Intro: Welcome to the Instructor Podcast, where we speak to leaders, experts, innovators and game changers, looking at ways that we can help you improve your driving school business and potentially even become an even more awesome driving instructor.
As always, I am your splendid host, Terry Cook, and I'm delighted to be here and I'm even more delighted that you have chosen to listen, because today we've got a very special episode for you. I am joined by the Assistant Chief Driving examiner from the DVSA, Graham O'Brien, and he joins us to talk about mock tests, waiting times and even the relationship between driving instructors and the DVSA.
I did ask him some questions that how can I put this? Were put from a driving instructor's perspective rather than a DVSA perspective. And I was very impressed with the way I answered them. He was very honest. So I'm sure you will enjoy this episode.
Now, yes, I am currently between seasons, but when the opportunity arose, I felt that it would have been rude to turn down the opportunity to have a chat with Graham and I could bring this out for you as a bonus episode between seasons, but that doesn't mean I'm away permanently. I am still producing content for my premium members. So throughout July I have released three episodes with San Harper, Robin Bates and Bob Morton. They're the regular shows that are going to be available for premium members over the next few months, as well as the regular stuff that I put out and as well as the back catalogue of episodes over there.
There's about 50 exclusive premium episodes over there, so for about £10 a month to get all the awesome content, as well as the discounts for things like Bob Martin, client-centered learning, the ADI/PDI Doctor and San Harper's mindfulness courses. So, head over to Instructorpodcast.com to check that out. But for now, let's dive into this episode with Graham O'Brien from the DVSA and I hope you get as much from it as I did.
Terry: Today on the Instructor podcast. I am joined by the ever delightful and now becoming podcast regular, I believe, Graham O'Brien. How are you doing?
Graham: Very nice to be here, Terry. Nice to meet you. I can actually see I don't know if our listeners will be able to see us, but it's probably not a bad thing on my account. But now, yeah, nice to meet you.
Terry: No, I think the fewer people that see my face, the better, I think. But no, thank you for joining us on the podcast. I really appreciate it. Just for people that don't know, I'll just start off by saying you are the DVSA Assistant Chief Driving examiner, so I'm very pleased you've joined us today, and today we're going to be talking about primarily the relationship between ADIs and the DVSA, but we'll also likely hit around things like Mock Tests, waiting lists and your new Are You Ready? Campaign that you've launched. But before we dive into that, I like to ask all my guests that appear on the instructor podcast which category they fall into, because I talk to leaders, experts, innovators and game changers. So which category or categories do you think you fall into?
Graham: Well, that's a difficult question, Terry, isn't it? It's very hard to be modest in choosing one of those. I guess. I suppose if I had to pick one, I'd like to think expert, but of course I'm aware that anybody who consider themselves an expert is probably not because nobody knows everything. But judging on my experience, hopefully that allows me to probably choose that one. If I could choose a couple, I'd probably choose a little bit of both judged on based on some of the things I've done in the career. But, yeah, if I had to pin it down to one, even though it goes against the grain a little bit, I think I'd choose expert.
Terry: When I eventually finish recording these podcasts, I'm going to clip the answer to all those questions and send them to a psychologist, because the answer to that question is fascinating for me. An expert, the way I interpret that is just someone that knows more than someone else. I always think of it like that. So you will be an expert around a lot of the DVSA and the technical side of it a lot more than me, so I probably agree with that. But as I mentioned, you are the Assistant Chief driving examiner at the DVSA. So do you want to start off just by telling us a little bit about your background and a little bit about what the role entails?
Graham: Yeah, so the background, I'll keep this fairly brief because I appreciate that some people might have heard it before, but I've been with the agency about 17 years now. I started as an examiner. I was previously a driving instructor for five years, probably in some of the areas that you teach in your territory South Yorkshire predominantly. I was an ADI for five years and at the time I used to see the notice on the waiting room about becoming an examiner. I always used to think, yeah, maybe give that a go, and eventually plucked up the courage and went for it and became an examiner at a test center called Heckman White, which I'd never heard of previously, but worked there, absolutely loved it, then eventually got the opportunity to become a staff instructor, which means you train the new examiners. That was done from a location in Bedford to Cardington, which I'm sure some people will have heard of. So I was fortunate enough to work there for a good five, six years as a staff instructor, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Then about five years ago, in fact, longer than about eight years ago, I got the opportunity to move into policy and had the opportunity to influence the driving test. When the test changed back in 2017, I was the technical lead on that and then more recently the iPad. So, again, the technical lead on introducing the iPad, but just what the day job includes. It's pretty much anything and everything to do with the car driving test. So we've got four assistant chiefs, I look after car, we've obviously got bike, we've got vocational and ADI. So I like to think I'm the busiest, if you think about the ratios, but I'm sure my colleagues would argue but yeah, I look after the car driving test. Pretty much everything and anything to do with the car driving test, really.
Terry: Do just want to pick your brain a minute before we dive into the stuff we're going to talk about, about the transition from ADI to examiner. That does tie into what we're going to talk about, because I know you've been looking for ADI to become examiners, so what was that transition like? Because I will be brutally honest, it would scare the bejesus out of me being sat next to someone in a car as an examiner, especially if someone has turned up in their own car. When you're in dual control, when your goal is almost not to intervene, whereas as an instructor, your goal is to intervene, in a sense. How was that transition and was it scary at first?
Graham: Yeah, I probably wouldn't use the word scary. It's obviously very different and there are similarities between the roles, of course, but there's obviously differences. And as you mentioned there, the role of an instructor is primarily to identify, analysis and fix faults using the core competencies of identification, analysis and remedial. And for an examiner, it's the same other than the remedial is changed to assessment. You identify faults, you analyse them in your mind to make sure you've seen it correctly, you've identified where it goes on the marking sheet, and then you use what we call the rules and tools of assessment to assess that fault. That's kind of like you doing your remedy, isn't it? It's similar, but of course intervening with that remedy, that's the thing. That's the difference. But isn't it? I think all ADIs have got a similar kind of grain running through them in terms of the want to help people, you want to be part of that journey to help somebody. And I don't think an examiner is any different. But it is difficult to say initially when you're in those early stages of wanting to just say something just to help somebody. And there's a fine line in that because we can do that with customer service and we can do that with helping somebody by giving them a little bit of help, if it's not overstepping the mark of assessment. But yes, it is transition. But I think what helped me is I've always been a very… how can I phrase this… I don't switch off in the car even if I'm not driving. I'm acutely aware of what's happening in the distance behind. I think I've been like that since I was very young. So when you make that transition, you're two or three steps ahead of the person at the side of you. So you'd like to think when something is going to happen, you're seeing it much earlier than what that novice driver is at the side of you. So you know exactly when to intervene if necessary. But yes, occasionally, if you're going out with somebody who's not very good and there's no dual controls in the car, it's a bit daunting at first, but the training does prepare people to deal with those kind of instances very well. And I think that's why I enjoyed the examiner training as much myself. But yeah, it certainly is a step into the beyond what I think the vast, vast majority of people coming to the role do really enjoy the job.
Terry: I don't believe in them, but I enjoy hearing a good conspiracy theory. So I'm going to throw a conspiracy theory, see if you can rule this one out for me. So if someone does turn up for a test in their own car with no dual controls, do they get taken on easier routes?
