A couple of days ago I had a call from a chap enquiring about lessons for his son. It started off like so many other calls.
He liked my website, Facebook page and the fact that my pupils had rated me 5* on Facebook and Google.
It all sounded like a done deal, but then things took an interesting turn, which then led onto a 30 minute conversation about pass rates.
The gentleman asked me why my first time pass rate was low compared to other instructors, and why did I take twice as long to get people to test as others.
Wow. I didn't see that one coming, particularly as I pride myself on some pretty good year on year figures.
Did you know that the published first time pass rate figure for tests across the country is a woeful 21%, where mine is 73% for 2017 and 82% for 2016.
When I quizzed him further, he said that one website he had looked at claimed to have a first time pass rate of over 90% year on year, and the majority of their pupils get to test in around 20 hours.
Ask any reputable instructor. Those figures, whilst sounding impressive, are pretty wild - particularly the 20 hours of training.
Whether it is learning to cook, learning to dance...whatever, how expert can your average person become at any of these skills in 20 hours?
The best that most people can hope to achieve in this timeframe is a basic level of competence, and driving is no different.
I suggested that the gentleman call the instructor or company and ask them to provide proof of their claims.
If their figures are indeed true, then all other instructors will be out of business very soon - me included - but something tells me that isn't going to happen.
Additionally, the Government would be beating a path to secure their services to re-train every instructor in the country using their magic formula.
Again, I don't think that is going to happen somehow.
The simple fact is that instructor and school pass rates cannot be verified by the public through any official channel. Daft, but true.
So any instructor or driving school could make up any old rubbish to grab people's attention and pop it on their website to get the phone ringing. Nobody would have a clue whether those figures were true or just advertising banter.
With regards to the number of hours training my pupils receive, my learners take the test when they are good and ready.
My conscience would not rest easy if I put someone forward for a test without being comfortable they had the skills, knowledge and experience to drive safely and confidently.
For your average learner, 20 hours of lessons is nowhere near enough to achieve a decent standard. For many 20 hours just covers the basics.
The vast majority of people sit somewhere in the 40 to 60 hours bracket. Some take less. Some take more.
The fact remains that everyone learns at different speeds. Everyone has different skillsets. Some have great natural road sense, others dont. Some have great natural co-ordination, others don't. That's life.
You cannot force someone through a driving course just to meet a target. That would be stupid, unprofessional and potentially dangerous.
Anyway, despite my best efforts, I'm not sure that I convinced the caller. It was evident that his prime objective was to get his son to test as quickly and cheaply as possible.
So be it - his money, his choice, his son, his conscience. There was nothing else to say so I wished him well and off he went.
Off the back of that call, however, it really made me think about how information can be used and mis used in the persuit of a full diary.
So I have put together this blog entry to hopefully help people make sense of the pass rate information they see out there and get them asking the right questions.
At the end of the day, people are free to believe whatever they want to believe, and spend their money as they see fit.
Hopefully, though, the following will at least get people thinking about what the figures mean and what questions to ask in conversation with a driving instructor or school.
Now onto the science bit. I hope you find it useful. A little of this is repetition of points made above. Please bear with me though. Here goes.
If I asked you what the driving test "pass rate" is, I bet you a large Americano that you would come up with a figure somewhere between 40% and 50%.
Why? Because that is the percentage that you typically see in the press. Most test centres quote similar figures.
Where do these figures come from? How are they calculated? Who calculates them? What do the figures on instructors websites mean? Can I believe them? Are they accurate?
Anything to do with statistics and percentages is usually shrouded in mystery, but hang on in there and I will try to make things a little clearer.
The one thing that is absolutely certain about any pass rate figures you see published on any instructors website, mine included, is that you, the consumer, have absolutely no way of confirming whether they are accurate or factually correct.
So, at the most basic level, treat any driving school pass rate information with caution. View it more as advertising banter than a passport to statistical enlightenment.
Let's explore the various types of figures you may see published, and see what they really mean.
Test Centre Pass Rates
The last time I checked the pass rate for my local test centre, it was 47%, with a small variance year on year.
Let's be clear, that figure is not the FIRST TIME pass rate. It is the OVERALL pass rate. Let me explain.
At any test centre, on any given day, there will be a mix of candidates. Some taking their test for the first time, others having a second go, and others taking the test for the 3rd, 4th....10th time.
Of all those people, for my particular test centre, around 47% will pass, with 53% having to re-book another test.
So the failure rate for the Practical Test is high - very high - and is one of the main factors why test waiting times are so long.
Quite simply, the system gets clogged up with repeat attempt candidates.
The answer to that particular problem is to ensure training is of a standard where more people pass FIRST TIME. That is why, if you ask an instructor for their pass rate figures that you make it clear that you want to know their FIRST TIME pass rate, and not their OVERALL pass rate, which is meaningless.
Driving Instructor Pass Rates
Ok, let's take a fictitious driving instructor who did 20 tests in 2017.
Of those 20, everyone passed - eventually. So the instructor could tell you his pass rate is 100%. That is his OVERALL pass rate. 20 candidates and 20 passes.
If you dig into the figures, which you will never get an opportunity to do, though, the reality would probably look quite different.
4 candidates passed 1st time
11 candidates passed 2nd time
4 candidates passed 3rd time
1 candidate passed 4th time
So for our make believe instructor, his OVERALL pass rate is 100%, but his FIRST TIME pass rate, the important bit, isn't so healthy.
This chap had just 4 out of 20 pass first time. So his FIRST TIME pass rate for that year was just 20%.
100% OVERALL pass rate. 20% FIRST TIME pass rate. A world of difference.
Can you see now why you cannot take any figures you see published at face value?
Would you regard an instructor whose pupils all pass on their 2nd, 3rd or 4th attempt as good? Probably not. His OVERALL pass rate is 100% but his FIRST TIME pass rate is horrendous.
Would it surprise you to learn that the most recent reliable figure for the FIRST TIME pass rate at test centres is just 21%.
That figure again, just in case you thought it was a mis-type, is 21%.
Put another way, if all the candidates going for a test on a given day were first timers, something like 79% would fail - that's a failure rate of 4 out of 5!
So 4 out of 5 driving test candidates have to go back into the system for another go, and possibly even a 3rd, 4th....10th attempt.
Perhaps now you can see why you need to be cautious when taking extremely high pass rate figures at face value.
If I saw a consistently high pass rate figure - year on year in excess of 90% - I would proceed with caution.
Remember, apart from your gut instinct, you have no other way of confirming whether what you see is true.
Looking at it from a purely common sense point of view, if all driving instructors really do consistently achieve these high FIRST TIME pass rates, why is the national figure just 21%?
Do the maths. It just doesn't add up does it? Everyone claims to be brilliant but official figures paint a different picture. Something smells a bit off.
At the end of the day, it's your money to spend as you wish. Spend it wisely.