How to start a driving school
Thinking of starting a driving school? Our guide will set you on the road to success
- Training and qualification needed to run a driving school business
- The instructor test
- How much does it cost to start a driving business
- How much can I earn as an instructor?
What is a driving school and who is it suited to?
Everyone who has learnt to drive or taken driving lessons remembers their driving instructor. They are the ones who set you on your first steps to getting on the open road. But have you ever wondered what it would be like to actually become a driving instructor?
Well, thousands of people have and thousands more are keen to get their hands on the steering wheel. With more than 1.6 million driving tests held each year, the demand for new instructors is there – so if you have the time, patience, skill and concentration, and are competent enough to teach other people to learn to drive, then perhaps you should consider this as a career.
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What is it?
Becoming a driving instructor is not all it seems. You can’t simply get into a car and drive off into the sunset. There is a lot that must happen behind the scenes before you can start taking pupils out on the road and teaching them all they need to know.
To become an advanced driving instructor, or ADI,you have to pass a three-stage exam, take in a lot of literature, undertake lots of hard work and tough decisions, and part with a significant amount of cash.
To start earning money, there are two routes you can go down, so to speak. You can choose to start out on your own, or you can train with and sign up to a pre-established franchise that already has a register of pupils, contacts and trainers. In both cases you are self-employed, but with varying degrees of individuality and support.
A franchise-based company will offer training; however, it will charge a fee (usually a percentage of the lessons they have booked on your behalf or a fixed sum). Heading out on you own, on the other hand, can be a lonely business – but also one that you control
Your choice will probably depend on whether this a career change or career start, as well as your individual personality and business acumen.
Who is it suited to?
In addition to the training and qualification requirements, you have to bear in mind issues of character and outlook – the personal qualities needed to become a driving instructor are just as important as the technical ones.
This profession is open to all, but often lends itself to fresh starters and more practically minded workers. Nick Zapettis, of Driving Instructor Services, sees various kinds of people enter the profession, but has noticed a few common threads.
“Because of the requirement to have held a full driving licence for at least four years before you can register as an instructor, this is not a job that is suitable to school leavers. It is more appropriate for those people who fancy a change of direction. For example, ex members of the armed forces, retired police force personnel, people who have been made redundant or perhaps bus or lorry drivers who are tired of going away from home and want a more permanent business.”
However, as much as it is open to all, there are several characteristics that are crucial to the job. You have to be willing to work hard during exams and training, and you must apply your skills and knowledge via carefully constructed lessons, in an approachable and amicable manner.
Zapettis believes interpersonal and communication skills far outweigh the more technical areas. “The examinations and technical issues are important but are not really the issue; it is the ability to empathise and get on with your pupils and create a lasting relationship that is of vital importance. For example, you can have a technically brilliant person but one who is not a people person or well liked by the pupil.
A healthy sense of humour, patience and product knowledge are also vital as each pupil has a different character and personality, so there will be a new challenge on a daily basis. One lesson may be with a slower learner ,but the next may be with a 17-year old who is eager to get some wheels and hit the road.
Ready to get started? Find out everything you need to know about how to start your own business here.
Training and qualification needed to run a driving school business
To become an ADI there are various qualifications, compulsory skills and documents you will need to acquire to enter the Official Register of Driving Instructor Training (ORDIT), the one-stop directory of qualified instructors held by the Driving Standards Agency (DSA). This register contains around 50 suitably qualified and inspected training establishments in the UK, which should be your first port of call when choosing a training course and/or franchise-based company.
To be included in the register, and become a qualified ADI, there are certain criteria that you must adhere to. You must:
- Have held a full UK or European Union (EU)/European Economic Area (EEA) car driving licence for four years
- Be able to read a number plate from a minimum distance of 20 metres.