Graham: Yes, that is a conspiracy theory and it's absolutely incorrect. Let's address that. There's a couple of questions there because what's an easier route? Because I would probably dismiss that theory as well, that is the easier route. Back in 2017, when we introduced the new test, we looked at all the routes at the test centre because that was all part of our research. Evidence in terms of the routes are really key because ultimately the route tests that person's competence, ability to prove that they're a safe and competent driver. So we wanted to ensure that the routes have got a nice even balance of all these kind of riskier roads, if you like. For the want of a better phrase, putting people through the paces to ensure that they can demonstrate those competencies. So I probably like to quash the easier route. I think I know what you're saying. Listen, I've sat on both sides of the field. I was the Idiot, I was an examiner, so I know these kind of myths exist and what maybe might be deemed an easy route to someone might be completely different to somebody else. I think routes are consistent. I'd like to qualify that. But I'd also like to qualify that the conspiracy theory, that people who come up in private cars don't get any kind of preferential treatment in terms of what route they'd go on.
Terry: Yeah, it's not what I believe, but I do love a good conspiracy theory.
Graham: Don't we all just on that, then?
Terry: Actually, I think we'll dive into the topic after this, but there has been, over the years, the pass rate discrepancy between private runners and ADI that private runners are generally a little bit higher in terms of pass rate. I just wondered if you had an opinion as to why that was.
Graham: There's not a tremendous amount of difference, but you're right, there has been over the time, slight differences in that. We have seen an increase in people coming up in their own cars around 25% approximately come up in a private runner. There's lots of reasons, but I think one of the probably the most prominent would be the fact that that person might have been driving more. Ultimately they've got more hours under the belt. You know as well as I do, when you're teaching somebody to drive, if they can accelerate their learning with some private tuition. I think again, you'll know as well as I do, when you're teaching somebody to drive, you get to an almost kind of lightbulb moment when they turn the corner. You're starting to get that now that independence is coming, the hard work is starting to pay off. You're starting to really achieve that goal now. And I think you get there quicker if you're doing private tuition. And even just the small bits, Terry, such as I remember people I used to teach the driver when they eventually got to a stage where you're happy to say, yeah, you're okay to go out with a family or friend now, even if it's just that little drive in the morning to school, college, work, to the shops on a weekend, whatever it may be. 10-15 minutes, half an hour here and there really does accelerate that. So I think that plays a big part in it, the fact that they're probably getting more time just on that. I think there's a research campaign that's taking place in the background at the moment with TRL, the Transport Research Laboratory, which I think the IR involved in as well, which is called Driver 2020. Some of the interventions that they're looking at in that research is a log book in terms of recording the hours. One of the milestones, if you like to get to what is almost a kind of competent level to talk about 100 hours, which is obviously a lot, but people who can try to get to that, it's almost like you really turn a corner when you get there. I'm not saying everybody needs to do 100 hours, everybody is different. But it's when you've achieved that after test as well, once you get to that kind of milestone. So I think that does play a part in it.
Terry: Yeah, I think two quick things on that. Firstly, I like a little story, so bear with me. I had a learner once who passed his test. He passed after 18 hours with me, but he does an hour to 2 hours almost every day with his mum and dad. He was out driving them every day. So in the end, he must have done almost 200 hours from start to test. And he passed with one driver fault, he stopped in front of someone's driveway when he pulled up the side of the road. That was driver fault. And then he recommended me to his mates, and I got five of his mates all messaged me saying we can. They all said, I'd like to come to you. This person has recommended me. I'd like to book 20 hours, please. Why are they all asking for 20 hours? And he'd told all his mates he passed in 20 hours, only I haven't told them he'd had all these 100 hours extra practice and they all thought they could just come and pass in 20 hours, which amused me greatly, but not so much him when I told them he’d had all the extra hours.
Graham: Yeah, it's a strange one, isn't it? It is strange. I mean, I remember being that age myself, 17. It was almost like a bit of bravado with your friends in terms of who had the least amount of hours. I mean, that so bonkers looking at it, isn't it? It's so the opposite of what you should be thinking. But of course, at that age, it's understanding the risks and responsibilities that come with driving isn't necessarily the forefront of your mind. It seems strange that the provider would override that in terms of pass with this amount, but someone else would always tend to have passed with less, which is an ever challenging battle, I guess.
Terry: Yeah, I think the other thing that I see a lot with the private practice is they get into more situations. So we can be on the road as much as we want, we can talk about what's around that corner. They go around that corner 20 times with us and nothing is over there. But if they do an extra 100 times with their parents or whatever, there's more chance of something being there. And as much as you can talk about it, it's never quite as good as actually experiencing it. So I do think that those situations that crop up will probably as well. But either way, let's move on. We want to talk initially about the relationship between the DVSA and ADI. I'm going to ask you first is how would you define that relationship? What is the relationship between ADI's and the DVSA?
Graham: Yeah, it's a good question, Terry. I can only probably answer it from a personal point of view. I mean, looking at it from an agency point of view as well, I guess I think we're on the same team and we're striving for the same goal in terms of you folks play the really hard part in it, in terms of the complex challenge that is preparing somebody for a lifetime of safe driving, we're overstating that. But of course, we've got that kind of overarching role as well as terms of regulation with ADI's as well. So I've always had a very positive, from a personal point of view, a very positive relationship with ADIs. I've always embraced that relationship, whether that be in my very early days as a driving examiner, I don't think I've ever had anything other than a really good professional working relationship at all the test centres I've worked at and then moving that forward into going out. And I've been around the country many occasions speaking at ADI associations and local meetings, which I still really enjoy doing. I've just organized one today, actually, down in West Sussex, which I'm looking forward to. And again, I think it's those kind of things that can help build the relationship. We've been doing some webinars recently, moving into the kind of ADI side of things. You folks now get the engagement call, which I think is a really good addition. And we've heard some really fantastic feedback on that, getting an opportunity just to have a chat and not just about the job. And it expands, doesn't it, like what we're doing today, the LDTM surgeries, where we encourage the knock on the door to ask a question or whether that be in the official environment of an old DTM surgery. So, yeah, I'd like to think the relationship is good. Could it be better? Yeah, I think it could. I personally think things like what we're doing today and we've been doing recently can help that. But in the grand scale of things, if you think about how many of you folks there are and how many of us there are, there's always going to be the odd fractured relationship. But I think generally, Terry, I think I'd like to say it's a positive relationship that can continue to improve.
Terry: I think it's important to take a moment here, in particular for anyone listening, to distinguish the difference between the individuals at the DVSA and the DVSA as an organization. Because I don't know what you're like on social media, but I'm on social media quite a lot. I just can see what's going on and get a feel for the room, that kind of stuff. And you'll see a lot of criticism towards the DVSA. And I just think it's important to distinguish that's always to me, it's towards the DVSA, not towards individuals. Like you said that you personally have always had a good relationship with ADIs, but not necessarily sorry, my words now, not yours, but the DVSA might not always have a good relationship with Ads, and I do think it's important to distinguish those too, because I think I would possibly have a slightly different opinion to you where you are saying the relationship is good. I think it's a little bit more fractured at the minute than perhaps the DVSA realised. Now, I will also be completely honest here and say that to me, there's always extremes. I think we mentioned this before we started a car match. There's always extremes. There will be people that are just beholden to the DVSA. Beholden to the DVSA and will bow down and worship out your altar. And the other extreme, which you will never, ever do. And if you could offer them the opportunity to stay self employed, but offer them six weeks paid leave and they're 100% guaranteed passes and they would still complain. And then I think most people are in the middle and that's kind of where I am. But I think on a personal level, I'm seeing more and more people that are edging towards that negative view. And in fact, I was trying to think of a way to summarize that and I was really struggling to put it into words and I stumbled across a Facebook post and I have stolen this Facebook status and I have checked with a chap called Scott Cooper and I'm going to read it to you and I'll just be interested in your response, but I will just put a caveat on at the end of it. So basically it says, at what point will the DVSA do something meaningful about test times? Rather than send pointless emails and texts to pupils asking if we're given them mock tests, how is this sustainable? How can I, with a clear conscience, start a new pupil knowing it's 50/50, whether that pupil can get a test in the same year, at the same end of the country as they live. And I think the reason why that struck a chord with me is because ADIs are looking for help from the DVSA. It's ADIs struggling, wanting the DVSA to do more, then looking at the other side of the pupils and feeling like, well, I can't help these guys. How can I take this guy on when I don't even know when I give them a test? So I felt that summarized it quite well and I realized I spoke more since I said it, but I'd just be interested in your opinion on that.
