A lot of instructors are complaining about the waiting time for driving tests. Several of my own, who had tests cancelled back in March 2020, subsequently had to retake their theory tests. Rearranged tests are coming in for June/July. But ones I had to rebook came in at July/August. Worse still – and as of the start of May – those booking them cold are looking at September/October.
But there is another likely upcoming issue that ADIs haven’t cottoned on to yet.
At the moment, all those booking their tests were pretty much test-ready last March (or certainly, at the end of September/October 2020). But what about the thousands of learners who haven’t been able to start their lessons until recently? Over the next few months, they will all become test-ready too. And there is a whole year of mainly 17-year olds involved in that.
I might end up being wrong, but logically we will end up with all those new learners wanting to be booking tests at roughly the same time. My guess (prediction) is that that is going to send the waiting time through the roof. And don’t forget that this is on top of all those who have failed their rearranged tests since. Heck, the pass rate will still be about 50:50 at best, so they’re going to have to book further re-tests.
I had one of those the other day. His rearranged test had been set for June, but he got a cancellation for this week and went in his own car. He failed, and is now looking at September – though he’s after another cancellation. The annoying thing is that a few weeks ago I had said that the cancellation checker he had signed up to was fine, but they tend to be short-notice and he might not want to get one for like ‘next week’, because we needed to polish a few things that had cropped up through driving extensively with his parents. But he ended up doing precisely that and getting a short-notice cancellation. And this is what happens. He won’t be the only one.
DVSA has put on extra tests and examiners, and that will obviously help a little. But they would need hundreds of tests and examiners to manage what is going to happen in a few months time.
Ironically, instructors desperate to fill their diaries to overflowing are making it potentially worse – for themselves, as well as everyone else. They are rushing pupils through for their own financial benefit. But many are moaning about pupils and parents asking if they can book the test after the first lesson, and refusing to do it. What happens when those pupils reach test standard and then have a five month wait ahead of them for the test you eventually allowed them to book?
I am trying to plan ahead. I’ve had four new pupils in the last three days. Those who have already passed the theory I have advised to book their tests (on the understanding we will move it if they’re not ready), since they are already looking at September/October, and realistically six months is a good period of time in which to get to test standard for the average learner with no experience. Those who haven’t taken the theory I have advised to get on it urgently so we can get the practical booked for the same reasons. I point out that if booking now is September/October, then if they add one month from now for the passing the theory, November/December is a likely date for the practical – with the worry that by then thousands of new learners from last year will also be test-ready.
A new game appeared across social media over the last year. It’s called ‘why don’t you put your prices up to £40 like me?’ Apparently, it is played every two weeks, and each round has to assume it has never been played before.
It started off fairly innocuously, but it’s turned into another tool of the mind-game brigade – these are the ones who want to sell you coaching courses so you can put your prices up, because obviously you can’t unless you pay someone some money first. The problem is, the people on the other end are often already in the group that doesn’t understand the difference between turnover and profit, the one that didn’t know there was an SEISS grant until just before Christmas, or the one that likes to collect acronyms to use in their lessons (because the more acronyms you have, the better an instructor you are, right?) Consequently, if you believed everything you read on social media, you’d be forgiven for thinking the average lesson rate throughout the country is currently somewhere between £35 and £40 per hour.
I already know what typical lesson prices are in various locations. I also know why they are higher in some very specific locations, and lower in rather more others. But I decided to do a bit of current research, and this is what I found.
I used Google Maps and searched for ‘driving schools [location]’, and then had a look at the websites that came up. I only chose the independents or small local schools I’d never heard of (I’ll mention the nationals later), and I chose as many as ten examples for each location (64 sites in total). I chose common or garden locations across England, and deliberately sought out several in what I know are affluent areas. These are the results.
Range for 1 hour (£)
Range for 10x block (£)
A few of these schools did not offer one hour lessons – it was either 90 or 120 minutes, so I adjusted the figures to get hourly rates. Some, especially around Swindon and Exeter, had extra conditions for rural locations (approximately £2 per hour greater). Many offered larger discounts for bigger block bookings (I have used the 10 hour block discount figures in all of the above).
One thing is obvious. Only a very small number of locations are charging anywhere near £40 an hour, and fewer still are offering such prices across the board. Saffron Walden came close, but one school there was genuinely advertising almost £10 per hour lower than the others. Swindon schools had the most variable charges depending on pickup location (along with Exeter).
London was interesting. Chelsea – an extremely affluent area – skewed the results significantly at the higher end. Bow, Hendon, and the eastern side had the lowest rates. Morden and the south had the highest behind Chelsea. But Chelsea aside, London was little different to most other places.
It was the south of the country where rates were highest overall. Swindon and Saffron Walden had by far the most examples of websites which wouldn’t give the prices unless you contacted them.
In all of these areas, the national schools were generally towards the higher end of the ranges.
Obviously, there are other places you could find which are affluent and where the same higher rates tend to be charged. But there are also plenty of others which mirror the lower rates. My data above is just a sample, but it is a fairly large sample which covers England fairly well, and so paints a realistic picture of what is being charged around the country. And it is nowhere near £40. Somewhere between £27 and £30 appears to be the average.
I am not criticising what anyone charges (though that school in Saffron Walden charging £10 less than everyone else is missing a trick, in my opinion). If you can charge, it, then charge it. But what I am criticising is the idiots who keep asking the damned question, and those who then throw fuel on the fire, all of them acting all smug because they live in one of the few areas where you can get away with it. It’s all very well saying ‘charge what you’re worth’, but it doesn’t work too well in places like Newcastle, where people simply can’t afford £40 lessons. And they can’t, no matter what Tarquin from Pleasant Valley (it’s in Saffron Walden) might say. North of The Thames, the average is typically closer to £30, and North of Sheffield it’s even less.
And another issue on the periphery of this is the deliberate decision to increase prices solely in order to try and make up for loss of earnings during the last 12 months. Personally, I find that rather cynical, and it is difficult to separate this from the repeated argument about £40 lessons.