Monday 12 June 2017

Testing Times?

From time to time pupils go to test and fail badly either with a plethora of driver faults exceeding 15 or maybe even multiple serious or dangerous faults.  Sometimes the instructor involved is criticised because they allowed, maybe even encouraged, this to happen.  These criticisms may come from the DVSA or, in the maelstrom of test centre gossip, other instructors.  The latter express with some incredulity that any instructor could be so naive as to do something so stupid even though they may well have done the same thing themselves in the past; the former are considering publishing pass rates for instructors in an attempt to stop instructors from submitting, in their opinion, ill-prepared candidates.

On the surface it seems ridiculous that an instructor would either knowingly submit a sub-standard learner for test or, perhaps worse, not be able to identify whether a specific pupil is actually ready for said test.  However, these seem to be the accepted theories.  So, I would like to offer an alternative, somewhat controversial theory.

The demands on an instructor are many:- teaching a variety of learners to a consistent, safe level of driving skill, meeting the needs and specific wants of said learners e.g., passing the test at the earliest opportunity, fulfilling the requirements of the DVSA, conducting a lean driving school business, providing suitable candidates for test, maintaining their own knowledge levels and constantly evaluating and improving their own abilities.

It takes a considerable time to train examiners and they go through a whole host of training elements to bring them up to their required standard.  In addition to a higher level driving test, they have to do a situational judgement test and a behavioural assessment just to be accepted as a potential examiner.   They then have weeks of training and a probationary period.  They are evaluated throughout their training and beyond on an ongoing basis.  Whilst there are similarities between our training and theirs, they are essentially being trained as assessors, whereas we have been trained as instructors.  These are two fundamentally different roles.  In the same way as I would not expect the examiner to be able to instruct to the same level I can, I suspect they would not expect us to be able to examine to the same level they can.

Examiners see a candidate for about 40 minutes.  There is no history, no shared journey, no understanding of their personality, motivations, attitudes, views or difficulties encountered.  Whilst their training and ability may give them some insight they cannot understand the pupil as well as we do.  In addition, we have an ongoing, possibly long-term, working relationship with the pupil and no matter how much we try to remain objective towards the pupil that may not be as easily done as said.

Most people feel comfortable with what they know and our pupils know us.  Therefore they feel comfortable with us and may well feel uncomfortable with an examiner.  Some pupils wrongly develop an 'instructor dependency' because they know that ultimately we will always step in. They don't have such a dependency with the examiner and they know it!  This adds to their nerves - it may be the first time driving without the safety net of an instructor.  Unfortunately if such a dependency exists it can be incredibly difficult to wean them off it.  Furthermore, some pupils react badly to the word 'test'.  They can drive - they know they can, we know they can - but call it a test and suddenly they can't.  Nerves can make the normal abnormal. 

The examiners have a sole purpose, evaluating the driving presented to them and issuing a pass or fail accordingly.  It is a rubber stamp exercise and as such it is relatively easy - it will either be one or the other.  We have a whole host of responsibilities that go way beyond getting them to and through their test.  We should be ensuring that putting them on the roads is commensurate with maintaining safe driving and is not going to lower the existing standard of driving.  We therefore have to drive them to a much higher standard (pun not intended but gratefully accepted!)

We also have to manage a diary.  We have new pupils waiting and are externally driven by them and therefore by the availability of tests which we have to book some time in advance of when we are going to require them.  How are we to judge when a pupil will be ready?  Is it even possible?  Yes, we may be able to identify the amount of time required to cover the syllabus but this does not take into account specific difficulties encountered or something as simple as missed lessons.  Unless we train the pupil to the level we require and then book the test, which may be 12 weeks away, we are always guessing to a degree. 

All of this means that although we can evaluate our pupils' driving within the instructor sphere that we inhabit we cannot possibly evaluate their driving entirely objectively within an examiner's sphere.  We are influenced by so many things as identified above and it takes a remarkable detachment to be able to assume the sole role of an examiner.  Yes, we can take our best guess about when a pupil will pass their test but ultimately that is all it can be - a guess.  Mistiming the submission of a pupil for test may just be a poor 'guess' and whilst we might not like that we sometimes get it wrong, it may be as simple as that.  It probably isn't a conscious mistake and, in my opinion, does not justify criticism at all whether by our peers or our overseers.

Emma Ashley - Ashley School of Motoring

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