Graham: Yeah, I mean, listen, what I mentioned earlier is absolutely true. I do think we've got great relationships, but being naive to think that recent times hasn't polarized some of those opinions, like I think you said it was Scott there. Can I sympathize with that? Absolutely. I'm not going to throw the Corvette card excuse in here, but it's a reality. The fact that our world was turned upside down for however long and we made the right decision. And listen, it was the right decision to protect our examiners and our stakeholders as well, which includes you folks in terms of stopping testing. It was the right thing to do and we'll make no apologies for that. But listen, our priority is… and anybody who wants to challenge me on that, I'll take them on tour to talk because we are doing absolutely everything we can and I'll name some of those things that we're doing. Because, listen, customer service to us is certainly from my point of view, and I know from the agency wide, it's absolutely paramount that we provide a suitable service for our customers. It's not in our interest not to, we want to provide that service. What have we done to try to get those service levels back to an acceptable customer measure? Well, we've done a lot and today I'm just telling a few things, Terry. We've introduced a buyback leave scheme, so we've created over 130 extra tests for that over time, weekends, public holidays. We've done an extra 120,000 tests since April 21. We're trying to recruit 300 extra examiners. We're about halfway through that because we've had some examiners leaving due to circumstances with the world as it is and other reasons. So we're still doing that. The next recruitment campaign is already underway and we've had over 10,000 drives done already to get bums on seats, on training courses, to get those examiners in the positions that we need them. We've increased test availability with bringing in the likes of myself, warrant cardholders, who can. Test managers have been testing two days a week, so there's very little extra we can do that we haven't been doing. And we've got a working group set up with lots of people to ensure that we get these waiting times back to an acceptable level as soon as possible. Yes, it's not as soon as we'd like, but on top of everything that we're doing, there’s very little else we can do. But going back to the original point, I absolutely understand that the current situation would polarize people's feelings. I absolutely understand what it's like to get that license and what it's like as an ADI, the frustration of being able to book a test. So all I can say is, and hopefully you believe me when I'm saying we're doing everything we can and we're constantly looking at ways of doing more. Just to address I think he said it was Scott's point about some of the measures which he seemed to not really pay the respect that we believe they deserve. That the text message service. That's a really great introduction. It's come in. We've not had the measures, sorry, we've not had enough data to measure it in terms of how many tests we are saving. But we were getting 6000 people a month not turning up for the test. That's just an absolute waste, isn't it? We're getting people the pass rate. We’re wanting to increase the pass rate if we can because people need to be prepared to drive for a lifetime of safe driving, not just to pass the test, but if we can get people better prepared. It goes without saying the waiting time will come down. So those measures, which hopefully will speak about a little bit later as well, are absolutely worthwhile. So I take umbrage with that comment, but I absolutely understand that emotions will be polarized due to the waiting times.
Terry: Yes. And we'll definitely come back to the point you made there about the tech service and the other parts. But I think, like you mentioned emotions there and I think that with Adi's, in a minute, there's almost a desperation at times because I think how can I phrase this so public facing? So everything you've mentioned there is right, all the stuff that DVSA are doing, putting those blocks in place, if you like, but people aren't seeing that. That's not what's been spoken about, that's not what's been sent out in emails over the last two years. What's been communicated to ADI's and the public, and not specifically, but implicitly, is that we need to fix it. Going back to the standards check change last year, the implication from that was, you guys need to fix this pass rate or we're going to drag you in for a standard check. That was the implication from that. And it was only when we dug in deeper and asked people that, it was then clarified with the text messaging service. And you're 100% right. I think it's brilliant, by the way. So this isn't a criticism on this, it's just the outward facing stuff I'm referring to, not the actual action, but the text messaging service. Again, the onus is then put on the people to turn up the Are You ready? Campaign. The mock test. The onus is public are being put on the learners and on the ADI’s, but nothing has been publicly put on the DVSA. All we're seeing publicly is ADI’s need to do more, loads need to do better, and if not ready to change the test. Does that make sense?
Graham: Yeah, I get how that might be interpreted that way. And I think sometimes I mentioned this previously in terms of if you look at the scales in terms of how many ADI’S there are, we're not saying that the vast, vast majority of ADIs don't do a great job. We want you all to do a great job. And I understand sometimes when you're receiving something and you think, is that addressed at me? Well, it's addressed to everybody. And I think maybe we could take something back in terms of saying, well actually, because sometimes when you get in a correspondence and you feel like, well, I'm doing the best I can, I'm already doing these kind of things, sometimes that might come across as a little bit deflating. So that's appreciate it. But I do think it's a joint effort and I do think we're doing our parts, just to reiterate some of those points, in terms of trying to increase recruitment, trying to get the people in the right places, looking at our own services like the text messaging, the booking service, we're looking at improving that. So we absolutely appreciate where we can help to fix the problem as well. But even if we didn't have a waiting time, I think let's imagine we're starting in a great world where you can get that test within six weeks, which is usually the golden figure, isn't it, where I think these kind of things would have been happening anyway, Terry, because I know hopefully we'll get the opportunity to speak about the mock test in a moment. And that kind of work was starting back in 2019, so there's a lot of these things that would have been progressing and moving anywhere that are kind of on our pad to be looking at, working on, improving the password. That's nothing new. I was in a meeting the other day when I think somebody quoted something from a meeting in 1967 in Parliament where it was said that the pass rate is this and it's still kind of the same. So improving the pass rate isn't a dig at driving instructors, it's looking at how we can improve the quality of driving of people who go on. And that is a difficult thing for you folks in terms of managing people's expectations. It's kind of back to the thing we were talking about that provided about how many lessons somebody wants to have. So it's how can we help you folks underpin that to prepare people to come up and be as well prepared as possible. I could understand how that may come across as a bit pointy, but it's absolutely not supposed to be. Like I said initially, it's a joint effort, but I think we're helping to plug as much as we can and that will continue to move forward.
Terry: I think the communication from the DVSA has improved, in my opinion, vastly this year and I think that things like you coming on this podcast and you're recently on the DIAPOD Driving Shorter podcast as well, so if you're listening, go and check that out. So that is going to help massively in my opinion, because as you just said, you just explained that it's not aimed at us. The mock test is something that was going to be put forward anyway, but we didn't know that. But that gets sent out in emails and like you said, it feels pointy, but you now taking the time to come on here and explain that I think is a massive step forward. And I think that whether that's on podcasts or whether it's via email, whether it's whatever social media platform or whatever it is, I think that is a big step forward. Because at the minute, I did like your work, it's pointy, that's how it feels. Because the other thing, just in terms of that communication, and I'm not necessarily sure if this is your remark, but I think the DVSA is very good at telling us what they're doing, but not necessarily why they're doing it. And again, I'm being careful to distinguish DVSA from individuals, but tell us what they're doing but not necessarily why. So I think that's where it comes from. But just touching on that relationship again for a minute, is there anything that you think that the DVSA could be doing more of to strengthen the relationship? Because like I said, it's a teamwork, we have to work together. We are accountable to the DVSA and the DVSA kinds of needs driving instructors to provide driver training.
