Diary Of An ADI

A Driving Instructor's Blog

Tom Baker - the definitve DoctorI told you! Back in January, I speculated that the odds of the next Doctor Who being female were good.

Let’s not beat about the bush here. The fact that the new Doctor Who will be female is contrived – contrived with a capital “C”. The media response to it just highlights the fact.

The Huffington Post has “Girl’s Reaction To Jodie Whittaker Announcement Sums Up How Important A Female Doctor Is “. The BBC is busy blowing its own trumpet, with “Jodie Whittaker and the other sci-fi women breaking the glass ceiling”. The BBC also has “Doctor Who: Prime Minister welcomes first female Time Lord”.

As I said back in January, the titular character in Doctor Who was never intended to be anything other than male. That’s no slight on women, it’s just the way it is. This current situation might well satisfy the right-on BBC and the rabid feminists out there, but it is roughly the equivalent of casting Tom and Jerry as an aardvark and a lemur (in that order). It just doesn’t make any sense.

Now, when this one’s tenure ends, what are the odds of the next Doctor being transgender?


I’ve been getting a few comments from people on this story. Just to clarify:

  • The Doctor was a male character
  • The Doctor has always been a male character
  • yes, there were female Timelords, but The Doctor was not one of them
  • the decision to “regenerate” The Doctor as a female is absolutely a decision motivated by political correctness
  • before the decision was finally made, there were various pushes to make The Doctor into a character representing minority groups

No matter how you try to put spin on it, it was a deliberate decision to put a woman into a role which was always intended to be masculine. I’m sorry, but it was. The only way of justifying it is to rewrite the historical storyline in order to claim that it was always possible – and then pretending that you believe it.

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Handbag versus pocketsI have just seen what must rank as the biggest pile of feminist bollocks ever written. It claims that women’s clothing doesn’t have pockets because of a male conspiracy to restrict their freedom!

Let’s get something straight. At least 99.999999% of women’s clothes are concerned with style and appearance. And 99.999999% of women want it that way. Unfortunately, the universal laws of nature mean that storage of any physical item requires space. The net result is that you can’t have a smooth and stylish outline if you’re trying to store the contents of a tool chest about your person. Nor can you store even a small object if the rest of the item of clothing needed to be applied out of an aerosol can in order to get it on.

Another problem with style is that function goes straight out of the window. I’ve lost count of the number of times over the years I’ve bought a smart shirt, then ripped it across the shoulders or back as I’ve lifted up a sofa or any other heavy object. Or when I’ve bought a posh pair of shoes, and managed to make the sole and upper part company when I’ve twisted whilst carrying something. Even the act of walking more than a few hundred metres is enough to knacker some shoes, which is perhaps why women spend so much money on the bloody things, since theirs are usually all about style.

…journalist Chelsea Summers puts it most simply when she writes, “the less women could carry, the less freedom they had”.

This is complete crap. It implies that a group of men sat around a table somewhere and plotted it this way. It also naively applies 21st Century attitudes to the 16th-20th Centuries.

No pockets also means women need to invest in clutches and handbags – a strategy that earns the fashion industry more and more money.

This is even more crap. If women wear baggy and functional clothes, they have ample pocket space available to them – though perhaps not enough to fit the entire contents of a typical handbag into. And many women actually want to carry a handbag – often, a very expensive one. It isn’t a conspiracy in any way, shape, or form.

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Naruto the macaqueThis story beggars belief. It started in 2011, when a British photographer went to Indonesia to photograph macaques. After a bit of bonding, he managed to get the monkeys to press the camera shutter, and the image above is the now infamous “monkey selfie” that has caused the trouble.

In 2014, David Slater, the photographer, asked Wikipedia to remove the image from their site since he had not given permission to use it. Wikipedia – which is renowned for being written by monkeys anyway – refused, arguing that the copyright belonged to the macaque in the photo, and not to Mr Slater.

As an aside, I wonder if Wikipedia got the monkey’s permission to use the photo?

Although the US Copyright Office ruled that animals cannot own copyright, it didn’t stop PETA finding someone who would represent the monkey – whose name is Naruto, by the way – and sue Mr Slater back in 2014. The case has dragged on and on since then. Well, we’re talking about America here, so it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that you can’t just state the obvious and say that “monkeys can’t own copyright” and throw the case out. As a much more detailed account of the story indicates, if they did that, PETA would just sue again and again. All they’d have to do is find someone else to stand up on the monkey’s behalf, and everything would just kick off again, and since PETA obviously has nothing better to do with its time, it wouldn’t hesitate to do that.

The best part is that no one is actually certain that the monkey, Naruto, is the one in the picture.

With hindsight, it would probably have been better if Mr Slater had not tried to have Wikipedia remove his photo. But then again, why should a bunch of arseholes get everything their own way just because they ARE a bunch of arseholes, and are prepared to prove it to the power of ten by involving other arseholes if you point it out to them?

The big question is: if the monkey won, who’d get the money? What would a monkey do with several million dollars? Buy a huge banana?

I have a solution to this potential nightmare. They should decide in the monkey’s favour, then award all damages to Mr Slater – since he is the only one in all this who actually had the monkeys’ welfare in mind. PETA would win, so it couldn’t sue again, and Mr Slater would not be anywhere near as much out of pocket as he will be if he has to pay the scumbags at PETA.

Unfortunately, I am only joking. If the monkey were to win, there’d be a flood of similar cases as a result of the new precedent. And then we might end up with a Planet of the Apes scenario, where they start to get involved in politics. One might even run for POTUS. Oh, wait…

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Broadmarsh Car ParkOne of the more difficult road layouts for learners to understand is the T-junction with priority over vehicles from the left or right. The majority of allegedly “experienced” road users haven’t got a clue about them, either.

Essentially, what they are is a T-junction, but instead of the naturally assumed arrangement whereby the upright of the ‘T’ meets the cross-bar at a give way line, the give way is actually on one the the arms of the cross-bar. For all practical purposes, you have a junction on a bend – with the bend being 90°. You generally find them on relatively quiet roads. On busier roads – and in places where the local authority has at least two brain cells to rub together – traffic lights take over and the issue of priority becomes moot, since safety is far more important.

They can be quite dangerous simply because people don’t understand them, ignore them, or just don’t see them. So take a look at this video.

It’s from my dashcam, recorded during a lesson on 11 July, and shows the T-junction between Canal Street and Collin Street just outside Broadmarsh. Until we encountered the junction on this lesson, I was not aware this junction was going to be altered other than the likelihood of it having temporary lights while they demolish the shopping centre car park.

For at least 40 years, this junction has been controlled by traffic lights. It is one of the busiest junctions in Nottingham, and it has five lanes coming in from Collin Street. Since it features on Colwick test routes, it is vital that pupils know how to deal with it. Unfortunately, for the last 10 years, Nottingham has become one complete set of road works and semi-permanent gridlock, and the Broadmarsh demolition is just the latest in a series of major development plans which serve to introduce huge traffic restrictions on the busiest routes for ridiculously long periods of time.

The thing about traffic light-controlled junctions is that the vast majority of road users abide by them. Even the most inept of drivers will have had to understand the concept of red means stop, and green means go in order to scrape their test pass, and although you do get the occasional retard who is so stressed out by driving in the city they don’t actually see the lights, the worst red light jumping morons usually don’t push it too far.Traffic lights to assumed priority

Nottingham City Council, who have repeatedly demonstrated themselves to be incompetent when managing every aspect of Nottingham,  has decided that this busy junction is no longer to be controlled by lights, but instead has turned it – literally overnight and with no significant prior warning that I am aware of – into one where Collin Street traffic has permanent priority over that coming into the city along Canal Street.

Let me just put that in a different way: Nottingham City Council has altered an extremely busy light-controlled junction into one where anyone using it has to interpret new road markings and make decisions beyond the basic “is that light red or green” type. After more than 40 years.

You can see from the video that if my pupil had exercised his right of way, that pink lorry – operated by Seth Punchard Storage and Distribution (tel. 07557 193040), and with the registration number AY08 AHZ (which, incidentally, is not the white colour it is registered as being) – would have gone straight into us. He hadn’t slowed down at all, and I am fairly certain that we would have been seriously injured or even killed had he hit us.

Several other cars went through, and although you can’t see it, I was angrily gesticulating to a DPD courier van off to the left and pointing at the give way lines, because he was trying it as well.


The new layout is an accident waiting to happen. The Nottingham Post (I advise you to have a pop-up blocker if you follow this link, otherwise it’ll take 10 minutes for the page to load) is reporting drivers’ consternation already. Naturally, the idiots in the Council are defending their incompetence.

The part that makes me laugh is where they naturally start quoting clueless people in order to try and maintain a balance where there isn’t one.

Laurie Harking, a retired librarian, said: “…it looks like a pretty big give way sign to me, I’m not sure how you would miss it.”

Yes, dear. I’m sure the family of most of the person potentially lying across several different tables in the local morgue would be comforted by that. My video, above, clearly shows that innocent people are being put at risk.

Changing the layout would have been bad enough. Changing it to this particular layout is stupid. Criminally stupid.

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Rear of car with L plateI originally wrote this article about seven years ago – February 2010, to be precise – but its popularity keeps spiking and I now update it periodically. At the moment (mid-2017), there seems to be a surge in people training to become ADIs.

Back in 2010, when this was originally published, we were at the tail end of the previous ADI recruitment drive, and on the brink of a recession (though we didn’t realise it at the time). Garish adverts were everywhere, enticing would-be instructors with the promise of huge earnings (LDC laughingly suggested that over £40k was possible) in return for “hours to suit yourself”. Was it really possible to earn £30,000 or more by working just a few hours a day, and not weekends? Are things any different in 2017?

Even in the good times, you were never going to earn anywhere near £30k teaching only daytime weekday slots, and that’s still true now. But as the first twinges of what became the recession were being felt, fuel prices started to rise, pupil numbers started to fall, and the glut of very inexperienced and very desperate instructors commenced a suicidal programme of undercutting to try and get work which simply wasn’t there anymore. Even for an established full-time instructor with a moderately full diary, a maximum realistic wage was in the region of £20,000-£25,000 – and by “full-time” I mean working evenings and weekends. Price-cutting ADIs with empty diaries had no chance of making anywhere near this. Even if they could get 30 hours, their cut-price lessons would pull their pre-tax profit down to around £15,000. With only 15 hours of work – the reason they had cut their prices in the first place – it would be closer to £7,000.

