and runs his own business. He explains that you should be careful if you think that the job will give you endless freedom.
“When my eldest daughter was learning to drive, her instructor was charging about £14 per hour, which seemed like a lot of money. I had always enjoyed cars and driving, and thought that being an instructor was something I would enjoy doing and would pay the bills, so I decided to get qualified.
My lessons are usually done in two hour sessions, with the first starting at 8am and the last finishing at 7pm. I then spend an hour or so in the office at the end of the day, booking new pupils and rearranging bookings.
Around 75% of my work is teaching learner drivers, and the rest is made up with refresher lessons, advanced courses or various work for the local council Road Safety Office, such as driver improvement courses.
I like the freedom (or more exactly the idea of freedom) that working for yourself offers. However, I dislike the insecurity of the workflow. You can only work so many hours per week, which means that some weeks you are 10 hours short, and taking a pay cut of about £240.
Other issues to be aware of are that when I started, there were only 29,000 qualified instructors and about 10,000 in the training system. Now, there are now over 44,000 qualified instructors and about 30,000 undergoing training, meaning sometimes there is simply not enough work to go around.
As for wages, my takings this year were £42,000. However, after deductions and running expenses, I’m left with a little over £30,000. Be wary of adverts saying ‘Be a driving instructor and earn 30k’. I am a full time, experienced ADI and one of only 2,500 Grade 6 (highest grade) instructors in the country, with a pass rate in the top 10%, so you can imagine how difficult it is for newly qualified instructor to earn these amounts.
Almost all instructors are self employed, whether they are working as a ‘one man band’ driving school, or working for one of the bigger schools such as the AA or BSM. The only difference is that those working for larger driving schools pay a franchise fee to run the car.
I would say that to be a successful driving instructor you must be self sufficient, reliable, willing to work long hours, have a good business sense, be a good communicator and be patient.
A driving instructor is not an easy way to make a living. For every 100 people that pay their £2,500 or so for their training, I believe that only around 30 end up as qualified instructors, and only about four of those 30 are still in business after three years.
Don’t get me wrong, it can be done, but it is not a job for the faint hearted.