Learning to drive can be a nerve-wracking and expensive experience. Which? Local-recommended driving instructor Tariq Musaji explains how to find the right driving school or tutor.
Qualifications and training
An Approved Driving Instructor (ADI) will display a green badge in their vehicle's window.
Photograph: Driving Standards Agency
Driving instructors must be registered with the Driving Standards Agency (DSA).
A potential driving instructor (PDI) who satisfies basic criteria and a criminal record check is awarded a trainee licence – a pink permit or badge which should be displayed in their vehicle’s window.
This means that, although the instructor is not yet fully qualified, they are permitted to work at a franchised driving school and teach student drivers. A driving school should inform you if your instructor has trainee status, and you could reasonably expect a concession on the hourly rate for lessons.
Once three qualifying exams have been completed, the instructor receives a full licence and 'green badge' for display in their vehicle's window. Driving instructors who are self-employed or who work at a small, independent driving school should always be able to produce a green badge.
Ask a prospective driving instructor whether they are fully qualified or undergoing training.
Qualified driving instructors are subject to tests every few years which ensure that acceptable standards of instruction are being maintained.
Beginning 7 April 2014, instructors are given one of the following grades following their assessment:
- A grade (85% or over): an overall high standard of instruction
- B grade (60% or over): a sufficient level of competence
- Fail (less than 60%): an unsatisfactory performance.
If an instructor receives a fail grade, they will be given another 'standards check' within 12 weeks.
Instructors who fail three times in a row can be removed from the register of approved driving instructors.
Ask a prospective driving instructor how they performed in their last assessment.
Some instructors will advertise their 'pass rate' – the percentage of students who ultimately pass their practical test.
Ignore this, as it’s difficult to prove and not necessarily a good measure of the quality of instruction.
While checking a prospective instructor’s qualifications is essential, a bit of research into their reputation also goes a long way.
Tariq's business is registered with his local Buy With Confidence scheme, for example, which means he has been visited by a Trading Standards officer and has undergone a number of checks.
Find reviewed driving instructors on Which? Local, ask friends and family for recommendations and take into account any extra endorsements from reputable organisations.
Type of car
You should, of course, make sure that the instructor has a dual-control car (one with an extra set of pedals for the instructor to operate from the passenger seat) which is either manual or automatic, depending on your preference.
Beware an instructor with a flashy car, recommends Tariq, as they may be using it as a 'magnet' for attracting students. A good instructor can deliver a compelling lesson in any car.
Inquire about your instructor's car and ask whether you will be driving the same vehicle throughout the course of your tuition.
Be wary of discounts
Don't appoint an instructor based on price alone. If an instructor’s hourly rate is considerably lower than other instructors in the area, you should find out whether they intend to increase the price later.
Unless you have received some tuition from a friend or family member, you should assume you will need at least 20 hours of professional teaching.
Calculate the price of the driving instruction on this basis, factoring in any discounts as well as the usual price.
Remember, the cheapest instructor or driving school may not be the best.
Inquire about specialisms
Some instructors are especially good at coaching older or exceptionally nervous drivers, for example.
Ask a prospective driving school whether they can recommend an instructor who meets your needs.
Don't 'block book' straight away
Many driving schools and instructors will offer a discount for booking several sessions at once, and paying for them in advance. While it can save money, wait until you’ve had a few lessons before you commit to a non-refundable 'block booking'.
Pay for a few sessions individually first, while you make sure that:
- the instructor arrives promptly and you receive the amount of tuition you have paid for
- the instructor behaves responsibly (for example: doesn’t answer their phone while you are driving)
- the instructor behaves fairly (for example: doesn’t insist you drive to a petrol station or run errands)
- you have a good relationship with the instructor
- you feel as if you are making steady progress.
You’ll also get an idea of how the instructor organises his time, during these first few sessions. For example, the practice of ‘piggy-backing’ – where an instructor has more than one student in the car at a time – might be revealed and could make you feel uncomfortable at the wheel.
A good driving instructor will understand that you want to be sure they're right before committing to a large number of lessons.
If you feel happy with your instructor after a few lessons, consider a block booking if you can afford it.
About our expert trader
Tariq Musaji is a Driving Standards Agency-approved driving instructor and managing director of Buy With Confidence-endorsed Farrah Driver Training Ltd. The business is based in Wickford, Essex.
Tariq holds the Driving Standards Agency’s Grade 6 Fleet qualification (the highest grade awarded to professional driving instructors) and is a passionate advocate of fuel-efficient driving.
Read reviews for Farrah Driver Training Ltd