It was certainly possible to earn £30,000 as long as you had the necessary work, charged sensible prices, and were prepared to do long hours – but I stress the word “possible” (note that LDC, who I mentioned above, were almost certainly referring to turnover with their £40k nonsense). However, this industry is fickle, and a fat period can easily be followed by a lean one. You can do 40 hours one week, but the next might see you struggling for 20. Over a typical financial year you might manage £30k, but the next one – especially if it had a recession in it, with a 65% increase in the price of fuel (such as we experienced at that time), you’d got no chance. I was lucky (or whatever) and managed to weather the storm – but many instructors failed dramatically and gave up the job which had cost them so much to train for.

At the start of 2016, the outlook was once again bright. There were plenty of pupils out there, and fuel – which peaked at around £1.40 per litre – fell below £1.00 for the first time since 2009. Everything looked rosy – until the Greek Tragedy that is Brexit came along and suspended the Sword of Damocles over it all. This is what I mean about the industry being fickle. I suppose “fickle” is the wrong word – “unpredictable” would also work. Suffice it to say, as of mid-2017 the industry is still buoyant, but the future is looking very uncertain.


About Being an ADI

How does an ADI’s wage compare with my old wage?

To answer this, you have to compare like for like figures. If your old salaried job had a salary of £25,000, that would have been before tax and National Insurance were deducted. You need an equivalent figure for being self-employed to make the comparison. British Currency

Driving instructors are self-employed, and everything they do is concerned with sales (i.e. taking money from customers in return for lessons) and expenses (i.e. spending money in order to keep providing those lessons). Their “wage” is totally dependent on these, and since both are variable it is necessary to make a few sensible assumptions if you want to predict future earnings. The worst thing you can do is overestimate your earnings and/or underestimate your expenses – if you do that, any profit forecast is little better than a random guess.

An ADI’s official wage is determined by adding up all their business overheads (e.g. costs for their car, fuel, insurance, advertising, office supplies, etc.) and subtracting that sum from their turnover (the total amount of money they took in payment from their pupils). In the simplest case, if an ADI delivers 30 hours of lessons per week for 52 weeks of the year, and charges £23 per hour for lessons, their turnover will be £35,880. Overheads will be different for everyone (different cars, different amounts of fuel, etc.), but a typical overall figure might be around £11,000 over a full year. Subtract those overheads from the turnover and you’re left with £24,880 gross profit. That would be a wage figure, before tax and National Insurance, which can be used to compare with other jobs.

What are examples of overheads?

As an ADI you will need a car. If you haven’t got one already you will need to buy or lease one, and what you pay is (or contributes towards) an overhead for your business. Fuel to run the car is an overhead, as are repair and maintenance costs. Insurance is an overhead. Phone and internet costs associated with your business are overheads, as are printer ink, paper, envelopes, and various other stationery items if they relate directly to your business. A car wash is an overhead. And so on.

An overhead which can make all the difference between success and failure for an ADI is advertising. If you are on a franchise this is much less of an issue, but if you are independent then you will need to pay for your own advertising so that people who wouldn’t otherwise know that you’re there can contact you if they want lessons.

How much does a car cost?

You can easily find out how much it costs to buy a car – new or used. That price affects your gross profit over the entire period of time you own the car. For example, if you spend £10,000 on one, keep it for 5 years, then sell it for £2,000 at the end of that period, that £8,000 difference works out to about £30 a week over the 8-year period – in other words, the car is effectively costing you £30 a week over the whole five-year period. It doesn’t matter how you word it for the tax man or anyone else, you are spending £8,000 as an overhead over 5 years, and that is definitely costing you the equivalent of at least £30 a week. Fitting dual controls, and taxing and insuring it, are extras which might amount to another £10 a week. Repairs could be anything from £0 and up ( a single, and quite feasible, major repair could add another £10-£20 a week in any given financial year).

Alternatively, you could lease a car from the various main dealers, specialised ADI lease companies, and driving school franchise providers. Prices start at around £60 a week and often include tax and insurance as part of the price. Dual controls are usually standard items, or can sometimes be negotiated into dealer prices. Top prices can be £200 or more per week (but read the rest of this article before you decide that £200 is “too much”).

How much does it cost to run a car?

The number of miles you get per litre of fuel varies from car to car, on how the car is being driven, and on the type and size of engine. For petrol vehicles, a 30 hour week petrol bill might typically amount to £90-£120. For diesel, it is about two-thirds of that figure. I don’t know about the other fuel types.

Note that if you’re thinking of going electric as some sort of unique selling point to try and corner the market, the initial cost of a typical electric vehicle is around double that of an equivalent standard-fuelled car. Also remember that the range (i.e. how many miles you get from a full charge) is around 100-150 miles, and it takes 30 minutes to charge up to 80% of that range (or overnight if you want a full charge). Also think how your smartphone battery lasts less now than it did when you first bought it – will an electric car with 150 miles from a full charge when new still be able to do that after one year, then two years..? How much will a new battery cost you? And so on.

How many miles would I drive in a year?

This is an important question if you’re looking to source a car on some sort of lease. Speaking personally, I do between 40,000-50,000 miles a year. When you lease a car, make damned sure you go for an option which covers your likely mileage – and don’t forget to include personal miles. After all, it’s what’s on the dashboard display when you take it back which counts.

Don’t get bogged down trying to twist numbers to produce the lowest forecast annual mileage you can think of. Do that and you’ll end up altering your lesson quality to meet your mileage limits. You’re less than 12 months away from going back to salaried employment if you do that.

How many hours would I need to work?

Everyone’s circumstances are different. At the very least you’ve got to cover your overheads – if you don’t do that you’ll go out of business. Work-life balance

Next, you’ve got to earn enough to be able to cover your personal commitments (i.e. to earn a living wage). If every hour you work nets you £23 of turnover, and your weekly overheads bill is £210, you will need to work for 9 hours to cover that (incidentally, let’s call these “dead hours” if I have to refer to them again). Every additional hour you work thereafter becomes your wage, and on paper an average of 30 lesson hours per week will give you an annualised wage of around £25,000 (or pushing £28,000 based on 2016 fuel prices). However, you will almost certainly not get this amount of work straight away and you should allow for that in your plans.

As an example, when I started teaching I knew exactly how many lessons I needed to do in order to run my business and pay my personal bills as they stood at that time. I was covering my business overheads within a week, and my personal commitments within 5 weeks and, apart from a couple of Christmas weeks since then, I’ve never dropped below 20 hours. Your personal circumstances will be different to mine, so you can only use this as guidance. On the other hand, I see people on various forums still struggling to make 10 hours even after a year.

I keep repeating this, but new ADIs consistently overlook the fact that unless you are averaging 30 hours over a full 12-month period, you are not going to earn £25,000 over that same period.  A 40 hour week here or there might feel great, but if the rest of them are only 10-20 you’re looking at a wage of well under £20,000. Before you decide to become an ADI you need to carefully decide how much money you need to pay your bills, assess the personal risk of not achieving that every week, then work backwards from there. Be cautious almost to the point of pessimism when you’re working out what you might earn – those starting training these days tend to be overflowing with enthusiasm from the moment they announce they’re going to become instructors, but they are completely oblivious to the harsh realities of running a driving school. Simply dreaming of earning £30k is light years away from actually achieving it.

Can I really work whatever hours I want?

If you mean “can I work just few hours and still earn a lot of money” then the answer is definitely no. And it’s a double-no if you think you’ll survive if you try working short hours right from the start. Those adverts are dangerously misleading when they suggest that this is possible.

More realistically – but only slightly – you could fit 30 hours of lessons into five days if you work evenings. My favourite days (and weeks) are when I have three 2-hour lessons each day (seven days a week in my case) – each starting at approximately 10am, 2pm, and 6pm – but that doesn’t happen often these days. However, if you don’t work evenings, the only way you’d ever manage to fit in 30 hours of lessons is if you started very early, rushed between lessons, and were happy to take your pupils into morning and evening rush hour. You’d have to pray hard that the traffic didn’t make you late for your appointments, and that no one cancelled and messed up your rota. Even with only half an hour between lessons, six hours would run from 8am until about 3pm (or 9am until 4pm, and so on). It amazes me when I see instructors saying they only leave 15 minutes between sessions – the only way that could work reliably is if all their pupils lived in adjacent houses on the same street!

If it still looks do-able to you when written down, believe me when I say that regimenting your lesson slots like that – especially if you’re new and desperate for work – is suicidal. The vast majority of pupils want lessons at times to suit them – and so they should, since they are paying you for a service. Beginners definitely don’t want to be driving around during rush hour, nor do they want you doing it for them as you wend your way somewhere that you think is quiet enough for them to get behind the wheel (no doubt you’ll be charging them, even though you are driving). Even if you did find a handful of pupils who could play your game, you won’t easily find others who can once the first lot are gone. Road works are a nightmare and can turn a 10 minute journey into a 40 minute one with ease (and that applies to travelling between lessons as well as the actual lesson itself). They have the habit of appearing with little obvious warning, and persisting for months or even years at a time. And God help you if there’s an accident and road closures. I guarantee that you will get one or two chances at best with most pupils, but if you insist on taking on the road works because of your restrictive rota and end up arriving late they will go elsewhere, and they will not recommend you to anyone else if they do. I pick up quite a few who cite turning up late as a reason for switching away from their previous instructor.

