An instructor for the past six years, Damion runs the successful Jump Start School of Motoring, serving the Wakefield community. He spoke with Theory Test Pro about how the pandemic has impacted on his learners’ education, why staying in touch with them has been vital to maintaining their confidence as drivers, and what he’s doing to ensure he and his students stay as safe as possible once lessons resume.

Why did you make the move into instructing?

Before becoming an instructor, I was a school teacher turned consultant who helped head teachers to improve pupil learning. It meant I was travelling to different schools and managing my time, and I discovered that I really thrived on that kind of flexibility.

To be honest, I’d always wanted to be self employed so I looked for a job where I could enjoy the same flexibility but still work with students from a variety of different backgrounds and abilities, and see them thrive and achieve their goals. Driving instruction fitted the bill perfectly and it’s something I still love doing.

What kind of ADI are you?

I see my job as tailoring how I teach and interact with a student based on their own particular learning needs. It’s as simple as that. It’s also important to strike a balance between having fun in lessons and gaining a serious commitment from the learner to their driver education so they are safe, confident drivers once they pass.

What’s your favourite part of the job?

Obviously seeing your student pass the practical driving test is great! But for me, the best part is seeing students who are not very academically-minded pass their theory tests. I enjoy supporting and working with them so they go on to pass the test.

Another great part is when students start to drive the car for the very first time. Seeing their faces and their reactions as they realise it’s them that’s driving is priceless as they are learning a skill they will have for the rest of their lives.

What’s your least favourite part of the job?

It’s when a student fails their test and a small number of examiners are quite harsh with their feedback. What the examiner probably isn’t aware of is the journey that the student has been on to get to the point where they are ready to take the test. For many, it’s a really big deal to take that test.

Unfortunately, in some cases, the feedback can be demoralising for the learner when it needs to be constructive. It means I then need to build the learner’s confidence back up before we can even begin addressing the issues that led to the test fail.

Turning to the pandemic, how has your business coped over the last few months?

I have tried to operate under the conditions we find ourselves in. To do this, I have been in constant communication with my students, and set up a channel on YouTube where I post regular videos designed to help learners during these difficult times.

How have you coped financially during the crisis?

Being self-employed means you always have to be very financially astute about what’s happening at all times. It’s making sure you have savings put away for a rainy day, which can be used when that storm does finally hit.

I have always been very careful about how I manage my finances and of course, the government’s self-employed grant has also helped. These have been trying times and we have been very careful as a household financially, and very mindful of the fact we’re not sure when we can get back to work properly. When I do start again, I am lucky because I already have new students lined up and eager to be taught.

What advice do you give to students worried that they have fallen behind because of the pandemic?

It’s about having a conversation with the student. I am their first port of call if a student does feel particularly anxious or worried. You make yourself available by phone or by Zoom to help them through it. The important thing is to help them acknowledge that it is a big deal to get back in a car after such a big gap – and it’s perfectly natural that they might be feeling nervous about it.

And then it’s up to me to decide which students are more nervous, and then decide if it’s a good idea to head back to quieter streets to get their confidence levels back up. Like I said, it’s all about finding the right approach for each and every student.

How are you and your students feeling about resuming lessons even though the pandemic is not over?

Most of my students are really eager to start again. Quite a number have been working as they are employed within a key worker environment so are used to the social distancing rules and the need to wear PPE.

There are a few, however, that have expressed a concern about what measures I will be taking to uphold my duty of care once we do restart. The conversations we have been having are based around the current Government and NASP (National Associations Strategic Partnership) guidance, and students are aware that I am fully up-to-date with the guidance. I think in these uncertain times that my students want to feel confident in my judgement and that I am adhering to current best practice, which I am.

What practical measures have you put in place to keep yourself and your students safe?

With lessons just around the corner, I have a spare supply of face masks for those learners who cannot provide their own PPE. I have also informed my students that I will be offering fewer lessons per day so that I can fully clean and prepare the car prior to each student starting their lesson.

In my opinion, as long as I apply common sense and limit my daily contact with my students, I am happy to begin lessons in the not too distant future. My students also share that belief.

Finally, how does Theory Test Pro help you and your students?

Theory Test Pro allows me to keep a track of what my students are doing and where they are at with their theory test practice, all within the software. I have been able to keep close tabs on how learners are getting on such as how often they are logging into the app, how long they are practising for, and spotting if there are any areas where they may be struggling.

If they are, I can then have a chat with the student about addressing their difficulties. That’s the real beauty of the app: Being able to manage and track students who may be falling behind – or who aren’t feeling motivated!

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