Graham: Yeah. Picking up on a couple of points you made then I would absolutely agree in terms of the communication between DVSA and ADI's in terms of our communications teams are absolutely fantastic. It might not always appear to be like that, but just to understand that the pressures that those folks work under and they're really hard working, passionate team, all of our internal and external, and it's the external that you'll have the interaction with. And they're an extremely hard working, passionate team and I work quite closely with them on a number of things and their hands sometimes are tied. And I think this is the thing that people need to understand. Everything needs to be passed by DfT needs to be cleared. So a lot of the time and get signed off, a lot of the time they've got this the comps prepared to go out and it doesn't come out. It might come out later than you would have liked. And a lot of the time that's not their fault. They're waiting for sign up and imagine the amount of things that need to be signed off. But they are working tirelessly and they've got some really cool initiative ideas moving forward. You've probably noticed they've relaunched the Instagram page, which is getting some good traffic on there. I was talking to you briefly offline, so it wasn't about some other platforms that potentially we could use, social media and what not. And yet we do get negative comments on that. And I don't think that necessarily helps anybody. By all means, ask challenging questions and that's helpful, that's valuable. But if people are just being a bit going on there and just airing frustrations, it doesn't always help moving forward. But I really do think that and the work we do with NASP as well I'm sure you've heard of NASP, the National and Strategic Partnership with the big ADI Instructor Associations there. We meet with those folks and we try to listen to their views and work closely with them. And we've got some really good relationships there as well. But hopefully what we're doing and what we'll be able to do once we get our head above water a little bit more with the waiting times and let's hope that's not too long, around February, March at the very latest, we're hoping that those measures will be back to an acceptable measure and then we can really start to crack on with some progressive work moving forward.
Terry: Yeah, and just for anyone listening, I did do an episode with NASP, I think it was episode four or five of season three. We got Lynn, Peter and Carly. So go back and check it out. Because for me, that was a real eye opener as well. It's something that I've learned doing this podcast speak at different people about the different relationships. And they were telling me about some of the trouble they have with the DVSA. I don't mean that in a bad way, I mean the struggles that we all have in that communication and the hurdles that we all have to jump to get stuff out. I mean, I'm sat on quite a big announcement now that I can't release yet, some people need to sign it off. But I think the only thing I would want to ask you is because I ask you then about what the DVSA could be doing, what could ADI’s used to be doing more to improve the leadership? I mean, you mentioned about less of the unpleasantness online and I'm massively for that because I see it not just towards the DVSA, but you'll see someone ask a question, a Facebook group, and just get slaughtered by a bunch of ADI’s. And this is public. It can be public stuff. So I think we do need to reign it in a little bit. I quite liked Scott's postapocalyptic read out early because that felt quite articulate to me. I was expressing emotion and frustration and I felt a lot of that. I feel a lot of that. And I've made this question really long winded, so apologies, but do you think there's anything that ads could be doing more to improve that working relationship, if you like, with the DVSA?
Graham: I don't really want to tell Adi's what they should be doing. I mean, I can speak from personal experience. When I was an ADI, I think it can be difficult because it almost feels like you're working in solo quite a lot. You're out there, you're doing your lessons, you see your other instructors at the test centre. That's your time to kind of interact. And sometimes, as we all know, you will share a few stories and whatnot before, you know, you're back out again, working on your own. So I think anytime you can get together and look to whether that be joining one of the associations, a local association, and communicate that way, I think that's good. That was the part that I found a little bit harder working, kind of in isolation. I used to really enjoy getting together with local associations and whatnot, but of course, professional development, CPD courses to go on. There's a whole host of things out there that I won't go into, and I'm sure you've done that on other podcasts, but yeah, there's a whole host of things that people could be doing. But I don't think it's my place on this particular podcast to be expressing that.
Terry: I don't know, because you just listed off a lot of things that made me smile. So there you go. All right, let's move away from that then, because I do want to talk about some of the things that the DVSA has presented and is putting forward, as we've mentioned. So the mock test is a big one at the minute. So I think I just want to ask you initially to clarify this and just tell us about a little bit about the stance of the DVSA stance on mock tests and what's actually provided for instructors at the moment.
Graham: Yeah, I mean, just a little bit of background on this one, Terry. So back in 2019, when we surveyed over 7000 ADI’s, one of the questions in there was, do you conduct mock tests? And we had a good response. It was a really pleasing response to that in terms of 96% of ADI’s said, yeah, we carry out mock tests. However, 89% said, we don't feel they're as realistic as they could be. So that obviously gave us the insight to go away and think, right, what can we do? And that's where this chunk of work came out recently, which is on Gov UK, where I'm sure most people have been, but if you haven't jumped on there and take a look, it's all nicely in sections, so you can just look at it at your leisure, but it would probably take about 45 minutes to digest it all there. We've got the marking sheet, all the wording, the procedures, everything that needs to be included. So it's a conscious decision to be quite a chunk of work, because if we missed anything out, we're defeating the point in terms of giving you the information you need. And of course, I'm sure most ADI’s are aware of this, but there might be things that just validate for them or think, yeah, that's really helpful. So that kind of goes back to what we could be doing to help on a previous question you asked. And I think this is part of that work, isn't it, where we're trying to say, okay, we're on the same team here, we'll give you as much information as we can. So that's on there, and hopefully, because we really believe there's value in that mock test for many reasons, but I've done some webinars recently and I think we're publishing one of them. So I'll not go too deep into it because I'll be repeating what's on those webinars. But I think one of the really important things from my point of view, Terry, is reducing that level of instruction. If I have a criticism of some Adi's, and I was guilty of it myself, I'm sure, when I was teaching, in terms of thinking, did I really reduce that level of instruction enough to prove that level of independence on the students part? Because it's easy to think, well, I didn't really do much on that lesson, so they were doing it themselves. But some of those prompts and Q&A really vital if you weren't doing them, ultimately the person goes and takes the test the next day, let's say, passes, and the very next drive they do is without any of those prompts and Q&A, none of that safety blanket that you provide. And lo and behold, that's why it's so daunting. So it's really reducing that level of independence, validating that with a mock test, ensuring that the person is demonstrating on that kind of length of time with all the legal requirements that are included on the mock test. So for those reasons, just finally, before I allow you to come back with your next question, the other thing I really love about the mock test is the opportunity at the end to see how the student actually appraises their own performance rather than just delivering the result. I like the idea of how do you think you went? And I know a lot of ADIs do that already because I watch a lot of these social media channels where people put things on. I'm a bit of a secret watcher in the background, which I really enjoy, so I know a lot of people are doing that approach anyway. But what a great way to listen and see if their own reflection of the performance is accurate. So, yeah, there's lots and lots of things in the mock test that we think is really valuable and that's just a couple, I think probably stand outs.
Terry: What's the biggest purpose behind the mock test, would you say?