I have one pupil at the moment who sometimes does 6.30pm with drop-off either at home or the University library, sometimes 9.15am with drop-off at school, sometimes 2.45pm with pick-up from school and drop-off either at home or school depending on what she’s up to. She doesn’t know weeks in advance, and I simply modify the lesson on the day. Another does regular 11am lessons mainly on Fridays with pick-up and drop-off at work. Another does 2.15pm from school on a Monday, 4pm from school on a Friday, or weekend daytime only if she isn’t going anywhere and those other slots aren’t available. A recent new pupil has a weird rolling shift pattern which means he starts later and later in the day each week, so his lessons move accordingly. Another has a shift pattern where he works for 7 days then gets three days off, but the at-work period is shift-based and includes nights – so we have to plan lessons around him getting some sleep either before or after his shifts. Another always does 5.15pm from work, unless it’s a weekend lesson and he isn’t traveling home to see his parents. Yet another is also shift-based (a week of “earlies” and a week of “lates”) and we have to fit his lessons in around that. Several can only do weekends – one, only Sunday mornings and another, only Saturday morning or Saturday evening. At the moment, nearly all the younger ones are restricted by exams, and that will be worse come April-June. The majority are flexible, of course, but only to the extent that they will do any time when they’re free and I’ve got space in my diary. Weekends and evenings are most popular – but they are limited in number. My point is that you may as well plan on winning the lottery if you expect to be able to fit these kinds of people into a rigid schedule just to suit you. If I insisted on rigid lesson times with any of these I would lose most of them.

Then there are lesson durations. Although I push pupils towards 2 hour lessons (partly my preference, partly because they are better value for most pupils), many these days cannot do them for a variety of reasons. One is money, and if they can only afford 1 hour a week it is not for me to question that. What I do do when we get nearer to their test is ask them to skip a week here and there and combine two 1 hour lessons into a single 2 hour one so we can travel further and take in road features we might not be able to get to in a single hour. Another valid reason why they sometimes can’t do 2 hours is down to their ability – some people just cannot concentrate for that long. This seems to be a bigger problem now than it used to be, and is especially true for absolute beginners who find driving a difficult concept to grasp. Another valid reason for not doing 2 hour lessons is time – some pupils (usually students) just don’t have time for more than one hour and the lessons suffer if they try. This is more significant near exam time, when they want to keep driving but have a lot of course work to do, too. And some want 1½ hour lessons to try and work around one or more of those problems. Forcing them to do something I want, but that they don’t (or can’t), is not going to do me any favours.

The bottom line is that as long as you are prepared to turn money away you can work as few hours as you like.

How easy is it to get new pupils?

Pupils are your only source of income, so they are vital to your success. Unfortunately, every new ADI seems to be convinced that they will corner the entire pupil market and consistently be working 50-hour weeks inside a fortnight, even though no one in the history of the world has ever managed this feat before. Sales book

You can never guarantee how much work you will have – even in the good times – which is one of the main reasons why so many people went back to salaried employment after the last recruitment spike and recession. You may work 40 hours one week, but the next it could drop to 20 and stay there – for weeks or even months at a time. As I said earlier, I sometimes see newbies on the forums still struggling to get as many as 10 hours, even  after a year. You can’t survive long on that.

The economic situation in 2016 is such that work is certainly out there, and the thinning out of the Register following the recession means that fewer ADIs are trying to get it (if anything, there is more work than there are ADIs to handle it, certainly in Nottingham). But getting new pupils is never easy, and it’s even harder when you’re just starting out. For example, in my early days – and this was at a time when the market was buoyant – I spent £600 on a business card sized advert in Yellow Pages. This was the done thing in the days when YP was still the size of a breeze block, and yet I got exactly ZERO enquiries out of it, if you exclude the spam calls I have been inundated with ever since. A while later, I tried placing a quarter page advert in one of those local free monthly magazines which claimed a “guaranteed circulation of over 10,000” at a cost of £300 over three months. Again, I didn’t get a single enquiry.

Now, some would suggest that I should have carried on spending £1,800 a year on advertising because people might not have seen my adverts the first time, and definitely wouldn’t see them if I stopped having them published. But this illustrates my point: advertising is a gamble, and the money you splash out on it is effectively risk capital. It might not deliver anything in return. I decided that the return on my investment was unacceptable and didn’t pursue those particular avenues any further. If nothing else, it taught me what I already knew, and that was that learners were not going to be hanging around outside my house just because I had become an ADI. I know you probably think that you’ll be different, but believe me, you won’t. So be careful. You are in competition with literally hundreds of other driving instructors in your area, most of whom are already well established, and you’re likely to be just one of dozens of other novice ADIs all vying for the same work.

Also be careful when existing instructors glibly tell you how to get pupils. In most cases they are established ADIs and they are a million miles away from being in the same position as someone who has just qualified. Even if what they say is true – and some will be anxious to “prove” to everyone (including themselves) that going independent was a good idea, even if they’re struggling – it is absolutely no guarantee that anyone else would also get work that easily.

How easy is the job?

You’ll spend most – if not all – of your time sitting on your backside, so in that sense it is very easy. However, sitting down all day means that unless you get some exercise outside of the job, you will put on weight. Since you might be getting home around 8.30pm, having left the house at 9am, a trip to the gym or a 30 minute jog might not seem quite so appealing then as it does right now while you’re brimming with enthusiasm at the prospect of earning £30,000.Watch your figure

If you already suffer from back problems, go back and read that part about sitting down all day again. If you don’t suffer from back problems, be prepared to develop some.

You need to be on your guard at all times, watching both your pupils and other road users. It’s not that uncommon for a learner to be driving along the straightest of roads, only to suddenly decide that – for reasons you may never be able to get to the bottom of – they ought to take an immediate 90° turn into a dark field, instead of continuing smoothly along the straight and fully illuminated A road that everyone else is on. I once asked a pupil why he had attempted such a dramatic manoeuvre (directly towards a pavement, in this case) on a straight 60mph road, and he answered “I honestly don’t know”.

Almost every experienced instructor will have had the pupil who, when you’ve asked them to “turn right” at a roundabout, has tried exactly that – to go round it counter-clockwise – oblivious to the rush hour traffic going round it the proper way. Or the one who decides that “follow the road ahead” means go where the car is pointing at the instant they finally get round to thinking about it. Or the one who only hears you say “right” when you say “look to the right”, and instantaneously yanks the wheel in that direction after concluding that you’ve just asked them to turn right (this is even more likely if you also make any sort of hand gesture indicating a particular direction). Or the one, usually from a country where driving standards are poor, who executes an emergency stop every time another vehicle moves even vaguely towards them. Or the pupil who suddenly decides they shouldn’t have entered a roundabout or junction after all, and slams on the brakes in the middle of moving traffic (some also do this where pigeons or squirrels are involved). Or the one who, while driving along at a steady 50mph, decides to change gear needlessly – and either finds 1st by mistake, or pulls on the handbrake lever instead. Or the one who, when moving out into (or driving in) busy traffic, hits the brake instead of the accelerator by mistake. And so it goes on. Some of it just happens. Other times, I suspect that there is an undiagnosed medical issue such as dyspraxia involved (sometimes, it is diagnosed – they just haven’t told you about it).

Then there are pedestrians and – sigh – cyclists, who will think nothing of moving directly into your path, and who appear to have zero knowledge of the Highway Code, and zero regard for it even if they do, providing ample triggers for jumpy pupils to stamp on the brakes or fling the wheel towards parked cars.

Having to concentrate on all this leads to tiredness, usually at the end of a busy day when it’s also dark, thus adding to the overall risk. It all comes down to how well you can handle such problems, but the bottom line is that the job is both physically and mentally challenging if you’re not used to it.

Is the job stressful?

The first time you encounter any of the above behaviours you will shit yourself – I know I did. But I got used to it, and these days I’m ready for it (though pupils never completely lose the ability to spring surprises on you). As I’ve said elsewhere, this blog is one of my ways of relieving the stress.Stress ball

The only part of the job I still find genuinely alarming is when a pupil kicks off over something unexpectedly.  It doesn’t happen often, but when it does it’s a real downer. Believe me, there are some very strange people out there – perhaps due to undiagnosed issues again – and when you inevitably end up teaching one of them you have to be careful how you handle things. Young people these days simply aren’t used to having their faults picked up on, much less discussed, and a few of them can overreact to the most innocuous comment or action (often translated to “you’re shouting at me”). It is their defence mechanism, and no matter how you approach the situation some will just blow their lids. And it doesn’t have to be a visible blown lid, either – it can appear as an unpleasant undercurrent to the lessons. When it happens, it is virtually impossible to smooth it out short-term, and you may even find that things are never the same between the two of you again. I’m pretty certain that, no matter what facade of pleasantness is put in place for the remaining lessons, some will still hold it against you once they pass their tests, because at the back of their minds their defence mechanism is still telling them they were right.

Some years ago, I had a pupil fail her test. She’d stopped on a slip road to join a one-way system in the city centre, but had over-steered slightly and couldn’t see oncoming traffic properly from her left side. Her solution to this was to put her head down, accelerate into the traffic, and hope for the best. Not surprisingly, the examiner used the dual controls. When I asked her about it afterwards, she said that the examiner’s head (his “big juff”, in her words) and central pillar were in the way and she couldn’t see, and had no choice but to go! I pointed out that she had positioned herself incorrectly, and in any case she could have asked the examiner to move his head, or perhaps even have leaned forward more – but blindly driving into moving traffic was definitely not an acceptable solution. She argued vehemently, and to this day – I speak to her occasionally since she passed her next test – she still resolutely maintains that there was nothing else she could have done and the examiner shouldn’t have failed her. It’s this sort of defensive inverted logic you will sometimes find yourself dealing with.Dilbert - Which?

To make matters worse, the examples I’ve given above refer to relatively normal people! God help you if you get a real lunatic. Fortunately, I’ve only ever had three of those in my entire career as an ADI, but they frighten the hell out of me. The worst one of them all has to be the woman who had told me she thought she was being stalked. When the police investigated the “suspect” it turned out to be a false alarm. I don’t think her accusation was overtly malicious – she’d just got the wrong end of the stick – but with hindsight, she apparently had issues in this area and was able to get the wrong end of this sort of stick with alarming ease. I didn’t realise that at the time and took what she told me at face value. However, a few weeks later she dumped me for “a female instructor”. When I phoned to ask what was wrong she told me that I “made her feel uncomfortable”. To say I was mortified is an understatement – this has always been a bit of a phobia on my part – and my skin crawls even now when I think of what accusations she could have levelled against me. God only knows what she told her new instructor.

