Explained: Driving Instructor Grades

Driving instructors in the UK are subject to continuous quality checks by the DVSA throughout their career. This is to ensure that they have kept up-to-date with any changes, which can often directly affect pupils—such as the new style practical tests— and are still competent in their teaching ability. It’s not only deeply reassuring for pupils to know that their instructors are answerable to a higher authority, but that they are regularly reminded of what it’s like to be assessed in a car, and can therefore empathise with you while you’re learning.

The grading system

Driving instructors approved by the DVSA are known, logically enough, as Approved Driving Instructors, or ADIs. They are each ranked according to the quality of service they provide. The standards check they are required to undergo examines 17 different aspects of the instructor’s teaching. There can be categorised under three headings: lesson planning, risk management and teaching prowess. Under the old system, instructors would receive a mark between 1 (extremely poor) and 6 (very high), reflecting their performance. Those given grades between 1 and 3 were deemed unfit to instruct; the majority would achieve a grade 4, with only the very best earning a 5 or 6. Since instructors will only be examined once every 2-4 years, some instructors may still have a rating under this system.

However, the scoring criteria changed in April of 2014. Now, instructors are given 1 of 3 grades: A, B or Fail. Grade A and B instructors are those deemed suitable to continue on the ADI register and teach pupils. Those who fail are given 2 more chances to pass. If the instructor doesn’t manage at least a ‘B’ during either of these attempts, then they are struck off the register, and unable to take pupils for lessons. In order to qualify as an instructor once again, they would have to undergo a repeat of the stringent ADI exams that saw them become instructors in the first place.

Clipboard with a checklist
Driving instructors need to prove their competence in a number of areas

You’ll probably be aware that the national pass rate for learner drivers is generally somewhere around 50%. Those examining driving instructors themselves are just as tough—and it is fairly common for an ADI standards checks to result in a fail. This should reassure you that any instructor left on the road is competent to teach.

Hungry for more driving knowledge? Why not find out about the differences between driving in Europe and the UK?

How much weight should you give driving instructor grades?

While an important consideration, it’s not usually appropriate to base your decision on taking lessons with an instructor purely on their grade. Just as someone who passes their practical test second or third time round may be just as good a driver as someone who managed the coveted first time pass, an instructor shouldn’t be judged wholly on a single incident, which may have occurred as long as ago as 4 years. On the other hand, it isn’t entirely worthless.

Concerned about an instructor’s grade?

Here are some things to take into account, if you’re worried that an instructor’s grade means they’ll be an inadequate teacher for you:

  • Snapshot: the grade may not be entirely accurately representative of their ability to teach. The pupil may have done something entirely unexpected, or been particularly difficult; equally, they could have been the model student. In any case, I know I wouldn’t want all my skills to be based on the position they were in several years ago; would you?
  • Instructors have bad days too. The reason we don’t offer a guaranteed pass (although we do discount any subsequent course) is because we have no control over how well you will perform on the day. Sure, we can get you fully up to scratch and confident with your manouvres, and ensure you have the necessary expertise to pass. But throw in the added pressure of a driving test, and it can happen that you may panic. Being technically test-ready does not obliterate your responsibility to apply the knowledge and skills you have learnt—either in the test itself, or beyond. In the same way, a driving instructor may have simply performed poorly under pressure. They may have taught hundreds of pupils extremely competently, but when their livelihood is at stake, it is entirely possible that a brilliant instructor may fall short, on the day, of the very high standards associated with an A.
  • It’s just one person’s opinion. One driving instructor may not necessarily suit the style of another person; it all depends on how you click, whether you can communicate to each other effectively. Sometimes personalities can get in the way. During each course, we now ask for feedback, which you can submit anonymously, regarding your instructor. We use this information, alongside a range of other factors, to match future pupils with a suitable instructor. If, for example, we are aware that a pupil suffers greatly from nerves or anxiety, we’ll do our best to put them with an instructor who has a good track record of building confidence, as well as skills. Likewise, a driving instructor may not have expressed themselves exactly as their examiner sees fit. Of course, guidelines are given for this very reason. But that’s not to say that another examiner wouldn’t have considered their approach to any given situation in a slightly different light.
Man sitting with his head in his hands
There is a huge amount of pressure on ADIs during their standards check; after all, their job is on the line

So, should we even take the grades into account?

None of the points above are made to undermine the value in a highly graded instructor. What is clear, though, is that grades aren’t everything. With all the resources available nowadays, you can often get a feel for an instructor, or a driving school, without even being aware of their marks in a specific standards check. There’s often a website, in which you can get an idea of values and commitment; there are reviews to look at on Facebook and Google; there are the achievers posted onto Instagram; and then there’s word-of-mouth: the experiences of others, who you know and trust.

No one thing should be taken in isolation. Different situations and personalities may affect how each individual perceives an instructor. But you can get a better picture by taking into account a range of factors, rather than focusing on the fine line between a grade A and a grade B.

How to find out your driving instructor’s grade

If you are really keen to find out your specific instructor’s grade, the easiest thing to do is simply ask them. Otherwise, you may be able to locate them using the Government service to find driving instructors. Don’t panic, however, if you can’t find a specific instructor listed; ADIs are voluntarily kept on this database. The most important thing is to ensure that your instructor is DVSA qualified. If you’re concerned that this may not be the case, then you can always contact the DVSA to check.

What’s the deal at PassMeFast?

Here at PassMeFast, we do the hard work for you. Not only do we ensure that all of our instructors are ADI qualified and graded A or B, but we also interview them in person. We routinely ask for pupils to submit feedback directly relating to instructors whilst they are undertaking their courses, and we look to post-course reviews for a fuller picture. And once they’re part of the team, we stay in regular contact with them to ensure everything’s going right, and to make sure they’re keeping abreast of the latest developments in driving tuition—check out what our instructors think of the 2017 test changes, for example. We take the quality of our instructors seriously; so, too, should you.

Want to get to know an instructor better? Meet our ADI Ann.

You can also keep up to date with everything that’s happening in the driving world with our blog. From the all new show me / tell me questions, to the rise of driverless cars, the deal with 8am driving tests and the closure of Failsworth test centre, we’ve got you covered .

By Katie Scott

With a driving licence of her very own, Katie can tell you all about being a Learner and beyond. From the rules of the road to handy hints and tips, she'll give you the lowdown on all things driving. Always on the move, when she's not in the car, you'll probably find Katie darting around the squash courts or out running in the rainy British countryside.