Former NHS worker Doreen Morrison reveals how she made the move into driving instructing over 13 years ago, and why she believes in being fair but firm with her students – and qualified drivers as well.
Working in the Lancashire area, 68-year-old Doreen Morrison came to driving instruction later in her working life than most, but it hasn’t stopped her from carving out a successful career as an ADI through her driving school, Doreen’s School of Motoring and offering expert advice on what needs to be done to drive up Britain’s driving standards.
What did you do before becoming an instructor?
I worked in the NHS where I realised they were introducing more and more managers but less and less frontline workers like nurses, doctors and porters. It created a situation where there were more bosses telling less people to do more work. I didn’t like this approach so so started looking for a new job and saw an advert for driving instructing.
Why did you make the move into instructing specifically?
My favourite past time is motorcycling so I immediately thought about the amount of times idiots had nearly knocked me off my bike. My inspiration to sign up for the ADI training was if I can put more safe drivers out on our roads, then that could only be a good thing.
You have been a sole trader since day one – why?
When I first started training, I did it through a company who also did franchising. The idea was that once I qualified, I would then work as a franchisee for the company. So when I qualified, I said: “Right, I am ready and I have already handed in my notice”. But they then said, “oh we don’t have any cars available for you for three months”. So not a great start! Then I figured why pay somebody else to help generate business when I could do it all myself? So I became an independent instructor instead.
How did you set about drumming up business?
I came across a course about using Facebook to make money. I soon discovered that the advantage of the social media platform was that you could put your adverts in front of 17-25 year olds that live within a certain post code area and who are interested in driving.
I did some targeted ads over four weeks and it took off; I have not had to do any other advertising since then! So from doing about 8-9 lessons a week, I was suddenly up to 30 which is the right amount. Social media really is the way to build up your driving school quickly.
What have been the other benefits working as an independent instructor?
The main benefit is actually for the pupils! Most of them don’t come to me after seeing an advert but because I have been recommended to them by former students. Thing is if a recommendation is made but it was done through a franchise, the potential student would contact the company but not necessarily end up with me as their instructor!
What kind of ADI are you?
I have been described as ‘scary’, though I would say firm but fair! It think it’s because I tell students how it is; I’m not one to give them false hope. They need to realise that making the grade requires a lot of hard work and real commitment.
It is also important to push people out of their comfort zone too or else they never learn anything. For instance, I had one pupil who was happy in the ‘nursery estate’, where everyone begins learning to drive with me as there’s no roadside parking and it’s all 20mph.
I told the student that I was planning to take her out of the estate after five lessons but she said no. So I told her, “you’re not going to get anywhere so just give it a go. If you don’t like it after half a mile, we’ll swap seats and I’ll drive you back.” She agreed and she’s not looked back since! Ultimately, I want to push people to get the very best out of them.
What’s the favourite and least favourite part of your job?
The best part is the satisfaction I get when the pupil passes their test – they are buzzing and I can feel that buzz. My least favourite part are awkward students where I think I am never going to get anywhere with them. Thing is I do – and I get them through the test so that ends up being a buzz as well!
What’s been your biggest professional learning experience and why?
Learning to think outside of the box when it comes to teaching those awkward students. A classic example was one pupil who had problems listening and focusing. For instance, we were at a roundabout and I told the pupil to take the second exit, all while pointing to it. They then suddenly took the first exit instead, and then did the same thing at the next roundabout.
It was very frustrating but there are ways round such issues; you just have to teach in a different way. With that particular student, I changed tack by telling them I wanted them to drive into the roundabout and I would tell them when to exit. This approach worked because it forced them to listen.
Bottom line is that you are always learning as an ADI. Yes, there’s a big learning curve in the first 3-4 years but it should never end. I think you have to keep learning all the time to be the best you can be as an instructor.
The new test element – pulling up on the right and reverse parking – isn’t great. I would rather we pushed people not to do it because I don’t think it is safe and it is against everything that the Highway Code teaches us. The reality though is that people still do it – drive down any road and you’ll see many cars parked up on the wrong side of it. It means as much as I don’t agree with the introduction, I do agree that it needs to be taught.”
– Doreen on the introduction of the new manoeuvre in the revised driving test.
If you could change one thing about the industry or driver education, what would it be and why?
The standard of driving on our roads is a disgrace so I believe all drivers should have their driving assessed 2-3 years after passing their test and then every 10 years thereafter. If they aren’t at a high enough standard, they should be reassessed after 18 months – enough time for them to take some remedial lessons to bring them up to standard. To be clear, I don’t believe drivers who fail their assessment should have their driving licenses revoked but they should have ongoing guidance until they are fit to drive safely.
Finally, as a longterm user of Theory Test Pro, how do you find the system helps your students?
I always recommend my students download the app because I get a lot of positive feedback from those who do. They say it has really helped them with the Highway Code by making learning a boon for them, not a pain.