And then there’s your pass rate. No matter what some instructors might claim, it DOES matter, and having to manage people with “issues” (not uncommon); those who perhaps can’t afford the lessons (very common); those who are slow learners but see themselves otherwise, and have booked their tests already just “to have a go” because they might get lucky, even though they haven’t a cat in hell’s chance of passing (also very common), and who openly resent you suggesting that they should cancel it or move it back (sometimes accusing you of trying to extract money from them)… well, you’re going to end up stressed however you deal with it.

Some of the road using public is so stupid that you seriously have to wonder how they passed their tests in the first place, let alone how they keep hold of their licences. To them, L plates mean that the Highway Code doesn’t apply anymore, and they will exercise their God-given right to pull out or overtake dangerously at every opportunity. They will tailgate you (sometimes on purpose, sometimes just because they’re genuinely crap drivers); sit behind you at traffic lights ready to sound the horn the instant the lights change whether your pupil moves off promptly or not (older female drivers are worst for this); force their way past on narrow roads, even driving on the pavement to do it (van drivers – especially couriers and postal drivers – are the worst); openly start texting at traffic lights, even delaying moving off to finish the tweet they were engaged in (especially young females); and speed limits are obviously something only learners have to stick to.

Elderly homeowners in middle class areas apparently spend the better part of their retirement hiding behind their curtains, ready to race out (it’s amazing how fast old people can move when they want to) and aggressively claim ownership of a road or corner the moment a learner car stops there. Some will park dangerously close to corners so that learners can’t reverse around them (red Fiesta, end house, Normanby Drive in Bramcote, take note). They will drive up and stop centimetres away from your bumper to stop you reversing (that even happened once on a pupil’s test – the examiner’s verdict of “stupid cow” was very apt).  On the rougher estates – the ones where they’re all related, have one big eyebrow or scrunched up hair which pulls their eyes into slits, and funny numbers of chromosomes – be prepared for things to be thrown at the car. Last year someone chucked a bag of something at my windscreen in Broxtowe as I drove past a bus stop and whatever it was smeared like hell and would not come off (it may have been Superglue dispersed in some solvent – these retards actually research these things). Once, in Clifton, one of the local troglodytes prostrated himself on the road in front of the car (we were actually reversing – they’re not too smart in Clifton). Some years ago, in Lenton, someone threw something with all his might at the windscreen as we drove past. I actually saw him jump in the air to get a good swing, though fortunately he hit the door pillar with whatever it was he threw and not the glass (he was lucky I didn’t catch him after I chased him, but it was obvious what he was trying to do). Once, a Forest match had finished and an ugly fat guy (which doesn’t narrow it down much when it comes to Forest supporters) thought it would be clever to throw a full portion of chips with curry sauce over the car as we drove past. And I had three punctures in the three weeks after Christmas as a result of the suspiciously high number of screws and nails which sporadically appear on corners used by learners (there’s no way they are all there accidentally).

Finally, there are other instructors. You’ll pull up on a half-mile long deserted street on a deserted industrial estate some time late on a Sunday afternoon to do a turn in the road, only to have some idiot ADI appear moments later and stop within three or four car lengths of you to do the same thing. A couple of years ago a woman in an Elliott’s Driving School car actually stopped directly opposite on an otherwise clear road, preventing us from doing anything except drive off, and creating a needless bottleneck with which to annoy the Bramcote residents even more than usual. Another time, I was in a small deserted car park (8 bays one side, 6 on the other) on an industrial estate in Colwick one Sunday evening practising bay parking, only to have a retard ADI drive in and position himself to do one, thus blocking us in Admittedly, he didn’t stay after I got out and explained a few things, but he would have done if I hadn’t. And don’t even get me started on those instructors who insist on driving into the test centre car park to practice bay parking (both Colwick and Beeston) while tests are coming and going, or the ones who form a queue to use the corner you’re reversing around – sometimes even moving in when you’re into the side road (they, too, go away after I explain a few things to them).

So stress is there in bucket loads, and you can’t avoid most of it. It comes looking for you. It’s how you handle it inside that matters – as I said earlier, I have my blog and I can vent my spleen here!

Can you do too many lessons?

People choose to become ADIs for the money. The best ones also do it because it’s something they actually want to do to, but money is always the bottom line. It’s only a job, after all. So it is natural to want to be busy.Work overload

The problem is that if you can be too busy, and then the quality of your lessons will suffer. If nothing else you will be tired and stressed, and if your pupils have crap lessons when they’re tired, what makes you think you’re any different? Your learners will pick up on poor quality lessons immediately, even if you don’t, so it’s vital that you know your own limits (I know mine). Being too busy can easily affect your ability to retain pupils, which negatively impacts your reputation and recruitment of more work, thus increasing your stress even further.

Unfortunately, many new ADIs will already have calculated their future dream earnings based on the assumption that they’ll be working 50 hours a week right from the start, and nothing seems to change that view until the harsh realities set in. The truth is that if they could get anywhere near that amount of work it would – if it didn’t kill them first – negatively impact their performance and health, and set in motion a downward spiral for their future earnings. Instructors who are genuinely able to work very long hours and maintain the quality of their work are in the minority in the first place, and are invariably those with more experience. Even fewer can do it week in, week out. Newly-qualified ADIs do not fit into either group.

So, yes. You can do too many lessons.

Is it legal to work long hours?

ADIs’ hours are not restricted in the same way as (for example) an HGV driver’s are, so yes, it’s legal for them to work long hours. However, the conditions attached to the green badge mean that an instructor mustn’t provide dangerous tuition or engage in illegal or unprofessional activities. If you are tired or stressed there is a very real danger that you might miss dangerous situations or even fall asleep – and that would have very serious legal implications. At best, you’d lose pupils and not get new work coming in. At worst, you could lose your licence to teach or even end up in jail.

What amounts to “long hours” is different for everyone. Some may struggle to do any more than 20-25 hours, whereas others might easily cope with 40.

Can I make more profit if I reduce my overheads?

Of course you can. The real question is which overheads, and by how much? Driving instruction is a mature business, and what you charge, spend, and earn as profit falls into a fairly narrow pre-defined range. You can’t just go out and charge £40 an hour when everyone else is doing it for £23 and expect to stay in business; if fuel costs the rest of the country £1 per litre then that’s approximately what you’re going to have to pay for it; and if a typical instructor drives 10-20 miles per lesson, someone who tries halving that without a bloody good reason will find themselves back stacking shelves at Tesco in no time at all. All you can do is find the best balance between enough work and minimising your expenses. This is the basis of a simple, successful business. You shouldn’t be considering extremes – they’ve already been evaluated, which is why they are pre-defined and within a narrow range.

Can I cut my fuel consumption to reduce my overheads?

Up to a point, yes. Fuel is the largest overhead that you actually have much control over. However, a lot of ADIs haven’t got a clue how their business works, and inevitably get it into their one-dimensional minds that they would make shed loads more money if they used shed loads less fuel. They do not understand that a successful ADI has to deliver a specific syllabus with a practical test at the end of it, and is therefore committed to covering at least some road miles in order to achieve that.Fuel costs

In other words, you can’t just cut your fuel consumption to nothing by parking up by the side of the road talking. You’re guaranteed to lose  pupils that way and not get any more. Some still try it, though, and even one of the lesser national schools offers a “free” lesson, which has to be financed by the ADI, and which almost invariably involves sitting parked for a full hour. I pick up loads of pupils who have switched instructors for this reason, and they’re not all telling lies when they report that they spent too much time talking, and too little driving. Instructors who engage in this behaviour seem incapable of understanding that every lost pupil costs them an average of about £700-£800 in lost income and eliminates any chance of new work coming from referrals by that pupil The park-and-prattle method will save them £1,000-£2,000 a year in fuel at best, so two lost pupils easily cancels it out and sets in motion a downward spiral for the future of their business.

Wise management of your resources can certainly minimise your fuel costs, but you can only go so far – and it isn’t very far if you were providing a half-decent service to start with – before your business begins to suffer. The best way of reducing fuel costs is to get a more economical car. If you already have such a car – and if you are already covering less than about 10-20 miles per hour of lessons on average – you need to accept that you probably can’t reduce your fuel overhead much further. I acknowledge that in some areas – very large cities – you might get away with less mileage than this, but the principle is the same. You have to face the fact that you need fuel to deliver decent lessons.

Can I get a cheap car to reduce my overheads?

It makes me laugh when I hear instructors claiming that their car “costs [them] nothing”. Unless they won it in a raffle, and had no maintenance costs resulting from age and day-today-use such as punctures, broken windscreens, new wiper blades, etc., then their car costs them money just like everyone else. Nissan Cube

In the real world a car has to be purchased or leased by the vast majority of instructors. Once you have it, it has to be replaced periodically and have regular services that 99.9% of instructors couldn’t possibly do themselves. It needs oil top-ups and replacement parts that wear out or get damaged. And that’s before you even consider serious breakdowns and repair costs – which happen to everyone sooner or later. If it’s off the road you lose money from not being able to do lessons, or spend more money arranging for a replacement if it isn’t part of a lease agreement (and if it is, the hassle will still result in at least some lost work). Even if you paid £10,000 for your car five years ago and mentally wrote off the whole ten grand back then, the reality is that that your total profit throughout the entire period of ownership is reduced due to the capital you invested. Irrespective of what you tell everyone (including the tax man), and perhaps even believe, it isn’t costing you “nothing” – it’s costing about £40 a week over 5 years, plus any of those additional costs I’ve just mentioned.

One viable way of acquiring a “cheap” car is to choose one of those rectangular things produced in a faraway place you’ve never heard of, with a name you can’t pronounce without looking it up on Google (I’ve used a picture of the ugliest car on the planet, the Nissan Cube, for which pronunciation only becomes an issue when you try to describe it). Dealers are often desperate to shift these things and therefore offer very tempting deals. Each to their own, of course, but you should consider the fact that there is zero probability that anyone under 45 would ever consider buying one when they pass their test, and although some pupils are attracted to “cute” or oddball cars (and even they draw the line somewhere), many aren’t. Obviously, not all cheaper cars are ugly, but you need to consider if, as a new ADI desperate for the best possible start, such a car would be a good choice. What about in a recession, when pupil numbers begin to fall? There are quite a few of these cars favoured by other ADIs that I can hardly fit in, or which I find extremely uncomfortable, and if I was learning to drive I most certainly would not go to an instructor who had one.

