Nerves of steel behind the wheel

The independent and flexible nature of the job amply compensates for the stresses of being a driving instructor

Tim Walker@timwalker
Friday 19 July 2013 03:11

Not least is the chance to be your own boss. Even if you are affiliated to one of the larger driving schools, such as the British School of Motoring (BSM) or the AA, most operate on a franchise system, meaning that an instructor's hours are flexible. Gary Lamb, an instructor for BSM in London, works on Saturday mornings to allow himself time off during the week, but, as he says, "That's my own choice. I arrange my schedule to suit my family and myself."

Paula Lonsdale, head of instructor recruitment for BSM, sees this flexibility as a great attraction of the job. "It's good for the work-life balance," she says. "It can provide a full-time income, or a secondary income or as with many instructors, a second career."

"Becoming a driving instructor is rarely an ambition," Lonsdale admits. "It's generally a second career. People reach a crossroads, normally in their late twenties or later, when they find their first career is no longer fulfilling. Often they're interested in the car or in the motor industry - they may be bus or taxi drivers or, say, workers at a car plant like Longbridge. Or perhaps they are retired teachers or servicemen who want to keep working."

One group for whom driving instruction seems ideal is women returning to work, for whom it can provide a part-time income. "Only eight to 10 per cent of those on the Approved Driving Instructor register are women," Lonsdale explains.

"It's a shame that people are put off by thinking that it's a male-dominated industry. With BSM, for instance, you have the car seven days a week, flexible hours and an extra source of income, so it can be great if you have a family."

It takes some time, and usually a little capital investment, to set up as an instructor, however. Basic requirements include, unsurprisingly, having had a driving licence for a minimum of four years, and the ability to read a licence plate from 90 feet away or, as Lonsdale puts it, "eyes in the back of your head".

If you join a training course such as the one run by BSM, you may need to demonstrate some other qualities as well. "Your personality is very important," explains Lonsdale. "You have to like people; you have to be a good communicator, and you have to be patient."

The training prepares you for three exams. Part one is a theory test. Part two is a practical test of driving ability. Part three is a test of instructional ability, with an examiner mimicking the role of a learner driver.

It's a gruelling period of instruction, and can take from six months to a year to complete. It can be costly - the BSM course costs just over £2,500, including your first attempt at the instructor test - although it is structured as adult education, allowing you to pursue another occupation.

A qualified driving instructor can choose to stay with BSM or a similar company, where paying for the franchise ensures all your administration, car maintenance and marketing is done for you; or he or she can go independent.

An instructor for BSM can take home between £350 and £580 per week, depending on how many hours they teach. When Gary Lamb qualified 20 years ago, he says, "I thought seriously about being independent, but on your own you can't develop so much professionally.

"I've done a lot of courses with BSM: a fleet course so that I can do corporate instruction for companies; a presentation course so that I can be a presenter, and I do instructor training now, too."

Terence Cummins, by contrast, went independent after qualifying and thinks that he has a far bigger take-home as a result. In their first year, he explains, a hard-working private driving instructor can earn £500 per week.

"I took a gamble," he says. "I gave my pupils the choice of staying with BSM or with me, and most of them came with me. I've never had to advertise, word-of-mouth has kept me going for 16 years, and I'm still doing between 40 and 50 hours of instructing per week."

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