Graham: Well, I think there's many, I've just highlighted a couple of them but I think the biggest is also for the student themselves to understand where they're at. It's that validation of saying, yes, we're there. And you know yourself if you sat in on test and we absolutely promote sitting in on tests. We would like ADIs to sit in on every test if they could, but it's not always the case. I think if you highlight that early in the learning, there's more chance that the student will be up for it. But it's that you know yourself if you've sat in on a test. Or even if you haven't. You know. The performance of the student tends to drop a little bit on the test because it's new. It's that almost white coat syndrome where the nerves kick in. It's out of the comfort zone. You're no longer there. Sat next to them. The pressure. The anxiety. All that. That builds up and never an experiencing that before. Well, I get nervous doing all sorts of things, I get nervous coming on here talking to you, but I've done a few more tests in terms of others to prepare myself. But joking aside, it's absolutely vital, isn't it, to try and have that run through and understanding certain people who are of a nervous disposition, like to know exactly what's going to happen. We'll go there, we'll sit there, we'll do this, we'll do that, then this will happen. If something's taken you by surprise and you're not aware of that, you're probably not going to deal with it as well. As you would if you've already been through that experience.
Terry: I'll be honest, the only thing I'm taking away from what you've said there is the fact that everything else leads to this. The other podcasts were practice and now this is the real deal. That's what I'm taking away from that.
Graham: There you go.
Terry: I want to kind of touch back on a couple of things there. So first of all, the resources that you have put out for the mock test is superb in my opinion, and I appreciate this is only my opinion, although I'm sure I speak for a lot of ADIs. I think that the blogs, the webinars and stuff that's on the GOV.UK website I think it's ridiculously thorough, in a good way, ridiculously thorough. And yes, I have seen people criticize it for the fact that it, asks to see their license, do an eyesight check. I've seen people criticize it for that. To me, that's just criticism. It could be petty. I think that's irrelevant. I think that you can choose whether you do that or not. You don't have to criticize for someone saying it or someone suggesting it. I think the resources are really good. I do have a couple of concerns around it. Maybe you can help me with these. It really feels like it's not mandatory, but the implication is that it's mandatory that everyone should do a mock test. I mean, I know students are getting text or email saying, you've got a test coming up, you should have completed the mock test by now. Now my stance on mock tests is I will suggest them to the students, but I've never insisted to do them. Some people want to do them, some people don't. And I think there are benefits to them, definitely. But for me generally, only for the people that are actually going to want them and are going to gain from them. Because I think that if you force someone to do it, you're not going to get the right level of input from them anyway. But with the stuff that's coming out from the DVSA, including, like I said, the text to students, you should have done a mock test by now. I find that quite concerning because of the implication that it's almost mandatory. How would you respond to that?
Graham: No, I think I totally agree. What you're doing is adopting and applying a client centered coaching approach which is absolutely on the right path. You've highlighted the benefits and I'm sure you probably find your students are in the minority who would say they don't want to do them. And listen, that's absolutely fine. You've offered the mock test, you've explained what it's all about and there's other ways of applying that into your lessons, isn't there? It doesn't need to be a mock test, but you can say, okay, what we're going to do, we're thinking about your about ready for test standard. Now you're showing that kind of independence and competence across most of the syllabus and the competencies. How about I'm going to do 20 minutes or so without giving any instruction and we'll see how you go? In theory, that's almost like a little bit of a mock test without the other elements that you mentioned there, the signing up. So as long as somebody showing that kind of standard in other ways because they're averse to doing a mock test, then you're covering it off. But absolutely we're saying you should have done one by now or you should be at a standard that a mock test would be showing. If you're interpreting that through a client centered learning approach in different ways and that's absolutely fine. But of course we still believe that the mock test has got the value, but it doesn't need to be mandatory. But as long as you find in those kinds of qualities and getting that validation in other ways, in my opinion, it's kind of the same thing.
Terry: I think my concern there is that again, from the outside looking in, it's not even necessary. From an ADI's perspective, maybe your public or the learner's perspective that sees the thing about the standard checks, that sees the everything else I said before when I was talking about the outside looking in and then let's see this. I kind of think of an instructor that doesn't do mock tests and I think for me it's that word should. Now I've been getting really nitpicky here, so I apologize. But it does irk me slightly if I chose not to mock test, for whatever reason, one of my students could see that message and be like, well, you should be doing mock tests. But as an independent sole trader, that's my choice. To me, it isn't a should. And I don't know, I can see why some instructors will get frustrated by that. And I'm not expecting you to come back today and say we'll go change our wording for you, you point out to us. But I just think it's worth noting because again, it's almost a little bit pointy, even though that isn't the intention. I fully get that.
Graham: No, I see what you mean and I think that relationship between Adi and student is a joint relationship in terms of structuring what's best for that student and it's not what DVSA says you should do this. We're advising that this should be part of it for the highlighted reasons. If it's a discussion and that discussion results in that it's not actually the best strategy for ourselves, then that's absolutely fine. But we can only highlight and promote what we believe is the best way to prepare someone for that, not just for the test, but as I keep saying, for that independent driving on their own once that safety blanket is removed. But yeah, I take on board the point you're making and I would just reiterate the fact that I think that comes down to that individual conversation in the car, because ultimately that ADI, they're the expert in that car and working jointly with that student, then they can come up with the right strategy.
Terry: I think I'm just going to throw in a brief one as well, because this is where mock tests can be useful, in my opinion, because I had a student I don't know, I've told this story on the show before, but I had a student and we're doing bay parking and probably somewhere like the White Rose Center in Leeds, which is a great car for bay parking. We're in the empty Bay and she's like, oh, can I have a go by myself? I've been given a little bit of help. Can I have a go by myself? I said, yes. How about we do it as if you're on a driving test? So we're going to do the next two minutes where you just doing this reverse bay part, because if you're on a test, then we'll assess it as if you're just on a test at the end. And she got quite excited by the idea and she went to pull out and I forget the question, but she asked me something like, do I need to check here or something like that? And I answered, your instructor should have gone through that with you beforehand as an exam. And I can't answer that. And she told me afterwards that made it click for her that on the test I can't ask for help. So that helped her just get that shift in mentality and she went on to pass. So it just helped without shifting mentality. So even if it's not necessary building a skill or it's not gaining independence, it can just help a shift in mentality sometimes, I think. So there's definitely some good for me. But, yeah, I would also say that anyone listening, go and check out the stuff online, because whether you use it or not is up to you, as you said, Graham, but I think there's some really good resources there. But I am going to play devil's advocate for a second again, I think potentially safe driving for life by promoting mock tests are we may be stepping back slightly from the idea of surviving life and becoming a little bit focused.
Graham: I guess we've kind of touched on this throughout the conversation so far in terms of you could look at that in terms of the wording of the campaign we've got out now. In terms of the ready to pass campaign, if you focus purely on the wording, then I guess you'd say we're promoting people to pass the test, but it's not that easy. It's much bigger. It is absolutely preparing people to drive on their own for that first time and getting through that vulnerable stage. Because we all know that first six to nine months is when novice drivers are at the most vulnerable and that's when they do need the most protection so the best they can be prepared will ultimately serve them in good stead post test once that safety blanket has been removed. So we absolutely do promote safe driving for life. We of course have got the driving test as that kind of validation and all we're wanting to do is try to improve the pass rate because if we can improve the pass rate, that ultimately is telling us people are better prepared as opposed to people coming up and not only failing, it's not helping the backlog as well as that frustration of people having to wait so long. So if they are better prepared, the chances of passing first time is greater. And then what comes with that naturally is the fact that they are better prepared to go off and drive on their own. But yeah, absolutely. It's not just about passing tests. We like to think that comes with it. It comes with the fact that they are better prepared. But you know yourself as well, once somebody has taken the test, getting them then to re-engage with that learning process can sometimes be difficult. Sometimes they feel like, well, okay, now I just need another one lesson before I take the next test again. And before you know it, you can kind of get into groundhog day. So it's really making sure that groundwork and preparation is done prior to that person taking the first test and ultimately that should lead to them being safer in that early vulnerable stage.