My advice is not to just get the cheapest car you can find without considering how its looks might affect your business first.

Can I use an older car?

I’ve noticed that more and more trainee and newly-qualified ADIs are opting for significantly older used cars – often, the car they already owned before they decided to become instructors.Old Corsa or new?

You can still operate a driving school in one of these, but no matter what those who own them might claim the age and appearance of the vehicle you drive has a significant effect on the work you attract. The majority of pupils like new (or new-ish) cars and there’s no escaping the fact that a ten-year old Corsa looks exactly like what it is: a ten-year old Corsa! You have to ask how much additional work you’d attract if you had a newer car instead of a banger – work that could mean the difference between success and failure for a new instructor.

What can I charge for lessons?

The average lesson price in the UK is around £23-£25 per hour. I hear that in some areas they can charge £30-£35 an hour, but if I tried that here in Nottingham I guarantee my diary would empty overnight. So I effectively have an upper price I can (or dare) charge.Money to burn

Back in 2010, the tactic of price-cutting took off as desperate instructors sought to attract work which wasn’t there at the expense of other instructors doing exactly the same thing. Although the upper limit to your available price range is governed by what people are prepared to pay, the lower limit isn’t, and in theory if you drop your price to a lower figure than everyone else you will get all the work you want. If only it were that simple, though.

As I pointed out earlier, this is a mature industry and profit margins are not great. If just one ADI dropped his prices by £1 then he might well enjoy an increase in enquiries – if he could get the message across through advertising, which would cost money, of course. But when dozens of instructors are doing it, every lower price becomes the new baseline, and the price-cutting ADI will simply find himself in exactly the same situation as before – little work – but with a lower income. His only option is to cut prices still further, and the low margin situation means that he is now into an uncontrollable downward spiral to oblivion. To succeed, you’ve got to keep the highest profit margin you can get away with for your area.

Between 2010 and 2014 you would see cars advertising lessons for as little as £15 an hour. You work for that price unless you’re desperate, so it isn’t hard to guess what they were trying to achieve. They aren’t around anymore – and neither will you be this time next year if you try it.


Working as an ADI

Should I start with a franchise?

My advice on this is simple. Yes, you should. And be very careful when people advise you to go independent, particularly if that advice is to do it straight after you qualify.

The vast majority of new ADIs haven’t got a chance in hell of filling their diaries quickly enough to start earning a living without major advertising which, as I have already mentioned, might not work. Franchises – especially the larger ones – are geared up to do this, and although there are never any guarantees, there is a bloody good chance that a franchise will be a hundred times better than you would be at getting work, particularly if you choose a national school or a good local one.

In my opinion, anyone who goes independent right from the start is crazy. Why spend all that money training for the green badge, only to go and gamble on having to give it all up? You need the best start you can get, not an ego trip in a sign-written car with your own name plastered all over it.

Should I start out independent?

If you ask this on the forums you’ll be swamped with “go indie” advice from everyone. The problem is that those offering the advice are established ADIs who haven’t a clue what your financial needs are. Many of them don’t have mortgages or are semi-retired, and do the job for pocket money. And in quite a few cases, when they started out, they did it with a franchise – and yet they readily trot out this misguided advice about the only way being the indie way.

If you need to establish yourself and get work quickly, doing it as an independent instructor is likely to be more difficult than it would be under a franchise brand. I’m sure that there are some independents who genuinely hit the ground running when they made their choice, but there are a lot more ex-ADIs who didn’t.

Is it cheaper being independent compared to working on a franchise?

There’s no doubt that if you had a guaranteed 30 hours (or any other amount) of work per week already in your diary, you’d be better off as an independent instructor. This is quite simply because you’d have lower overheads. However, the difference is not as great as some people would have you believe.

An franchised instructor might be paying £200 a week for his car, but if he is independent he does not have £200 more profit. The independent still has to finance a car which, as I have already pointed out, is likely to cost at least £40 – and probably closer to £60-£80 ON AVERAGE. Add around £10 for insurance, then whatever he has to pay for advertising, and he will be paying over £100 a week to get what is covered by the franchise. Yes, it’s still cheaper, but it all comes down to the one thing you simply cannot get across to the typical newly-qualified ADI: YOU HAVE TO HAVE THE WORK, OTHERWISE NO AMOUNT OF LOWER OVERHEADS WILL PREVENT YOU GOING OUT OF BUSINESS. And the franchise is more likely to be able to provide that work.

If you need to be earning sensible money to pay for your personal life (i.e. earn a living wage), going independent immediately after you qualify is a huge risk.

Can a franchise guarantee work?

The answer to this isn’t anywhere near as clear cut as you might think. As I said earlier, this industry is fickle, and you cannot be certain of being busy all the time no matter how well-established you are. This is especially true when the economy is struggling, or if the ADI Register is overloaded. However, at the time of writing, there are pupils by the truck load in most areas, and many instructors left the Register during the last recession after having failed in business. So if a franchise or local school is “guaranteeing” work it will almost certainly be because they have enough enquiries to justify making such a claim at this time. You have to consider a few things, though:

  • they’re probably not guaranteeing a full diary
  • the Register is likely to fill up again over the next few years
  • there might be another recession, which would change the game considerably
  • what you consider to be “enough work” might be more than the franchise can provide
  • no one can guarantee work forever

I’ve not seen this claim being made by the larger national schools, and it seems to be mostly the smaller local ones who do. Don’t dismiss them out of hand – they might provide you with work you couldn’t get on your own while you establish yourself.

Which franchise do you recommend?

I don’t recommend anyone. You have to make your own choices because there will be risk involved whatever way you proceed. Be wary of anyone who advises you to stay away from large schools or franchises per se. Many have a grudge or are simply repeating what they hear from others.

A good example is RED Driving School. During the last recruitment spike, RED was a favourite hate target of established ADIs because they were one of the main blanket advertisers who were pushing the “earn £30,000” mantra. I’m not saying that RED were perfect, but the ads attracted a lot of highly unsuitable people who subsequently either failed the tests or – in quite a few cases – decided they didn’t want to become instructors after all and wanted to get their money back. RED actually went bankrupt in 2009 and was bought out by a venture capital company. The current RED is not the same company anymore. Unfortunately, most ADIs aren’t aware of this – or have conveniently forgotten it – and they still persist with attitudes based on the old company’s reputation.

One thing I do know, and that is that RED has the highest lesson rates around of any of the franchises (£25 an hour and up in Nottingham). If you got a full diary out of them you’d be earning over £3,000 a year more than those independents telling you not to go near them. There are a few RED cars around this way, and they always seem busy.

Should I choose a local or a national franchise?

It’s up to you. Many newly-qualified ADIs baulk at signing to “big names” (I think they’re frightened of them), and choose local schools instead. It doesn’t matter what the school name is though. All that matters is they provide you with pupils – and in my opinion, the national schools might be better at it because they can invest more in advertising.

Something else to consider is lesson price. A local franchise (and some of the lesser nationals) might be “guaranteeing work” because they’re advertising low lesson rates or silly deals to attract pupils. Referring once more to the maturity of this industry, you cannot afford to drop your prices much below the local average before your profits are wiped out. Consider that a 30-hour week of lessons at £23 per hour will give you a wage of around £25,000. A similar week of £20 per hour lessons pulls that wage down to around £20,000 – meaning that you need another 5 hours of work per week just to maintain £25k. That requirement would put even an experienced ADI close to work overload.

Franchises are too expensive!

As I’ve already explained, independent ADIs usually imply that that they pay £200 less per week than an instructor whose franchise costs that. It’s rubbish. The difference is less than £100 – much less, in most cases.

Consider this. Would you prefer to be independent paying (let’s say) £60 a week for your car and £60 for fuel, and doing maybe 15 hours of lessons? Or would you prefer a franchise at £200 a week plus £120 for fuel, with 30 hours of work? In the first example your annual wage would equate to about £12,000 (without advertising costs), whereas the second it’d be around £20,000 (and I have assumed the same premium lesson price in both examples, which you might not be able to charge as a new independent instructor).

It’s a bit of a no-brainer if you look at the actual numbers instead of just listening to nonsense from people who don’t like (and don’t understand) franchises. Independent is only cheaper IF YOU HAVE THE WORK!

But you have to work a lot of hours for nothing to pay the franchise!

You have to work “for nothing” to pay your overheads no matter how you do it. I’ve explained several times that, no matter what you might otherwise think, as an independent you have to pay a definite amount for your car, plus fuel, insurance, advertising, etc. before you earn any profit. Yes, your overall overhead figure on a franchise is greater than the independent equivalent figure, but only by a maximum of 2-3 hours worth of work.

It amazes me that so-called “experienced” ADIs can still go around telling newly-qualified instructors that being independent means they’ll be better off by the whole amount of a franchise fee. They won’t. And in pretty much every single case, franchised ADIs with plenty of work will be much better off than independent ones struggling to find pupils.

Only franchised ADIs work weekends – because they have to

That’s rubbish. All ADIs have to work several hours a week to pay off their overheads, as I have already explained. In most cases franchised instructors work weekends because they can I made that point earlier – a franchiser may get work for you, whereas on your own you’re struggling.

Franchised instructors have to work half the week to pay off their franchise

This is misleading nonsense. A typical franchisee working 30 hours would have to do maybe 12-14 hours of lessons to cover all their overheads. It sounds terrible if you purposely imply that an independent can pocket all the money for himself. The fact is that an independent ADI also working 30 hours would have to do around 8-10 hours (assuming no advertising costs and charging a premium lesson price) to cover their own overheads. It’s a only a difference of around 4 hours in the first place, but – and as I’ve already made clear – the newly-qualified independent may not be able to charge a premium lesson price. That would take his “dead” hours to maybe 9-12 hours, and if he advertised at £25 a week, that would add at least another hour.

Not quite as one-sided as people have been telling you, is it?

