Operating in the Newcastle upon Tyne area, Les qualified to become an instructor in October 2017 – and hasn’t looked back since.
Through his RED-franchised driving school, Les has carved out a burgeoning career for himself over the past year, winning over his students with an inclusive, friendly teaching style. Here Les talks about why letting students learn at their own pace is so vital to their development as safe drivers.
Tell me about your background before you became an ADI.
I worked in the tenpin bowling industry for 16 years. Following the birth of my second child though, I realised the job was getting too physically and mentally tiring because of the unsociable working hours, so I made the decision to become an ADI. The reason for choosing this profession is that I love driving and I see some pretty terrible driving out on the roads. This is my way of passing on my high standard of driving to future motorists.
What kind of ADI are you?
I’m very laid back. New students come to me, saying they’ve had bad experiences with instructors who shout at them for getting things wrong – that’s not my style! When I was a manager in the bowling centre, I was always the ‘Good Cop’ of the management team and the staff respected me for it. I have taken this approach with driving instruction too because there’s no point shouting at someone if they do something wrong or make a mistake – you won’t get the best out of them.
What is your teaching style?
I believe that people should try to work things out for themselves. I give my students a chance to talk me through how they would do something before I jump in and tell them. I love the use of visual aids too. I’ve recently made the move from old-fashioned pen and paper and now use interactive apps on an iPad as part of my lessons.
My favourite part of the job is the one-to-one training. I used to feel less comfortable when training a whole team of people in my previous job. This way I get to know the pupil really well and we can have fun while they learn. The part I hate the most is other drivers out on the road and the lack of respect they have for learners. I think they often forget that they were learners once!”
– Les Hopkinson on the highs and lows of being a driving instructor.
How difficult was it to qualify as an instructor?
I found the training very difficult. I was trained for the old-style part 3 test and missed out on things like Client Centred Learning, adapting the teaching to suit different needs and abilities, and just the general running of your business. I have had to learn those things through my own job experience, research and speaking to other instructors in my local area.
What are some of the challenges you face starting out as an ADI?
Sometimes motivation is the hardest part of this job for me. I hate having gaps in the day without lessons. I would much prefer to work continually throughout the day. I lose motivation to go out to work if I have a lesson at 10am and then another one at 6pm with a gap in between, or if I don’t have a lesson all day until 6pm.
Also, there’s a lot of uncertainty whether you’re going to make money at certain times of the year such as Christmas or if we have bad weather like the Beast from the East earlier this year. This can have a massive impact on your business. I suppose this is to be expected when you’re self-employed.
What are your ambitions for the future?
I think in a couple of year’s time, I may go independent to save some money on franchise and prepaid pupil fees. However, I do like that RED looks after the pupil generation. I have also thought about training to become an instructor trainer but that’s something for the future.
If you could change one thing about the industry, what would it be?
I’m probably with the majority of ADIs when I say the way we are retested through standards checks needs to change. The standards check is such a stressful time for most instructors with the prospect of potentially losing your job through the need to tick a few boxes.
I strongly believe that the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency should take into account how well our businesses are run, our reputation with them and our local test centres, and our test pass rate – but I also believe that Continued Professional Development should be compulsory to a certain amount of hours and a certain level.
Finally, as a user of Theory Test Pro, how does the system help your students?
Theory Test Pro is excellent for instructors wanting to track their pupils’ progress. Statistics suggest that pupils don’t prepare enough for their theory test and this way, their instructor can help and encourage them to be better prepared. It can help form part of their driving lessons if the instructor knows where their students’ weak areas are.