- Be a fit and proper person to have your name entered in the Register. All convictions including motoring offences, still in force (not spent under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974) will be taken into account when Register suitability is assessed
- Pass the Register qualifying examinations and apply within 12 months of doing so
- Pass the three-part ADI exam
In addition, you are not permitted to accompany a driver unless you have held a full UK or EU/EEA driving licence for three years, and you must be aged 21 or more.
Where do I go for training?
Choosing your training school is a crucial decision, and, after having passed your exams, will decide whether you work strictly for yourself or on a self-employed/franchise basis.
Your first task should be to read the guidance on becoming an ADI. This will give you up to date information on requirements and advise you on best practice. GOV.UK offers an excellent guide, and you can get more vital information from the following link.
Then, once this has been digested, you will need to train for the three-part exam with an organisation that offers the skills and development you need. This can be done in three main ways. Firstly, you can try regular driving schools which offer instructor training via a franchise-based operation. This means you train to become an instructor, but at the same time the company in question has a vested interest in employing you as one of its members.
You can also enquire about driving instructor courses with the Automobile Association (AA) which runs both a training and a franchise operation. The AA charges £2,600 for the course, which lasts between six to 18 months. If you wish to join the AA as a franchisee once the training is complete, you will also receive a £1500 discount if you’ve completed the course through them.
Finally come the training/driving establishments such as Driving Instructor College, which help train potential instructors but who offer no jobs at the end of the course. Zapettis, a trained instructor, gives a warning to potential instructors who go down this route.
“The training establishment is geared to separating the trainee from their money with the promise of earnings they might earn once they qualify, while the trading driving school is concerned with providing training to potential instructors for whom they will ultimately be responsible for providing work.
“Generally speaking, the trading driving school will be far more realistic about the trainee's likelihood of success within the industry because of its knowledge of the market than a training establishment, who might simply be churning out trainee instructors whether or not the market can support them.”
So, choose what you feel is right for you and above all phone around several courses and schools in your local area, or if you have a car go slightly further afield.
Is a franchise a good idea?
Major driver training establishments, such as the British School of Motoring, allow you to join their network as a franchisee; a number of smaller driving schools also offer you the chance to affiliate with them.
If you wish to join an existing school as a franchisee, you’ll have to pay a fee; in the case of British School of Motoring (BSM), fee packages start from £200 a week. You’ll also have to work under their branding – which could be a drawback if you prefer to work on your own.
However, you will always have a regular flow of new pupils as well as those you bring to the school yourself, and you will receive good support such as unlimited use of a car (if you don’t have your own) that is regularly replaced and maintained, as well as various types of insurance and back-up in case anything goes wrong.
The instructor test
If you pass the three-part exam, then you are home and dry – but it isn’t as easy as you may think. Nick Zapettis of Driving Instructor Services of Swansea agrees: “There is a very high drop out rate, [particularly] at part one of the exam. This is the written section and requires a lot of reading and learning, and they don’t realise how much time and effort it takes. And that's before they start preparing for the driving test and test of instructional ability.”
Part one or the ADI theory test is a written exam and consists of 100 multiple choice questions that are divided into four sections of 25. You are then required to get a minimum of 85 out of the 100 questions overall via a touch screen-based examination. This can be taken as many times as you wish.
This will demand a high standard of knowledge and include questions on general road safety, driving techniques, the theory and practice of learning, teaching and assessing, pupil-instructor interaction as well as basic Highway Code questions. Most courses will supply you with a pack including workbooks, manuals and mock papers that will guide you through the process. They will also provide you with some classroom training and support.
If you can get past this stage then you will move onto part two – the test of driving ability – which is held at a number of centres across the country. Training centres will give you varying amounts of time before you sit the exam depending on the course you have and the needs you require. However, if you fail part two, or three, three times then you will have to start all over again at part one of the exam.
Section two is similar to the normal driving test except that it is longer (60 minutes), there is a higher standard of competence required (you are only allowed six minor faults and no serious or dangerous faults), and you must satisfy the examiner on the following points:
- Expert handling of the controls
- Use of correct road procedure
- Anticipation of other road users and the taking of appropriate action
- Sound judgement of distance, speed and timing
- Consideration of the convenience and safety of other road users
You’ll also have to answer a series of safety questions, describing to the assessor how to check the safety of three components of the vehicle, and performing an actual safety check on a further two components.