Franchises are no good if you want to work part-time

You can get a headboard-only franchise for £30-£40, which would be covered by just two hours of work per week. Everything else you’d have to pay for anyway – part-time or full-time.

Independent ADIs can charge more

It sounds good when you say it. However, in most cases indies charge about £1 less per hour – certainly compared with the larger schools – for their standard hours. If they don’t, they might claim they charge top prices, but one look at their price lists shows an ever-more bizarre array of block-booking discounts – I’ve seen schools advertising £25 per hour lessons, with block booking discounts equivalent to £17 per hour. Crazy.

The only offer I make is that anyone block booking ten lessons gets one extra hour free (that free hour is the last one to be taken and has no monetary value – i.e. any refunds would be based on ten hours and not eleven). It means I can scale the offer as I increase my prices periodically.

The bottom line is that any special offer is lost revenue, and big discounts need to have a huge payback, otherwise you’re just throwing money down the drain.

Should I start part time after I qualify?

In theory, starting off part time makes a lot of sense, since it gives you the opportunity to gradually build up work until you can switch to it full time. It’s a nice theory and if became an instructor because you’re retired, at a loose end now the kids have left home, or just want some pocket money to spend, it probably holds up quite well. For those doing it as a main source of income, though, they have to get enough work to quickly start paying their bills.

For someone in that latter position, the trouble starts with the first enquiries. What will you do if the pupil can only do lessons at times when you can’t? Turning pupils away when you’re trying to build a career is suicidal. Even if they can fit into your free time, what if working late into the evening (or early in the morning) makes you tired for your other job? How will you take pupil enquiries when you’re on the other job? Is your boss understanding enough to let you do it? Have you told him what you’re up to? The truth is that holding down two jobs throws up all manner of logistical problems that don’t exist on paper. It’s only when you start doing it you find out what it pain it can be, and how often one job (or you) has to suffer to accommodate the other.

Start out part time by all means – but make sure you fully consider the feasibility of this before you go ahead.

Which advice should I listen to?

Use your own common sense as much as you can. You know approximately how much lessons are, and you can easily find out how much a car will cost, and how much you will have to pay for insurance, so for God’s sake stop keep asking other people how much you will earn! They don’t know – but most of them will have a fine old time telling you nonetheless, usually with some very dodgy calculations confusing turnover with profit.

If you’re going to go looking for online advice, be wary of sites with information dating from more than 3-4 years ago (and especially if it is from 2008-2011). Those will usually have been written by bitter people sticking the boot in on the big advertisers of the time – most notably RED Driving School, which was active up until that point (before it went bust and was resurrected as a completely different company).

Your main concern is to get work – and no one can tell you if you’ll succeed or not. It is the risk you take if you decide to enter this industry. For that reason, you need to choose the route that is most likely to provide that work.


Training to Become an ADI

How do I become an ADI?

There is a guide on the GOV.UK website which will help. You need to be over 21 and to have held a full car driving licence for at least three years. There are certain situations which could prevent you becoming an instructor – in a nutshell, unless you have a totally clean driving licence and absolutely no criminal convictions or pending court cases you may be refused entry on to the Register. If you have any sex- or violence-related offences on your record, you may as well forget it. As far as the middle ground goes, the acceptance criteria have been dumbed down since I qualified, so who knows?

Firstly, you will need to have a criminal records check (CRC) carried out. At the time of writing this costs £6 – but my advice is not to bother if you clearly will not be accepted on to the Register, or unless you’re prepared to lose the £6 if you end up being refused (some people still apply even if they have horrendous criminal records or stupid numbers of points on their driving licences, then complain when they are rejected). When you have your CRC you can apply to join the Register, and once you’re on it you can start your training (though I can’t see why you couldn’t start training before – you just wouldn’t be able to take any of the exams, and if you were refused then it would be money wasted).

What Is Involved?

You will need to pass three exams:

  • Part 1: The theory and hazard perception test
  • Part 2: The test of your driving ability
  • Part 3: The test of your instructional abilities.

The national pass rate for Part 2 in 2014/15 was 54.4%, and for Part 3 in 2013/14 it was 32.3%. The Part 1 pass rate is about 50%. These data come from different official documents, hence the different years, but they still provide suitable guidance.

Let’s do a bit of maths using these numbers. If 100 people joined the Register as PDIs, according to the statistics only 50 would pass Part 1 and move on to Part 2. Of that 50, only 27 would pass and move on to Part 3. Finally, of those 27 only 9 people would pass Part 3 and qualify as ADIs. That’s an overall success rate of less than 10%.

I must stress that the maths isn’t quite as simple as this, since you can take Part 1 an unlimited number of times (you’re bound to pass eventually), and the other two parts up to three times each within a two-year period (and you’re not bound to pass those). The point is that becoming an ADI is not a foregone conclusion (nor is it cheap), and failing the tests is more likely than passing them – even if the pass rate is not quite as low as 10%.

Why are ADI pass rates so low?

I certainly wonder that, especially about Part 1. Someone who is even partly suited to the job should get 100% every time, so a 50% failure rate strongly suggests that a lot candidates are massively out of their depth. Parts 2 and 3 are much harder, but it is inevitable that some unsuitable candidates will get further along the training path and even qualify as ADIs.

Do only good instructors pass the tests?

Unfortunately, no. Remember that the main reason for many to (try) to become instructors is the money. Actually wanting to teach people to drive often comes way down the list. Over the years, I’ve seen a lot of newbies struggle then give up because they simply can’t handle the job – yet they could have anticipated all the problems if they’d have been able to see beyond the £££ signs right at the beginning. If you don’t enjoy what you’re doing you can never be particularly good at it (don’t kid yourself: you can’t), and your pupils will pick up on that immediately. And that kills your chances of success.

A complaint I often hear when I take on new pupils is that their last instructor would take a block booking payment from them (over £200 in banknotes), and then repeatedly cancel lessons, be “double booked”, or be “unavailable” (ignoring texts and phone calls). The instructors who do this are not intending to defraud – not on purpose, anyway – and the reason they do it is as follows. First of all, the instructor in question will be desperate for work – and I mean absolutely and totally desperate. He or she will have offered some sort of “deal” which attracted the pupil in the first place, but which also further reduced any profit they may have made out of it. The wad of cash handed over would go straight to pay off some of their debts, which meant that as far as the instructor was concerned all future bookings covered by that cash would be non-paying. They wouldn’t have realised this at the time, but as soon as the prepaid pupil wanted a lesson, the ADI would prefer to fill the slot with someone who was paying on the day, and not someone who was – in their mind – doing a free lesson.

I am acutely aware of the effect block bookings have on my own cash flow, and how it feels to have no “current income” from lessons, so I can easily imagine how those with less scruples might handle it. It might sound cynical, but what I’ve described above is exactly why (and how) it happens. And it’s ironic that those who do it might actually be “good” as far as teaching is concerned – but being so “bad” at business completely wipes that out.

The issue seems to arise mainly with independent ADIs (sorry, but it does), followed by local franchises (sorry again). The larger franchises appear to take such behaviour quite seriously and this deters instructors from engaging in it (though it does happen occasionally, from my experience). The behaviour is purely a function of the individual(s) involved.

So, is it easy to qualify?

It depends how you look at it. If you’re cut out to be an instructor, then training and passing the tests might well prove to be very easy indeed (of course, it might not). Likewise, if hell ought to freeze over before you even try to become an ADI, you’re likely to struggle with the training and tests (and, of course, you might not).

Another way of looking at it is the pass rates, which I’ve mentioned elsewhere in this article. Your chance of failing is higher than your chance of passing. Don’t be misled by the recommendation of certain high-profile instructor trainers who claim to guarantee getting you through. If you’re not cut out for it you should not even try (and quite frankly, these trainers shouldn’t be trying to make you do so, though they are in it for the money like everyone else so you can’t really blame them of any wrongdoing).

How much does it cost to become an ADI?

It will vary from person to person. There are two main ways to go about the training.

If you do it by yourself (referred to as “pay-as-you-go”, or PAYG), Part 1 is something you can do in your spare time, and apart from the cost of the exam (£81 at the time of writing) and suitable training materials (say, around £30) it won’t cost much. Part 2 will almost certainly need professional tuition, which typically costs £30 or more per hour, and ten hours would cost around £300 plus the exam (£111). Finally, Part 3 is likely to require at least 40 hours of professional tuition (£1,200) plus the exam (£111). All that adds up to about £1,800 – though realistically, most people will require more training than what I’ve mentioned here, and will most likely need more than one attempt at one or more of the exams. A worst case scenario might see you paying closer to £3,000 on training – perhaps even more – and this PAYG approach is supposedly the cheaper way of doing it.

Alternatively, you can pay for a complete training package from a training company. This was how I did it many moons ago, and I have no real complaints other than for the fact that smaller training companies (as most were at the time) appear to have average lifespans similar to Mayflies (i.e. they often go out of business, like my original one did near the end of my training, and like dozens of others have since). These days, full packages typically cost around £2,500-£3,500. And don’t forget that however you train, if you qualify you’ll have to apply for your Green Badge, which currently costs £300.

Can you do it without paying any money except for the exams?

Unfortunately, yes, though it is a high risk path, since you’re even more likely to fail. However, some desperate people – very few, I might add – manage it.

Doing it this way says a lot about the person doing it. Their motivation and reasons for wanting to be ADIs. After all, if they are so short of money they can’t afford the training, becoming an instructor is hardly a good way of fixing the cash issue.

Should I train with a franchise or independently?

The choice is yours. There is absolutely no reason why a large driving school offering a training package should be any better or worse than an independent individual or small company doing the same or charging pay-as-you-go.

There most definitely are some cowboys around, and they can be solo trainers as much as larger training schools. The worst culprits seem to be outfits you’ve never heard of before, or solo trainers who have seen what they think is a way to make money by charging more to train ADIs than they could when they were teaching learners. An outfit offering ADI training whose cars you never see on the road should be given a wide berth (in my opinion) – if they haven’t got a lot of cars then they won’t be making much money, and they’re likely to disappear as soon as they came (or be reluctant to give you what you paid for in favour of taking on someone else with cash in their hand).