Terry: Yeah, I like that. Look at the independence, look at the independence of the test, but also helping them prepare for the test. But a couple of things we touched on there around the Hallmark test. We spoke about the text messaging and the way it's a pass campaign. So I do want to touch on these with you because I know that these are things that the DVSA are promoting at the minute. So just regarding the text messaging, what's the original purpose around that? Just aimed at the people that were missing tests? Was that the big idea behind that? To make sure people turn up for them?
Graham: A little bit of both, Terry, to be honest. I mean, it's probably a service that we needed to introduce maybe sooner. Arguably we could be criticized for that. You look at other services that have done that for some time. We did that with the MOT as well. I'm sure you've benefited from that reminder message that we introduced on MOT. And when you go to the dentist these days, you tend to get a message to remind you and I've been guilty of missing appointments in the past, just through forgetfulness. So we really needed to tackle that. So I mentioned earlier, no shows waste more than 6000 tests a month, which is that's been a really big increase or prepandemic measure. So we needed to come up with ways of doing that. So the reminder service and like I said, it's slightly too early to tell in terms of where we are in terms of the value that's at, but I'm sure it's going to reduce that figure. And as you are aware, it's sent on ten days out and then six days out to remind people. So yeah, we're hoping that's going to have a positive impact on reducing those kind of wasted slots.
Terry: Those wasted slots then how much of that do you think, I appreciate it's probably hard to quantify, but I'd be remiss not to ask. How much of that do you think is down to people that need to drive, being told they're not ready and then by their instructor and then going to try and find another instructor and then not being able to find one, and then just not turn up because then they've got too late to cancel?
Graham: Yes, I think it's a combination of all of them, isn't it? I think there's probably some genuine ones in there which hopefully the reminder service will almost eradicate. So that's going to be really great there. We've then got the ones which people have booked a test and kind of gone against the better judgment of their ADI and then looking to get another test or another vehicle, let's say, and not been able to acquire that. Then you've got some of these where maybe another thing that we're tackling, obviously is these bots that are booking the tests and then maybe not swapping them or for whatever reason they've not sold them or whatever, and the fact that they're obviously selling them at a premium or whatever, there might be some that are going slipping through the net. So it's a combination of all of those things. But I think the intervention we've put in place there, we're really positive that's going to reduce that figure right down.
Terry: So just on those, you mentioned the bots there, so the test app, stuff like I'm not going to name them, but these are people use. What is the big problem with this? Because from a simpleton's perspective like mine, a student today has failed the driving test and she wants to get a new one, but she can't book until January, February next year. So she books February and then goes and gets one of the apps that then helps her find an earlier slot. What is the issue with that?
Graham: Yeah, I don't want to talk too much about this because it's not my area of expertise and I think you're right. I think there are some maybe genuine cases out there where somebody can do things, but it's the ones that are basically swamping up the system. As soon as we open up, let's say, for example, I say, okay, I'm going to work a week on Saturday, I'm going to do some overtime. So I open up a program, before you know it, they've all been bought by the bots and then these bots are then selling them. At a really inflated rate, which is fair enough if somebody's doing a swap and there's a premium to pay on that. But these are just swamping them up and they're not an actual they've not got any ADI association with them. It's those kind of ones that we want to stop to, of course. And it's difficult because some of our systems are a little bit outdated. The booking system. So if you imagine you've been online and you're just about to purchase something. And sometimes they will ask you to confirm in the squares where the zebra crossing might be. All the bikes might be in certain squares. So that level of protection. I'm far from an expert on that. But the bots couldn't bypass them. So we've introduced things like that to try to reduce these bots from swamping up all the tests. So we're putting measures in place. The booking system is having an overhaul as well, which is updating it in a well overdue update, so that's going to be much more kind of smart in its ability to be able to deal with those kind of things. But it's a bit like the game you play at the seaside, is it whackamole, where you hit one down and then another one pops up. So it's a battle that we're starting to win, but it's still an ongoing issue that we're working hard to deal with. Cool.
Terry: Anything else you'd like to mention there around mock tests or the text or anything like that?
Graham: I suppose in terms of the mock test, I think we've covered the majority there without me going into grander detail. In terms of where you can find the information on Gov.UK, it's got the marking sheet on there. On some of the webinars I spoke about assessment, which I think is quite an interesting subject for ADI, is because the level of assessment that an ADI might mark on a mock test might be slightly different to an examiner. An examiner's got that almost threshold, if you like, in terms of the deviation that a candidate might make with the fault might not necessarily be what we call worthy of recording, whereas an ADI will see a fault and fix it, which is absolutely right, but that fault might not necessarily make its way onto a marking sheet on an actual test. So we spoke a little bit about that on the webinars, where to mark the faults, et cetera. But, yeah, I think we've pretty much covered most of the things I'd like to talk about on the mock test there, just briefly back to the better prepared campaign in terms of we spoke about the messaging service there. We've also booked information on our Gov UK page, it's also on our Instagram page, where you can see some helpful tips and reminders about coming from the test. We've obviously been getting a lot of private runners coming, so just ensuring the car is appropriate for use on the test if your instructors booking to include your number on the booking so you get your benefit from the reminder service. There's a whole host of things that we put on there to help people prepare and ensure that there's no disappointment on the day in terms of the vehicle that they're presenting in and whatnot.
Terry: The Ready to Pass campaign. I am probably ready to take some flak from this from certain quarters, but I really like it. I think that the way it's worded, the way it's put across the information that's put out there, who is aimed at the way it's driven. It's what I would do, essentially. I think there's room for more, there's room for more stuff on there. I think there's room for an online checklist that when you go onto the website you can click on it. It brings up everything you should have covered and what you should be able to do complete independently when no one sat next to you, sort of thing. I'm a big fan of that. I also really like the fact that you are asking ADIs to promote it and share it. I think that that is 100% right. And I know that there will be ADIs that disagree with me about that. But I'm a big believer in using social media for the good stuff. I'm a big believer. I instigated Driving Instructor Day this year, March 15, and it will be again next year. The first ever Driving Instructor Day was this year on March 15 and I promoted it and we got loads of people involved. It's a celebration, people showing past pictures and driving schools were going out on days out together and all this kind of stuff. And we have like the AA and the RAC jumping in and it was really cool and it was really positive for the industry and I got some awesome feedback from it and that was purely through social media. So why not put this awesome stuff out that's directing people the right way and use driving instructors, promote it to their students as well. I think that's brilliant. Obviously I've got a couple of caveats there. I think the big one I would say is on there. There was something about Mindfulness, I’ve not got up in front of me now, unfortunately, but it was speaking about nerves and it just felt a little blurred around mindfulness and a little bit flippant. Now, I'm presuming you didn't write it. I don't mean to be critical of the individual, but I just think that there are certain things that can be expanded and explored a bit more. Is that something that's going to be developed as time goes by?