After you pass part two you will become eligible for a training licence, provided you join a trading driving school. This will allow you to charge for lessons for six months while studying for part three, and is similar to work experience. It also allows you to earn as you train and is an excellent way to gain early confidence.
The final element of the three-pronged exam is ‘the test of ability to instruct’. This involves a series of role-plays with the examiner playing the part of a learner. There are various levels of difficulty.
The test is split into two parts, each half an hour long and you will be asked to demonstrate your knowledge by giving practical instructions to the examiner. This will almost certainly cover safety precautions and how to make an emergency stop for example.
Once again, the amount of in-car training will vary depending on what course you choose, but will usually be slightly longer than part two.
How much does it cost to start a driving business
If you have your own car, costs are fairly minimal. If you don’t have your own vehicle, not you will either have to invest in a car with dual controls, which could set you back, or request one from the franchise you work under. The AA, for example, will supply you with a Ford Focus 1.6L, as well as insurance, road tax and repairs with the only cost being petrol.
You will spend a large amount on fuel each week, so it may be worth holding an account with a petrol station. Some will allow this service, so ask around. However the major expenses lie in training, the three-part exam and the on-going franchise fee; with a larger driving school, this may take up a high percentage of the work they give you.
A small majority of potential instructors, who undertake training, pay for the course themselves – either from a previous profession or from savings. However, a large slice also choose to take out a Professional and Career Development Loan (CDL), which can provide between £300 and £10,000.
Drivers to success – The key costs
You should budget to sit these twice each as many trainee instructors fail at the first attempt
|Part One (The ADI Theory Test):
Part Two (The Test of Driving Ability):
Part Three (The Test of Ability to Instruct):
|Entry to the ADI register:||£300|
|Reading material (approx)||£50|
|Training costs: Around £2,500 for parts one, two and three (if in doubt ask for a break down in cost)|
How much can I earn as an instructor?
This depends on several factors. These include the location you are in and whether you work on your own, have repeat customers and boast a good reputation.
The amount you make will also hinge on how much you charge per lesson per hour or whether you take block bookings; how many lessons you carry out within a week; and, if you do represent a franchise, how much they charge as part of their fee.
Nick Zapettis, of Driving Instructor Services, gives a rough indication of what you can expect to earn. “If you charge between £20 and £25 an hour, which is the going rate in different parts of the UK, and take between 25 and 35 lessons per week including weekends and evenings and take into account the cost of renting and running a car, then you could be earning a net salary of roughly between £18,000 and £36,000 per year.”
Other elements that will almost certainly affect your income include seasonal conditions, particularly if you are working for yourself. Some periods of the year will be busier than others, with the Christmas season and mid-summer being quieter than the rest of the year. Bad weather will also play its part in decreasing your annual salary by discouraging leaner drivers to head out onto the road, and if you do start out on your own, it might take time to establish your reputation, so expect things to be a bit slower at the beginning.
Costs versus earnings
Lesson prices throughout the UK are usually around £20-25 an hour, so you should budget:
Between £40 and £60 per week for a car hire purchase repayment (depending on age and type of car and amount of deposit available)
£5 per week for tax and insurance
Between £5 and £10 per week for maintenance depending on age, type and condition of car
Between £2 and £3 per lesson for petrol
From about £40 to nearly £300 per week for the franchise fee (if joining a driving school can be fixed or hourly) or the cost to the instructor of arranging their own advertising
|No of hours||Net earnings per week||Net annual earnings|
|10-20 hours||£150 to £300||£7800 to £25,600|
|20-30 hours||£300 to £450||£15,600 to £23,400|
|40-50 hours per week||£450 to £600||£31,200 to £39,000|