The pandemic has shook the world and impacted all of us, changing our whole routines and throwing plans out of the window. Industries have been hit hard, especially those that require people to be in close proximity to one another, with driving tuition taking a real hit impacting both learners and instructors alike.
We previously investigated the scale of instructor shortages and the driving test backlog caused by the pandemic since lessons and tests restarted in April 2021. Learners are still in the midst of this backlog and demand on instructors is higher than ever.
With demand reaching uncharted levels, how have driving instructors responded? What are they doing to manage demand and pressure and how will this impact the nation’s learners? To find out, we issued a survey to more than 4,000 driving instructors to establish what is happening with driving tuition in the UK in the ‘new normal’. Here’s what we found:
Enquiries are at an all time high - 227% up on 2020
Instructors have seen a 227% increase in enquiries since 2020, which equates to an average of an extra 8.24 enquiries each week. 30% of instructors are turning away 5-10 enquiries per week, meaning there simply isn’t enough supply for the demand and the backlog will unlikely cease anytime soon.
Since the start of 2020, instructors now have on average 27% more pupils, which equates to nearly 6 more pupils (5.76 to be exact!). 35% of instructors now have around 21-30 pupils at any one time, so your local instructor is now considerably more overstretched than last year.
Prices are increasing while availability reduces
In response to additional COVID measures and the sheer demand for lessons, 40% of instructors say they have had to increase the price of lessons. 30% have reduced the frequency of lessons a learner can book, while 28% have had to remove or reduce special offers or discounts on lessons.
At the start of 2020, the average cost for a driving lesson was £28.47. In 2021 instructors have now upped the price of lessons by an average of 9% across the board. In 2020, 52% of instructors priced lessons between £25 - £29, in 2021 only 28% fall into that band.
Now, almost half (47%) price them between £30 - £34, up from 32% in 2020. Just over one fifth of instructors (21%) set prices between £35 - £40. This is an average increase of 15% since 2020, when only 6% of instructors priced lessons in this top band. Almost half (41%) of instructors surveyed are planning to increase the cost of lessons further in the coming six months as demand continues to remain.
Instructors are feeling the strain
Almost a third of driving instructors (29%) have had to cancel or forgo time off in order to meet demand. 37% have increased the amount of lessons each day and 33% have increased the number of days they work each week. Instructors' working hours have increased by 17% overall in 2021(equating to 4.87 hours extra per week), almost an extra working day.
The survey found that 41% now feel they have a poorer work life balance with 33% citing that as a reason for potentially changing career. 32% are experiencing increased levels of stress and 8% considering an immediate career change, all potentially increasing the strain on the industry and backlog for learners.
As part of our survey, we wanted to get some direct insight from instructors - here’s what they had to say:
Priority is being given to those with a passed theory test to avoid any ongoing delays, is the general way some instructors are managing demand with others saying:
- “I’m not taking on any new pupils until September”
- “I’ve limited myself to short-term bookings (i.e. no new learners) only, esp. those with a driving test booked.”
- “I’ve had to prioritise students' needs by test dates booked, theory tests booked, partly trained and absolute beginners. Not everyone gets a regular weekly slot apart from those with tests booked.”
On reasons for needing to work more hours, instructors said:
- “To handle the backlog of moved tests.”
- “Little financial support during lockdowns.”
- “To try to reduce my long waiting list as I feel guilty that some have been on it for several months. I’m not getting enough new spaces from learners passing tests as lots are waiting several months for a date even though they are more than ready now.”
Many instructors are feeling an impact on their health from working extra hours:
- “I'm suffering from the lockdown and now feeling unwell making lots of errors in my work as in the diary. Forgetting to record things like I did before.”
- “Tired. I’ve questioned whether it is safe for me to work as many hours as I am doing.”
- “Navigating waiting lists and diaries is stressful, it always has been, but perhaps more so now. You genuinely want to help people, but there's only so many days available!”
- “It’s a real strain on your mental health.. You’re cutting out lunch breaks and I’m leaving my house at 7am and not returning until 9pm... Then you have to answer the messages you haven’t had time to during the day.”
A range of other issues were raised by instructors, the main standout themes included the presence of third-party test buying apps preventing instructors from being able to secure slots for learners. The limited availability in driving tests for pupils and the number of learners desperate to get on the road, so much so they are booking tests without having had any professional tuition:
- “Students are informed of COVID-19 procedures - cleaning, face masks, extra costs to keep as safe as possible, the main problem now is that pupils ready for driving tests are having to wait until next year unless something happens before, which is causing more of a backlog. I’m still taking pupils from 2020 who had tests cancelled and rebooked, my last test will be in July and after that my pupils will have to wait for more test dates to appear."
- “Test availability is the biggest problem we have. These third party companies are buying up tests before ADIs can get them via the online booking system. These companies are just selling test bookings to people (who are not test ready), for profit. This is no different than ticket touting.”
- “Lack of test availability is the biggest issue, it’s 100% the problem. The system is jammed up, we've closed our waiting list as we don’t see us being able to start new pupils until 2022 with the current test availability.”
- “I have never had it so busy. I have had to close my diary for 3/4months. My waiting list has trebled. I can’t get pupils to test because there isn’t any. The DVSA need to organise priority tests. Some of my pupils have had tests cancelled up-to six times. It’s unfair on instructors and students. I’m not sure when this is going to end.”
- “I find it very hard to organise tests with a long waiting time. Pupils want to leave lessons to nearer the test date. I’m getting loads of calls wanting lessons with tests already booked where the learner has had no prior driving lessons or private practice.”
The DVSA says it has increased test availability, in a statement on its website it said:
“From Monday (14 June 2021), our driving examiners will be returning to carrying out 7 tests each day in England, Scotland and Wales. This change will allow us to increase capacity across the national network by an average of 15,000 to 20,000 tests per month.
“We are also reintroducing the short notice cancellation fee from Thursday 17 June. This will help reduce the number of learner drivers who do not turn up for their driving test and free up the test slot to another candidate.”
At Marmalade, we’re pleased to see that the amount of test slots are being increased as of early June, but this hasn’t gone far enough and we’d like to see the DVSA go further by incentivising more examiners and fast-tracking them into qualification. We’d also like to see the introduction of new test centres, similarly to what is happening currently with theory test centres.
The DVSA strongly advises only those that are truly ready to take their driving test, so if you are struggling with availability, we recommend taking private practice with a friend or family member, using one of our learner driver insurance packages, alongside lessons to get test ready.