Graham: Yeah, you raise a number of points then I'll come to the mindfulness in a moment. I think just generally it's really nice to hear that you feel that the prepared campaign is doing what we intended to do and you're obviously a fan of that, and I think it again comes back to that without being too cliche, that kind of being part of a team and what can we do? There's always going to be quarters that will criticize us whatever we do, and I can understand that, but we're not doing this for any other reason than good. What more can we do? And we're working on what we can do. It's almost enabling you to be the best of yourself and some of it might come across as you teach us how to a little bit, but it's not intended to be like that. It's about how can we help? Sometimes little small things can make big steps, so we're absolutely looking to try to do more and work more collaboratively, and this is an example of that. But coming back to the point about mindfulness, and it's a really good point, so I'm pleased you brought it up. And going back to the information we found out about mock tests, one in ten, I'm surprised it's not more, actually. So they didn't drive as well as they did on the day on the test because of nerves. This is candidates, obviously. So obviously we know nerves play a big part. I mean, listen, if you said to me, what was the most nerve wracking days of your life, the driving test will be up there, that would be right up there in the top one, if not two, and I think most people would agree with that. So the fact it's going to be one of the most nerve wracking experiences of your life, how can we deal with that? Well, listen, that's a million dollar question. If I knew the answer to that, the pass rate would probably be a lot higher than it is, because we know nerves do play a part and we believe doing a mock test will help prepare that. But what else can we do? Mindfulness is one of those techniques that I don't confess to be an expert, but I know it's widely used and it's almost like a coping strategy, isn't it, where somebody can and you've taught people like this, Terry, everybody suffers with nerves, but some suffer more than others. So those people who you know is going to play a part on the day of maybe affecting the result of the testing customers, what coping strategies can you incorporate to help prepare them? Why not give Mindfulness a try again, it's got to be an agreement with the students and there's some techniques out there, and we included the article there from San Harper, who certainly more of an expert than I am in this field and be able to share some good practice. So it's something that we believe has a place, maybe not for everybody, but for those people who may be really struggling, why not look at Mindfulness? Just to finish on that, you asked me if there's anything else we're doing. We're looking at a piece of research so we can understand Mindfulness more in terms of getting a research company to do some intervention with a cohort of ADI's and students. So we're looking at that so we can learn more about Mindfulness to see if we can actually promote that more. So with a little bit more authority and some evidence. But, yeah, I'm pleased you brought that. Hopefully that helps answer that one.
Terry: Yeah. And just a quick moment for a shameless plug for anyone listening. San Harper, as you mentioned, there, is phenomenal human being. I love San Harper to death. She’s been on the show a few times. Go back out and check her episodes. She wrote a blog for the DVSA, she does an exclusive podcast for my premium content. And if you sign up for that, you get a 10% discount off her courses. So I got to sign up for my premium content and I get 10% discount with San Harper and help the students pass. There you go. Everyone's a winner.
Graham: I'm setting them all up for you here. Terry didn't even ask me for that one.
Terry: No, I'm not paid you for any of this. All right, so we've covered a lot there today and I don't want to take up an awful lot more of your time, but we have kind of touched on the waiting list throughout this in different facets. Is there anything else around the waiting list or anything else that you would like to mention while you're on the show, just for you with the final few questions?
Graham: No, I think I mentioned the interventions that we've got in place there in terms of we're doing as many tests as we can, the schemes that we've brought in, in terms of offering buyback on leave, we're still recruiting heavily and those new examiners will be hitting the floor in lots of areas throughout the rest of this year. Recruitment's ongoing. It's just a case of training. These people are getting them prepared and delivering tests, and then we can get that waiting time back to an acceptable measure because no one's more aware of it than us in terms of it's unacceptable. And we're getting pressure from the minister. Absolutely. And why wouldn't we? It's not acceptable from their point of view as well, so we have to report and let them know what we're doing. We're getting pressure from above and like I said, quite rightly. I'll not repeat everything I said earlier, but we are working tirelessly to get that back down to what will be an acceptable measure.
Terry: You mentioned the minister. I'm having to bite my tongue massively from a political route now, so I'm going to stay clear.
Graham: You can do that. I can't.
Terry: Go to the back catalogue. There's been a few, how long does it take to train an examiner? I suppose the point from when they're accepted to when they first start conducting.
Graham: Tests yeah, it's a really good question, and it's usually between five to six weeks. We've tried different course lengths over time, over years, and we now do a couple of weeks what we call virtually. So you're kind of online because obviously the examiners get their iPad, so they get issued with them initially. So we can do a lot of online learning, which would have normally detracted from the in-car training when you were at the actual training centre having your courses, you know, lots of presentations. We do like two weeks virtual now. Then the examiners would go on their residential course, which used to only exclusively be down in Bedfordshire at Cardington, where the main training site was. That's no longer with us. We've got much more accessible locations now, so it should appeal to more people to apply to be examiners who maybe couldn't have in the past because they wouldn't have wanted to travel and be away from home for six weeks in Bedfordshire. Even though some of the training does still involve being away from home, it's much closer now because we've got a number of training centres around the country, Scotland, the North of England, the Northwest, and right around down at the Southeast as well. So we've got a lot more options for people to come and train. But typically the courses are between four to six weeks.
Terry: And just a quick note for anyone listening again, go check out DIAPOD, the episode that Graham was on, because I found the discussion around the Cardington Centre on that. We're all geeks here. Are you still hiring examiners? Are you still taking on or is there a pause on that?
Graham: I'm not entirely sure. Terry I think that it's going to be ongoing. If the campaign is closed, it's probably only a matter of time before it opens. I can't really be fully quoted on that, but the recent campaign has got a lot of people waiting in the wings to come onto courses. Initially, after you have an interview, then you go and do a drive. You're successful on the driving interview, you then get offered a place on a training course. So we've got a lot of people waiting at that stage now to go on to the next wave of training courses. So in terms of whether the recruitment is open, I'm not sure, but you could jump online and find out quite quickly. And if it's not in this current day and age, it's only a matter of time before it opens again. So if there is anybody who's interested in that, just keep your eye out because recruitment is obviously an ongoing thing. I've been around this kind of world for about 25 years now, and there's never long between recruitment campaigns due to people leaving and whatnot. There's always going to be that kind of turnover of stuff.
Terry: You're obviously someone that's gone from an ADI to examiner and then continued to progress to the position you're in now. So it's obviously been a success for you. And I know everyone is different, but would you recommend it to driving instructors?
Graham: I absolutely would. I've been very lucky. I became an ADI. I've always had a real interest in driving. I was the annoying kid who would ask me, mom and dad, why are you doing that? What are you doing that for? I always had that kind of interest in that kind of just being in a car and how to drive a car. Well, I've always kind of had that. So when I became an ADI I loved it. But listen, you know as well as I do, it's a tough, tough job. You're working for yourself that incorporates that level of pressure and everything that comes along with working as being self employed. So to me, I always kind of looked at the examiner's job and thought, well, would I be able to do that after about five years of being an ADI? And it wasn't the fact that I didn't enjoy it, and I really did. I just thought that the things that came along with the examiner's job, it was a bit more maybe secure you getting the pension. The hours appeal to me. I love a game of golf, so I didn't get to play much when I was an ADI, but when I was an examiner, you could finish it at half three, whatever, you still have time to get a game of golfing. But joking aside, you know that the job itself is great. You know that enjoyment of sharing that, which we mentioned is one of the most nervewracking days of your life, but also can be one of the most joyful. As an ADI, you get to enjoy it more so, but as an examiner, you get a little snapshot of that as well at the end of the test, when you turn to somebody and say, that's the end of the test, I'm pleased to tell you, you have passed. Whilst of course you've still got to be professional, you can't help but enjoy the outpouring of emotion that comes from that person at the side of you, which brings obviously an internal smile there. And you think, yeah, good on you. But of course, there's the flip side to that and you're quite often delivering other news, but you're looking at that in terms of potentially saving that person going on the road when they might not necessarily be prepared. So, yes, I would encourage it, bit of a long winded answer, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. And look at me, I started as an ADI, then an examiner, and I've had the opportunities to progress with different areas and that's available to examiners as well. So there is that career progression opportunity. I would definitely recommend it.
Terry: Is there a two year contract? Charlotte told me this when you first pass or become an examiner, like a two year contract.
