I just saw the biggest load of nonsense on a web forum. Someone has made the statement that independent instructors charge more than those who are franchised to a school, and that independents don’t offer block booking discounts, whereas the schools do. Others have added that this is because independent instructors are “more experienced” and “better qualified”.
Regular readers will know that I am strongly pro-franchise when it comes to advising those who are just starting out about which path to take. I’m also pro-fact, so let’s see if we can find some.
It has been reported in the driver training media several times before that independent instructors typically charge at least £1 per hour less than the large national schools do. AutoExpress referred to it in 2017, and nothing has changed. Indeed, if I Google for driving lesson prices right now in the Nottingham area, I find the following examples from independent instructors (other than me):
- £28 per hour, £26 per hour for 10x block, introductory offer £10 per hour for 4x block
- £25 per hour, £23 per hour for 10x block
- £26 per hour, £25.50 per hour for 10x block
- £27 per hour, £25 per hour for 10x block
- £22 per hour, but also offers student discount
- £25 per hour, £24 per hour for 10x block
- £27 per hour, £26 per hour for 10x block, £25 per hour student rate
- £25 per hour, £24 per hour for 10x block, introductory offer £14 per hour for 4x block
Remember that at least half of pupils will likely be taking the block booking option, so the actual rate being charged is about half way (at best) between the standard hourly rate and the pro rata rate for block booking. It will be lower if a lot of students are on the books and a student discount is offered. And for those who make “introductory” offers, it will be lower still. And although these figures are specific to Nottingham, the same relationship between standard rate and actual rate applies across the country.
Take that first (and last) example. Charging £28 an hour means you must be £1 an hour more brilliant than the national schools according to that original comment, and that’s definitely worth boasting about on the forums. Except that a pupil who takes, let’s say, 34 hours to pass their test will pay for three block bookings and that introductory offer. The average hourly rate paid by that pupil is therefore £24.12 per hour, and that’s £3 less than the big national schools! The last example works out to £22.82 per hour on the same basis, which is more than £4 less. This is simple maths, but the people who make these silly claims haven’t got a clue, and they believe what they say. They genuinely believe that someone who buys a block with a 10% discount is actually paying full price!
These easily-obtained examples (I just picked the first few from a list of hundreds) show that the real lesson price – the one they actually pocket – for independents is at least £1 lower than the large national schools, even for those with the highest stated standard hourly rates. Yes, there are one or two who appear to have high prices and no substantial discounts, but I note that they also have glittery, sign-written cars plastered across expensive-looking websites. That’s strange, since I never see them out on the roads or at the test centres, and after another 12 months probably won’t even see them on the internet – though right now they’re probably making daft claims on forums about how great they are. Because that’s how the cycle goes. And yet some ADIs still believe that they are charging top dollar, even though they’re not.
The other thing is that these instructors have been foolish enough to put themselves at the mercy of the Google review system, most likely because they initially saw it as a free advertising medium. So in spite of their alleged outstanding “experience and expertise” – as claimed on that forum – many of them have a rating of three stars or less, often from a single review by someone they pissed off – probably as a result of doing what many instructors specialise in doing no matter what they have written on the sides of their cars. Namely, letting someone down. And that means they aren’t any better or more professional than anyone else.
So, there we have some facts. On average, independent instructors do not charge more than the national schools. They actually charge less. They most certainly do offer a bewildering array of discounts. And there is absolutely no evidence that they have better skills, qualifications, or professionalism – we all pass the same tests, after all.
For the record, my current lesson rate is £26.50 per hour (£1 less than the national school rate here), and I discount it to £24.50 per hour for block bookings of ten hours. I have a full diary, about half of which is taken by block-booked lessons. Someone who didn’t have the work might well be tempted to start making offers that attracted some, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. But if they then convince themselves that they’re still charging the full price, when they’re really discounting by almost 10%, they’re going to be looking for salaried employment again very soon.