Large schools like RED, BSM, and The AA are not cowboy outfits – be very careful listening to people who tell you otherwise, since their “advice” tends to be tainted by their own experiences, which are usually a little biased. Becoming an ADI isn’t easy, and many people struggle with the exams. The last person they will ever blame is themselves – just for not being good enough – so they target their trainers instead. Since training packages tend to based around a set number of hours, struggling PDIs often find they need many more hours than originally intended by that package operator.

Do I need to use an ORDIT-registered trainer?

No, not at the time of writing. You don’t actually have to use any trainer at all. I think that the only condition is that whoever trains you must be an ADI if they are taking payment from you.

ORDIT stands for Official Register of Driving Instructor Training. It is fair to say that if your trainer is ORDIT-registered, then there is an increased likelihood that the training he or she delivers is of a high standard. However, it is absolutely no guarantee. Just as poor-quality ADIs can pass their tests and remain on the register of driving instructors, the same is true of instructor trainers on ORDIT.

DVSA hopes to make ORDIT registration compulsory in the future.

I’m not against ORDIT – it’s just that when I read the official DVSA guidelines I get flashbacks to my time in the rat race. You’d be forgiven for thinking that an ORDIT-registered trainer needs a building the size of a football field to store all the documentation he has to produce to get on – and stay on – the register in the first place. And since ORDIT cannot guarantee quality… well, it’s a bit of a case of the tail wagging the dog.

How did YOU do it?

After I lost my job, and decided that I was never going to work for anyone again, I started looking into teaching – something I’d been attracted to since I left school. As a chemist, science teachers were in very short supply, and it seemed like a possible way forward. However, it would have involved working “for” someone, and quite frankly I don’t think I could have handled modern day kids. Furthermore, it became apparent that teaching involves more bureaucracy than my previous job ever did, and since it was that bureaucracy that cost me my job to start with… I thought “no way”.

Then, I saw an advert in my local newspaper for becoming a driving instructor. I have always enjoyed driving, and the idea of being able to teach it was very appealing. I had an interview, signed up, and went from there. The company I trained with used to get a lot of bad press, but I only ever had one problem with them – when they went bust (as many do)! I finished off my training privately using the instructors who had been put out of work by the bankruptcy, and qualified about two years after I’d started.

I was fortunate. While I was training I was working as a consultant. For a short time, I was also a director of a company I set up with someone I used to work with through my old company to investigate a particular aspect of the work we were doing. When that finished, I did a stint in technical support for Dixons/PC World until I passed Part 3. This meant I could keep the wolves from the door.

So, I used a pay-up-front training package to become an ADI.

Training Packages are a rip-off

No they’re not. Some can be, but that’s true of many things. You have to remember that becoming an ADI is quite difficult, and as we’ve already seen, many trainees are really vastly out of their depth. The fact that they are struggling to learn is not automatically the fault of the trainer, and in such cases the trainee is likely to require (or want) much more training than they had originally hoped for. You are paying for the chance to become an instructor – it is a long, long way from being an automatic process of qualification, and failure is more likely than success.

Packages tend to be based on fixed numbers of training hours spaced out over a period of time, whereas the typical PDI (i.e trainee instructor) is likely to have it in their head that they want to qualify in a much shorter period than is being offered. Furthermore, just as people who fail their driving tests are more likely to blame the examiner or their instructor than themselves, so a PDI who isn’t getting what they want will usually blame their trainer or the school he is working for. And since they’ve usually invested their savings on the course, they are very vocal about it.

The quality of the tuition you receive is directly down to the instructor providing it – not the company he is working for. You can get good and bad instructors – or ones you just don’t work well with – whether they are delivering a full package through a school, or PAYG training on an independent basis. The school they are associated with is completely irrelevant under normal circumstances.

Complete training packages don’t work

Yes they do. Any problems are much more likely to be down to the candidate’s weaknesses than they are the trainer’s.

When I was training, my lessons were a mixture of one to one and two to one sessions. A one to one session might last between 2 and 4 hours, and a two to one would last 4 hours – two with me in the hot seat, and two with me watching someone else in it. Interaction between all parties was encouraged, so the times when you were watching were still part of the lesson. However, I remember at the time being struck by how unsuited some people obviously were – and it definitely wasn’t because the trainers were doing a bad job. They’d cancel lessons or just not turn up, and then start whining about how poor the company was when it couldn’t fit them in for another week or two.

Should I train with a local trainer on a PAYG basis?

There’s no inherent reason why you shouldn’t – it is as viable an option as the pay-up-front route I mentioned above. It isn’t something I have direct experience of myself, though I do know that you should be wary of those telling you it is cheaper than a full package. There’s a very good chance that it won’t be – that’s only true if you qualify in the shortest amount of time and pass all your exams first try. Many don’t, and then the PAYG costs start to ramp up, whereas the pay-up-front package was probably all-inclusive.

How do I know if I would be suitable?

Be honest with yourself. If you don’t like the idea of the training (which involves role-playing) with potentially tricky exams to pass, and a periodic check test/standards check (which is an exam you have to pass regularly in order to remain as an ADI), don’t like driving, or if you are nervous working face-to-face with people (to give just a few examples), there’s a good chance you won’t enjoy being an ADI – and that’s well over half way towards failing in the business once you get going. Don’t let the dream of earning big bucks cloud your judgement, because if you aren’t suitable – and yet still qualify – you’ll be lucky to earn £3,000 a year, let alone £30,000. All that money spent on training will be wasted.

One fairly common issue is that people fail Part 3 and then try to blame their trainer. I recently saw someone who was apparently on their 2nd attempt on their second pass through the qualifying process blaming their failure on their previous THREE trainers.  To me, this sounds a bit like following a recipe from a cook book – where everyone else who tries it gets it right – and arguing that the book must be wrong because every time you do it it goes tits up.

Some people – the vast majority of the population, in fact – are not cut out to be instructors. You should face the fact that you might be one of them.

Is now a good time to become an ADI?

Yes. We’ve just emerged from a recession and the Register has been thinned out again due to people going out of business as a result of that. As I said earlier, there are more pupils than there are instructors who can take them on. But make sure you read what I said about how hard it is to get work – just because there is work available doesn’t mean that you will be able to get it.

Also remember that more new ADIs qualify every day. At some point they will have mopped up all the surplus pupils looking for lessons, and then we’ll start the next price-cutting cycle and people will start going out of business again. There is also the prospect that we might return to recession.

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Microsoft OutlookI use Office and always have done. I like Microsoft, and see no reason to resort to using a hammer and small chisel to make cuneiform tablets for the purposes of communication just because I’m jealous of how big Microsoft is.

Anyway, yesterday I came home and discovered that a new Windows Insider update had come through, but the installation had failed. After re-booting, my system restored itself to the previous build, and I made a note to try the update later that evening. In the meantime, I checked my email, and deleted the stuff I didn’t want. It was then I discovered a stupid, drawn-out quacking sound each time I deleted a message. The problem – well, the change – was too recent for there to be any coherent information on Google.

In Outlook’s settings, there is nothing associated with sounds other than turning off the one you get when an email arrives. I’ve lived through the hell of that annoying chime every time an email arrives, and switched it off long ago. So I was stumped.

But then, the following day, and to add insult to injury, I found out that when I opened Excel and launched a spreadsheet, a new and very annoying sound had been added to that action, too.

Long story short. I disabled “Provide feedback with sound” in Excel’s Options >> Ease of Access panel, and that stopped Excel making noises. The big benefit was that this stopped Outlook doing it, too.

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Driving TestIn April, I reported that the driving test will change from 4 December 2017. I won’t go into the details again – you can read them in the earlier article – but DVSA has published the amended Show Me, Tell Me (SMTM) questions on the GOV.UK website that it plans to use from December (the questions which are currently in use are available here).

The only real difference to the SMTM questions is that, from December, some of them will be asked while the candidate is driving.

As an aside, I had someone on test recently, and the examiner asked him to show how he would clean the windscreen if it was dirty. My pupil duly operated the front washers, at which point the examiner added: “how about the back one?” Sneaky! He demonstrated it, but that’s one of the new questions.

Anyway, I have some misgivings about asking questions on the move, since they will require additional multitasking by the candidate. I’ve got more than a couple who have a job monotasking as it is. I think I mentioned this a while back, but one of my current lot has a ball stud in her upper lip, which she is wont to fiddle with while she’s driving (well, she doesn’t anymore, as a result of the story I’m about to relate). On one particular lesson, we were turning right at a mini-roundabout. Given that roundabouts are her main nemesis, and that she had applied almost full lock to turn right in this instance, you would think that, when the ball fell off her stud at the precise moment she needed to steer back into the target road, she would prioritise her steering and not, for example, a headlong dive into the foot well to try and catch the ball. I expected the first option. She chose the second. I think I screamed.

The one particular question that seems to be winding up a lot of instructors out there is the one about testing the horn. The current question, asked at the start of the test whilst stationary, is:

Show me how you would check that the horn is working

From December, it will be asked on the move, and will take the form:

When it’s safe to do so, can you show me how you’d operate the horn?

This is getting a lot of ADIs into a tizzy, because they don’t understand the Highway Code or associated rules properly.

The Highway Code says:

Rule 112

The horn. Use only while your vehicle is moving and you need to warn other road users of your presence. Never sound your horn aggressively. You MUST NOT use your horn

  • while stationary on the road
  • when driving in a built-up area between the hours of 11.30 pm and 7.00 am

except when another road user poses a danger.

Law CUR reg 99

Let’s clarify what this means. This is the only part covered by the MUST NOT (i.e. there is an actual law):

You MUST NOT use your horn

  • while stationary on the road
  • when driving in a built-up area between the hours of 11.30 pm and 7.00 am

except when another road user poses a danger.

I’ve actually seen someone quote that section minus the two bullet point conditions, and proffer it as evidence that DVSA is wrong. They’re actually suggesting that it says “You MUST NOT use your horn except when another vehicle poses a danger”. Sometimes, I’m almost at a loss for words – then I remember the blog, and I’m not anymore. That is not what it says, and it is not what it means. And the rest of Rule 112 is completely advisory.

A private car park, your driveway, your garage, etc. are not “on the road”. The test centre car park is not “on the road”. If it was, how on earth could you ever legally test the damned thing to see if it was working?

