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It's that age old debate - do you pay for a brand name and pay through the nose, or do you opt for a local firm who may be cheaper??
This was the problem I faced 2 years ago when considering which driving school to use.
Having shopped around for an instructor my nerves eventually pushed me in the direction of the AA, as I was aware of the size of their driving school and had confidence in their brand name.
I had already passed my theory test - so only used them for the practical lessons.
Where do you start?
An initial phonecall to a central call centre on 0800 587 0087 meant that my details were taken over the phone and my first lession was set up there and then with a local AA insructor (based on my postcode) the following weekend. I did not even have to contact the instructor - he would simply turn up at the arranged time!
You can either pay for a course of lessons (in any multiples you want e.g 6 , 12 etc.) and receive a small discount (£2 per hour) for "block booking" 12 lessons at a time or pay as you go (very handy if you run out of cash before payday!) You receive a starter pack which gives you free AA membership for one year.
You may think that's pointless, as without a licence you wouldn't need membership but it's handy if your in another car as a passenger and it breaks down as it's you and not the car that has the membership. Very handy if your mate drives an old banger and breaks down on the M25!
I was surprised to find out that each lesson last 2 hours, so be prepared to pay for 2 one hour lessons at a time (£16 per hour). the reason for this is give you a concentrated lesson where you can drive and practice the manouvres for the test).
So - was it money well spent???
The answer is a resounding YES.
For my first lesson - the instructor arrived in a brand new Ford Focus 1.6 Zetec (sports model) or Ghia (very comfortable and easy to drive) with dual controls ( which means they can brake if you forget to!). The AA instructors receive new replacement cars every 6 months - so you are guaranteed to learn in a car that's new and more importantly safe!
He went through my level of ability before even turning the engine on the assess where to begon. As I had had a few lessons with a family member - he pitched the lesson perfectly to my level of ability.
The instructor provided me with a progress chart which was broken down into sections such as "reverse around a corner" and "hill sarts." This was great as it meant that I could track my progress as the weeks went by. The instructor kept a similar record, so once I had mastered one skill he would focus my lessons on the areas where I needed to improve (making every minute of the lesson count.)
He also tailored the lessons to the skills I needed to master for the test. He told me exactly what the examiner would be looking for and alhtough you can't predict exactly what the examiner will ask you to do on the day - my instructor was almost 100% spot on.
I even had to do a "mock test" before the instructor booked my actual test date, to make sure I was ready and to let me have have a "dry run" before the test.
I have to say that my instructor (despite my awful reverse parking) stuck wth me and was very patient and calm. Rather than crticising what I did wrong, he focsed on how I could improve in a positive way. The fact that he had confidence in me made me think that I could pass!
So, the day of the test arrived after 4 months and my instructor was very supportive and calm. As I was a bag of nerves, this made a huge difference.
After 45 stressful minutes - the test went just how the instructor had predicted and..........................................................................
There were 4 other people who had arrived with instructors from local schools on the day of the test and only one of them passed. Also, several of my friends who failed the first time changed to the AA and passed on their second attempt, saying the service was better than the schoools they'd had before.
Overall , the AA lived up to the promise of being a good driving school. As all instructors are monitored and assessed there is a UK wide standard, which is reassuring.
There is never any guarantee that you'll pass (if you don't know your accelerator from your brake - even a good instructor will have difficulty. Remember - miracles are not one of the AA 's services!)
But - if you are about to crack open your L-Plates, I would strongly recommend the AA to improve your chances of passing!