Graham: Yeah, I don't really want to go too much into that because it's not an area of going back to your very first question. I'm not an expert on the kind of HR side of things, but you're right at the moment I believe there is a kind of two year kind of contract, so I wouldn't really want to speculate too much on that other than two, and this is only my opinion, it's not DVSA. I'd like to think after that two years there would be some opportunities to stay and who knows if those contracts are already changing in the background, I don't know. But yeah, I do believe that is in place at the moment due to obviously protecting the agency, I guess in terms of wanting to really overcome the backlog. But as I mentioned, there's always going to be that attrition in terms of people leaving. So as people leave, rather than employing more people, the people potentially on the two year contract could I'm sure those things will grow arms and legs, but yeah, I can't speculate too much on that.
Terry: Last question on the examiners. Then, before we kind of wrap up, I'm interested to see if you can answer this one. If you were to pick ten random examiners and get them to watch the same driving test, how closely aligned with their marking sheets be?
Graham: So it's a good question. Watching a driving test will be very difficult, I know, at the point you're making. Let's imagine they're in the car because you need to be in the car to see all the circumstances at the time. A video wouldn't give you that benefit because that's the difference with assessment to fault marking. Fault marking is easy. Assessing is slightly more complex because you need to weigh up all the circumstances at the time. But I would like to think that we'd all get the right result in terms of whether it was a pass or a fail. Would there be some minor differences in the markings? Potentially, and that's why there will be some tolerance in terms of what the differences need to be. So that's why we obviously capture that data, that management information, to ensure that there isn't huge differences between examining staff. But I would be more than confident that they would get the right result on all ten would get the right result. And that's what plays a big part in that four to six weeks training with the examiners. That's what they're doing every day. And this was one of my old jobs and I still do it, go out training examiners. And as I'm sure most people are aware, it's all role play like it was on your part three. I'm driving the car like a learner, committing faults. And the examiners are assessing those tests, they're controlling the test and identifying the fault. So of course they wouldn't get through that training if their level of assessment didn't reach the standard and consistency that the agency and the chief driving examiner and ourselves set the standard too so yeah. Hopefully that answers your question I'd be more than confident that all ten would get the right result. There may be some minor differences but the results would be the same and.
Terry: Then just to put you on the spot again. I think a little while ago the DVSA stated that they were aiming for a twelve week waiting list on average by Christmas. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think that's now put back to February, I'm going to put you on the spot slightly, will that be the case? We will be at twelve weeks as an average waiting list by February, do you think? And if not, when?
Graham: So actually we're hoping for it to be less than that. We're hoping for it to be nine weeks, single figures so we're working hard. We've got the clever data scientists and whatnot creating a model which is showing where we are, what the prediction, what the forecast is going to be and within that model. Imagine it's, I don't know, you're baking a cake and all the ingredients so some of the ingredients will be staff coming in overtime. People leaving pass rates. All those things it's a multi factored equation which ultimately affect the end result and the end result is the waiting time so if all those things happen. Yes we should be at that target by then but of course there's variables. Right? Some of those things, who knows what could happen? So it's above my pay grade to say yes. We're going to be there but what I can do is because I sit in on those meetings with the model and whatnot and all the factors that go into actually achieving our objective the objective is there and yes we should reach that by February stroke March. But it wasn't twelve weeks. It's nine weeks so yeah. If everything comes to plan on those things that I've just mentioned there. Then there should be no reason why we shouldn't reach that but of course there's a bit of time between now and then but if the plan comes together then it should be a yes.
Terry: I suppose it's better to have an ambitious goal than not an ambitious goal so if I could give you a magic wand and you can change one thing in our industry you can change.
Graham: One thing, what would it be in your industry? You mean.
Terry: In the whole remit, driver training, rider training, the DVSA, whatever you want to put it as you can change one thing, what would it be?
Graham: I guess if you're looking at in terms of driving, if you take into account just driving I've mentioned this before and it's kind of a thing that I occasionally think of I don't think there's many things in life when you reach a certain age that brings an expectation to embark on such a difficult task. 17 for most people is an expectation to learn how to drive a tin box with four wheels that can get you from A to B. Now, when you think about that, in the grand scheme of things, it's quite bonkers. There's not many other things in life that carry that kind of expectation. I'm getting to the point. So that's complex. That's quite complex. But the thing with driving, I often find that people don't necessarily have a clear picture of their own ability. I tend to think, and this isn't evidence based, it's only based on my evidence of conducting over 10,000 driving tests, sitting at the side of over 300 experienced drivers, training many hundred examiners. Generally, people's own perception of their own driving is slightly better than it actually is. So the magic wand would be to remove the distorted view of your own driving ability and give you a clear view of it, and what, in turn, that would give would allow you to think, actually, I could be a bit better. The only reason I say that is because I fell foul of that as well. I thought I was a good driver. I applied to be a driving instructor. I trained for the Part Two and thought, oh, I can learn something here. And I did, I learned a lot. I thought then I was a good driver and then applied to be a driving examiner. And then I thought, I can learn more, and then did lots of advanced driver training and now you see the picture I'm painting, so there's always more to learn. So the problem is coming back. I know it's a long winded answer, I'm just about to finish, but if you ask somebody, I don't know, ask them just a random question and will generally give you an honest opinion of their own ability of something. Whereas if you are somebody who is a good driver, very few people will say anything other than, yeah, I'm a good driver, but the reality is actually different. So if people had that clear understanding of their own driving ability, they would have more appreciation for the fact that they could be better. So I know that's a long winded answer, but hopefully it makes a little bit of sense and there you go.
Terry: Think it's a good one, but we get, yeah, I'm a good driver, but I wouldn't pass my test if I took it again.
Graham: Yes, we do get that, don't we get that?
Terry: Right. So, last question to finish on the most high pressure question, the most important question will be asked today. Obviously, you do a lot of trips on the motorway. You mentioned that at the beginning. What is the ultimate driving song? Song would you put on?
Graham: Well, yeah, my playlist is very random. It can go from Dolly Parton and to Metallica from one to the other. Well, best driving song? I don't know. I think Journey is a pretty good kind of uplifting, you know the one I mean, stop believing. Don't stop believing. That generally gets you singing behind the wheel. That's going to be embarrassing actually saying that. But yeah, so many Terry. I'm not a snob when it comes to music. I'm pretty diverse in my music taste.
Terry: I've started asking everyone that question and there is an instructor podcast playlist on Spotify, so that will be added to it. And you don't need to be embarrassed because my Spotify most played artist of last year was Lady Gaga.
Graham: She features on my playlist as well. So there you go.
Terry: Two grumpy old Yorkshiremen listening to Dolly Parton and Lady Gaga.
Graham: We could definitely do another podcast purely on playlists alone, so, yeah, that wouldn't be a problem. And of course, your podcast, Terry, which is going to feature heavily on my playlist.
Terry: New playlist, that is the perfect way to finish the show. And I want to take a moment to thank you for your time. I really appreciate you coming on. I know that you could have been conducting a driving test right now, but instead those learners can wait. My podcast takes priority, as we discussed earlier, everything else of practice lead, not this monumental moment where you join me today. Is there anything you would like to promote or any way you would like to send anyone in particular?
Graham: I don't think so, Terry, other than what I've mentioned in terms of the mock test and better prepared, which is all on Gov.UK. And, yeah, just to thank you for the invite to come along today and hopefully we can do it again soon.
Terry: I will. That's been recorded, so I'll take you up on that and thank you for your time today.
The instructor podcast with Terry Cook, talking with leaders, innovators, experts and game changers about what drives them.