In theory, we could do this better

Carly Brookfield wonders why the theory test isn't keeping up with demand and the times.

On 25 January, amid a crisis in driver and rider testing of all kinds, DVSA announced new theory test contracts. There’s a new partner with Reed in Partnership, but Pearson VUE still holds part of the contract. We’ve been promised the changes will not affect the typical candidate experience or test content, but it may look and feel slightly different.

As the contract has been awarded to more than one company the location of many theory test centres will change. There are currently 160 theory test centres across the UK – all costly locations with costly resources to manage within them. It’s a physical process to take the test – yet at the heart of it the test itself is a digital resource. This means it could theoretically be delivered anywhere, including in a candidate’s own home. Because it is a physical service, it’s currently suspended, causing a massive backlog, and a tonne of expiring certificates. 

Before COVID showed us how much we could deliver digitally and how quickly we could adapt to working online, DIA was already asking why the theory test was still delivered in such a resource intensive way. We’ve queried why dedicated premises were needed, and why places like municipal libraries were not considered, with one in nearly every town and village, an ICT infrastructure and personnel already in place who are used to keeping an eagle eye out for those trying to break the rules. 

Now I’ve even changed my mind about having a physical location at all. The issue of a lack of theory test delivery throughout the pandemic does lead one to ask why we can’t expedite what was in DVSA’s future plans for the theory test and take it totally online. 

Many examining and accrediting bodies across the globe have harnessed technology to enable them to deliver certification and qualifications online, august professional bodies like the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants among them, who now conduct all exams for their professional qualifications online. This was before COVID made it even more important to consider the risks inherent in the physical delivery of services. The advent of online proctoring (a product that Pearson Vue interestingly offers to clients) means old arguments around security and fraud concerns can be challenged. Such platforms can allow you to take your assessment securely from your home or office. 

When asked why DVSA is not expediting plans for taking the theory test totally online the risk of fraud is flagged, yet the figures of how much fraud occurs are based on the current delivery in physical test centres (in 2019/20 there were 848 reports of impersonation and 319 technology assisted frauds) and this appears to be a greater level of fraud than that which institutions using online proctoring solutions are experiencing.  

The other issue raised is of connectivity, given that the HPT clips demand a high level of resolution and consistent broadband connectivity. But with these issues being resolved in many parts of the country with more fibre installation and better broadband packages more widely available, and several ways of making the HPT element more accessible via remote access, this too shouldn’t be an insurmountable barrier, nor a reason not to evolve test delivery. 

So, as we as an industry continue to demand an extension to the theory test certificate, why don’t we also continue to ask why not a wholly remote delivery of the theory test – which would meet the challenges of this pandemic, and future proof the test overall?

DIA CEO Carly Brookfield has over 18 years‘ experience in senior management helping to develop and promote both private and public sector bodies including professional membership and industry bodies in the medical, education and financial services arena. She is also an experienced campaigner and lobbyist on road safety issues and a member of the DfT’s Road Safety Delivery Group and a board member of the research and knowledge hub The Road Safety Observatory.

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