Now, if you look up CUR reg 99, the prohibited time period of 11.30-07.00 specifically refers to being “in motion” and on a “restricted road” (i.e one which has anything other than NSL assigned to it). So you are not breaking any law if you sound the horn on your driveway, etc. during that time period (or if you’re on an NSL road). You’d be a complete arsehole if you did it needlessly, but you are not breaking this law or Rule 112. There is absolutely nothing in CUR reg 99 or Rule 112 which says you can’t test the horn while you are driving during the day, or if you’re on your driveway, in your garage, or in a private car park – at any time. Common sense dictates that you shouldn’t do it if it going to confuse or annoy people, and although it is frowned upon to use the horn “aggressively”, even this does not go against CUR reg 99 or Rule 112 as far as any laws go.

What it boils down to is that examiners are not going to be doing anything wrong if they ask candidates to demonstrate the horn safely on their tests whilst driving along. The SMTM wording doesn’t state explicitly that the horn has to actually be sounded, either. It says “show me how” – and that could easily amount to a miming action, which most pupils seem to go for by default when asked, in my experience (even if they sound it, they do it as though it is going to bite them and it gets a brief “pap”). After 4 December, if someone tries to test it by giving it a 10-second burst, that would reflect very badly on their instructor in my opinion, as it already appears that some are preparing to make these changes as painful as possible to everyone concerned in order to register their protest.

All of mine are going to be taught as follows when we cover this:

If the examiner asks you to show him how you would test the horn, I want you to explain how you would do it and point to the bit of the steering wheel you would push. Ask him if he’d like you to actually do it. If he says yes, give it a quick toot if you think it’s safe to do it. DON’T do it on a bend, at a junction, or while there are pedestrians and other cars around.

And we will practice that during lessons, as we will the other on-the-move questions.

I think the problem with some ADIs out there is that they have been conditioned over many years of misunderstanding the rules to believe DVSA is breaking the law. Newer ADIs are naïve, eager to jump on the anti-DVSA bandwagon, and were probably trained by people who have these misunderstandings to start with, thus perpetuating the confusion. It would make life a whole lot simpler if they all just acknowledged their error and got on with the job instead of trying to defend the indefensible.

Remember the KISS principle. If it was absolutely forbidden to use the horn on the move, the rules would state this explicitly and unambiguously. They do not do so.

As I said earlier, I have misgivings about these SMTM changes just because I know that some of my pupils – past and present – would likely try to drive into a field as they shifted their entire focus from the road to the switch, dial, or button in question (some of them even try that when they see another vehicle, a dog or cat, a pigeon, or some other distraction for too long). I’m worried – perhaps needlessly – that some are potentially flaky enough to fall back to that when under pressure (and I’ve been proven wrong on many occasions, so it’s probably me). On the other hand, it provides a valuable teaching topic on lessons to make them able to do it properly.

Looking at it pragmatically, if someone can’t drive and operate the very controls they will need in the circumstances they will likely encounter when they pass their tests, they shouldn’t be on the roads. If they can’t do it safely on their tests after December, they won’t be. And that’s good.

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I originally wrote this in 2015 and updated it in mid-2016. It has been popular again recently as a result of the Wannacry and Petya/NotPetya outbreaks.


I upgraded to Windows 10 [2014], and I haven’t regretted it for a moment. The only drawback to Microsoft’s “free upgrade” at that time was that you didn’t get an installation disk (though you can make your own), and it was just that: an upgrade. Hard disk internal view

I have been building my own computers for the last 15 years or so, and I like them running in tip-top condition. Windows has always suffered from what is known as “OS decay” (also called “software rot” and “Windows rot”). The simple fact is that ALL software is liable to degrade over time, and it isn’t just a Windows issue, and what happens is that all the juggling of files, upgrading, installing and uninstalling, software bugs, crashes, and so on, can cause a lot of small changes on a computer. Over time these may accumulate to such a level that the system becomes slow or unstable, and the only sensible way around it is to format your hard drive and do an absolutely clean install of Windows, followed by all your other drivers and software. Absolutely the last thing you want to be doing is upgrading a system which is already in bad shape. But that’s pretty much what you had to do with Windows 10 in order to take up the free offer.

I’ve done clean installs so many times on my own machines (and those of others, including over the phone when I worked in tech support) that I can usually do a format and have a clean machine running in a few hours. I have all my software’s installation files saved along with my software keys, which I just cut and paste as and when I need them. It sounds easy, but even when it’s your own system and you know what you’re doing, it’s still a bloody nuisance. You lose anything you haven’t backed up, and no matter how careful you are there’s always something you forget or misplace. I’ve never been 100% happy with doing it this way. It’s a right pain in the arse.

In the past I’ve toyed with using disk imaging software. The idea behind this is that you can effectively take a snapshot of your hard drive – with Windows and all your software on it – save it, and then copy it back (re-image) on to your disk at some point in the future if you need to. Each time you restore a saved image snapshot, you end up with a system which is in exactly the same condition it was in when you took the snapshot.

For some years I used Paragon software for creating backup images of my Windows installations. On paper, Paragon’s program was very good, but in all honesty it was the absolute pits when it came to doing an actual restore. It wasn’t at all user friendly, which is why I’ve tended to go for clean installs. But with Windows 10 initially being an upgrade rather than a standalone install, I decided that I really did need a proper disk imaging system once and for all.Macrium Reflect

After a bit of research, I found Macrium Reflect. It is available as a free version, and installs in a few seconds. I can’t believe I mucked about with Paragon for so long. I have since upgraded to the Pro version of Reflect.

When you first run Reflect it nags you to create bootable rescue disk (the Pro version also allows you to create a bootable USB stick), which you need in order to restore an image. Creating the rescue disk is very simple, and once you’ve done it you’re free to create your main image.

With my initial Windows 10 upgrade, what I did was this:

  • backed up all my important stuff (photos, documents, emails, etc.) to separate hard drives
  • ran the Windows 10 upgrade in order to activate my free licence
  • did a clean install of Windows 10 (which you can do once you have the licence)
  • installed my drivers
  • created a Reflect image of that system (“clean image”)

Then I installed all my software, activated it, and created another image (“clean working image”).

Periodically, I create a rolling image of my system as it stands at the time. If anything goes wrong in the short term I can restore that, but more serious issues might require me to use one of the previous two images.

A good example of needing to re-image my system stems from my participation in the Windows Insider Program. Due to a couple of cranky Insider builds, I decided I wanted a clean install. All I had to do was export my Outlook files (my other personal files are not stored on the C drive), then run the Macrium restore. It took about 5 minutes and I had a fully operational clean install from the “clean working image”. I then reinstalled any software I’d purchased since that image was made, and that was it.

Macrium Reflect is perfect anyone who wants to create a safe backup of their system. Just remember that you need somewhere to store your image files. My system has 8TB of storage across seven HDDs, but if you only have single HDD you’re going to need at least 20GB free space to create an image.

Doesn’t Windows’ own backup keep my files safe from Wannacry?

No. Windows backs up your personal files, not itself. If you get a virus, this will infect Windows and probably all your backed up files anyway.

Is a disk image safe from Wannacry?

As long as the image is clean (i.e. you didn’t have the virus already on it) then the image itself is safe to use. However, it would not be wise to keep the image on a networked drive where any virus could get at it. In the case of Wannacry, it encrypts everything – and I assume this would include .ISO images and anything else it found.

My images are stored in the cloud, and on spare hard drives and USB devices.

Why is imaging better than a full reinstall?

My own opinion is that it is a pain having to start from scratch with all your software when you do a full reinstall, whereas restoring an image yields a 100% functional system (or one that is close to 100% if you installed software after you made the image).

Bear in mind that a Windows installation DVD is about 4.7GB maximum capacity. A clean image of your hard drive following a clean reinstall will typically be about 20GB (over 5 DVDs). My clean working image is about 60GB (15 DVDs). Since DVDs can get scratched and become unreadable (especially ones you burn yourself), that method of storage is unreliable (in my opinion and experience).

You need to allow for these file sizes when you are backing up.

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Grenfell TowerFollowing the Grenfell Tower Fire, everybody has gone nuts about fires and flats. It’s understandable and – as long as we don’t overdo it – completely sensible.

And then I saw this post on the local BBC website. I’ll copy the text, since there’s no specific link to the actual post:

Fire extinguishers ‘go missing’ from Nottingham tower block

Fire extinguishers at a Nottingham tower block have gone missing from all the floors – sparking concerns over safety.

One Manvers Court resident told the BBC they are worried in the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire – which claimed the lives of at least 79 people.

The Sneinton resident said: “All the fire extinguishers have gone missing from all the floors… there used to be fire extinguishers all the way up on every floor but they have all gone now.”

Up to this point, I assumed it must be vandals (if you know Sneinton, you’ll understand). But the BBC contacted Nottingham City Homes and got a response:

When asked by the BBC why some blocks no longer had fire extinguishers, Nottingham City Homes chief executive Nick Murphy said: “Each of our tower blocks has a current fire risk assessment, this makes sure we have identified all the fire risks in the block and that we have got measures to reduce those fire risks and we do that on the advice of Nottinghamshire Fire and Rescue Service.

“In previous fire risk assessments, Nottinghamshire Fire and Rescue Service has said leave putting out fires to the professionals.”

The bit at the bottom has been emboldened by me.

Maybe I’m jumping to conclusions here, but this seems to say that the Nottinghamshire Fire and Rescue Service (NFRS) has either said – or been misinterpreted as saying by Nottingham City Homes – that fire extinguishers should be removed because putting fires out is their job.

I can see this one running and running.

The cynical (but fairly knowledgeable on the subject) part of me is also shouting that fire extinguisher supply and maintenance costs money. Conversely, not having or maintaining them doesn’t cost any money at all. Frighteningly, it is quite possible that NFRS has said that extinguishers aren’t needed if they have carried out a fire risk assessment and drawn that conclusion. The only concrete law is that if you have them, they must be regularly maintained. No law says you have to have them.

I reckon a week – fortnight, tops – and there’ll be fire extinguishers back where they should be.

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