How do you handle a pupil who can’t seem to answer questions on the move? I have a pupil who makes mistakes and says she was thinking about the question more than what was coming up on the road in front of her.


Answer: Asking questions is a skill. Not only does the question have to have a purpose, but it has to be well timed and relevant. It’s also very important that we don’t distract our pupils and inadvertently become the reason for their mistakes. The majority of the questions we ask in the car are controlling questions; we ask them as a way of alerting or influencing a decision, action or behaviour.Listen to the control in these examples:

“What mirrors should you check before you turn left?”
“What are you going to do if the lights turn red?”
“How can you stop the car rolling back on this hill?”

If a pupil is clearly making the right decisions and is in control of the car, then asking a question at that time may be unproductive or unnecessary. Let them show you rather than tell you they have the ability. If you ask a controlling question at the right time as a way of intervening and preventing something going wrong, then this can be useful. But the timing of the question has to be spot on to allow them to hear the subliminal instruction and carry out the necessary actions. If you ask the question late, this can distract and make the impending situation far worse. Sometimes a direct instruction is more appropriate than a confusing or late question. Have a listen to the questions you’re using. Are they focused, current to the task and avoiding distraction? For example, asking what they would have done if the bus had indicated right to move out from the bus stop, just as you are coming to a zebra crossing with people waiting, it would be a distraction that could possibly lead to a dangerous outcome. The art of asking questions is an essential skill for our job. Improving at this is valuable and professionally rewarding.

I’ve recently failed my Part 3. My trainer’s advice was that I need to toughen up. What does this really mean? I don’t want to be a horrible instructor!

Nicole, PDI

Answer: Please don’t confuse being a proactive, safe and professional instructor with being overly tough, firm or horrible! The examiner is NOT wanting to see tough and firm. In fact, the examiner guidelines clearly state that a lack of competence includes ‘leaving the pupil feeling the instructor was in control of the learning process’. What they do want to see (and what people are confusing) is an instructor who isn’t being falsely reassuring. For example, ‘You’re doing great!’, when clearly there is still room for improvement, or ‘Don’t worry… it’s ok…’, when it is evidently NOT OK! They also mean they want to see an instructor who is able to structure the learning in a positive, effective way and has the tools and techniques up their sleeve to help facilitate learning, providing detail to the pupil when needed.
There is a time and a place to be assertive, offer suggestions and advice and fill in any lack of knowledge. All of this can be done in a friendly, open way that involves the pupil and creates a productive learning environment without being controlling or domineering. Being tough, firm or plain horrible to your pupil will not help you pass your Part 3 Test, or do your business reputation any good either.

Do I need to remove my L-plates when giving a refresher lesson to a UK full licence holder (FLH)?

Jane, ADI

Answer: Although it’s not illegal to display L-plates when an FLH is driving, the Highway Code does state they should be removed when the car is not being driven by a provisional licence holder. In a decaled instructor car, clearly this isn’t possible, and the Highway Code acknowledges this and makes an exception for our cars. However, I would suggest that if you have a way of covering your L’s, or you can simply remove your top box, then do so. Some instructors feel that, depending on the standard of the FLH, they prefer to keep them on. I guess the choice is yours. Covering or replacing your L-plates with P-plates may be a compromise that gives you peace of mind. How about asking the driver? They may have their own strong opinion.

What happens if your pupil doesn’t turn up for your Standards Check test?

Joseph, ADI

Answer: It’s not uncommon for a pupil to let an instructor down at the last minute so I would certainly recommend you have a back-up ready, someone who will be available at the drop of a hat. With that in mind, have a lesson plan ready that is appropriate for your back-up pupil’s needs too. If you genuinely have a last-minute pupil crisis, ring your test centre and ask to speak directly to the Enforcement Officer, or better still, pop in and explain the situation. They will appreciate your communication and, as long as it’s genuine and they don’t suspect any deliberate delaying tactics or this situation has become a repeated occurrence, they generally accept that these things happen. Although not having a pupil is not an acceptable excuse for not undertaking a Standards Check, it’s unlikely to be held against you, and you can expect another test date at the earliest opportunity.

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