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Are 'National Standards' appropriate for post-test training?
Back in 1996, after some personally disappointing experience with the local IAM group, and having been tasked with putting an advanced training course together at the basic training school where I was working (my instructions were: "just take him out for a nice ride and give him a few tips, he'll be happy"), I decided there was an opportunity. With little advanced training on offer outside of the IAM and few basic training schools showing any interest in following up a test success, I felt there was an opening for an advanced training school that focused on areas other than progress and carefully structured its training. And that - very VERY briefly and cutting short hundreds of hours of preparation - is how Survival Skills was born.
Now, let's fast-forward to the early 2000s. Rumours began to circulate that the DSA were looking at launching a standard for post-test trainers and bringing in a compulsory syllabus along the lines of CBT. Now, let's fast-forward to the early 2000s. Rumours began to circulate that the DSA were looking at launching a standard for post-test trainers and bringing in a compulsory syllabus along the lines of CBT.
Not surprisingly, it kicked off a fairly vigorous debate. In the industry magazine, one RoADA instructor wrote in and claimed: "of course we bike instructors should be controlled by a register to ensure a recognised national standard is maintained at all times. RoSPA could be a candidate to become the controlling body, and be completely independent".
What if you don't happen to like the rather dubious connection of RoADA - the road safety arm - and the parent organisation which at the time was pushing hard for speed limiters, knee protectors, high level brake lights and various other "save you from yourself" ideas for bikes?
But aside from the political angle, I could just see what was coming next: "most of the RoSPA staff involved in advanced training courses are ex Police Advanced Instructors... more than capable of ensuring the highest of standards are maintained in a uniform (sic) manner".
Hmmm. Ex-instructors? Or ex-police? There's a difference.
But who decided 'Roadcraft' and the police syllabus is actually appropriate to all riders? What about new techniques and new ideas from training schemes from other countries (I've adopted ideas from Australia and the US)? What about elements we can learn from other areas of motorcycling such as off-road and track skills?
And most importantly, what happens if essential areas are left out?
Try finding anything at all about steering in CBT, or any meaningful in but the very latest edition of 'Roadcraft'? Counter-steering only appeared very, very recently.
And what about 'client-centered' training?
The point is that training to the standard of the DVSA motorcycle test actually produces a surprisingly good level of riding, provided the training is carried out well. Advanced riding schools have a vested interest in denying that, but I trained over two thousand riders to test standard and I still see the output from basic training schools when I take on a newly qualified rider. That's not to say a good advanced course won't improve the knowledge and skills of anyone without post-test training. But given a decent starting point, in the vast majority of cases, the training will need to be targeted towards a specific area, not across the board.
Does a standard syllabus suit the London commuter on a scooter, the two-up tourer heading for the Alps, or the sportsbike rider out for the day on a group ride? What about the experienced urban rider who wants to learn to ride bends, or the ride for fun biker who has decided to commute to the city centre?
Does everyone the same level of experience to benefit from a standard syllabus? Every year on my Survival Skills advanced motorcycle riding courses, I train riders who have just started their path into biking with a brand-new licence, I have riders making a comeback to biking after a lay-off, I have riders seeking a solution to a confidence issue after a scare or a crash, riders who have changed bike and finding it more difficult they they expected...
...and of course, I have experienced riders just wanting to learn more about riding. Although there are areas of commonality across all the variations, I cannot simply teach the same syllabus to everyone and expect positive results.
CBT is a good example of how a standard syllabus can be a limitation rather than a plus. It may have to be delivered to a complete novice, to someone who hasn't ridden for a few years and never gained a licence, or a 'professional learner' who has no need to move beyond a 125 and sees no point in taking a bike test. Whilst the idea of the rigid syllabus that lays down what has to be covered, and the order in which it's presented to the trainee is to ensure that no corners are cut and everything is delivered in a logical order, it's still inflexible, despite the DVSA's latest directive to instructors to make it 'client-centred'. Whilst it's easy enough to hurry along through some areas, the trainer has little flexibility when riders have problems with particular areas. For example, many novices struggle with the Figure 8 exercise. If the syllabus could be applied flexibly, it would make sense to move on to other parts of the course and come back to the Figure 8 after a break. But the rules say that the CBT instructor "MUST NOT MOVE ON to the next module unless all parts of the previous module have been satisfactorily completed".
The Register of Post-test Motorcycle Trainers - the RPMT - duly appeared. I looked into joining. It turned out I qualified via two routes:
- my existing Direct Access 'card' was sufficient to join
- I also qualified via 'grandfather rights' after I presented evidence I was already active as a post-test trainer
All I had to do (aside from handing over a fat cheque) was take a double length theory test, two short assessments - one a short riding test and another of instructional ability, and that was it. I'd be on the RPMT.
Another route on was to be a qualified police motorcyclist. In essence, a police biker with no prior experience of bike training could qualify just by taking those assessments. The same applied to a DAS instructor, although at least they would understand the fundamentals of training, they might have zero knowledge of advanced training yet could teach it immediately.
What I was not happy about was that my externally moderated and totally independent BTEC in post-test motorcycle training, something I'd worked hard to gain a few years earlier, was NOT on the accepted access routes (despite the organisers attempts to have it included as an access route).
At much the same time, the syllabus appeared too for the Enhanced Rider Scheme - the ERS. Only RPMT members could deliver it. Although the syllabus was eventually kept under wraps until a trainer had joined the RPMT, I soon got hold of a bootleg copy and found that much of it seemed to be a re-hash of CBT - there were elements discussing licences, and helmets and clothing for example. Given that this was supposed to be a route forward after passing the bike test, much of it seemed a step back. At best, I thought the ERS was 'Direct Access Plus' rather than any kind of 'advanced' course.
Anyway, to cut a long story short, the cheque remained unsigned and I did not join the RPMT.
Now, here's the irony. At basic test level, there is NO syllabus. The DVSA's 'Essential Skills' handbook is offered as a guide, but it's no more than that. Nothing stops an instructor changing the content or order of training. The trainer is free to focus on weak areas, or use whatever techniques work to achieve the required result - a test pass. Of course, DAS trainers are assessed as 'fit for purpose' and an instructor continually presenting candidates unfit for the test will soon attract the DVSA's attention, but everything else is left to the trainer to decide.
So what's the latest? The DVSA have been putting considerable resources into relaunching the ERS, and many basic training schools now advertise it as 'advanced training'. But ask yourself... is it?
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