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Can riding assessments be reduced to yes/no tickboxes?

Whilst at a mate’s place yesterday I idly picked up a back copy of a bike magazine and read a story about a new kind of riding assessment.

The article starts by explaining that advanced training usually measures what’s wrong then fixes it. Well, that might be true of my ‘Creaky Rider’ and ‘Confidence Builder’ courses but it’s far from correct when my other courses are concerned – they have a carefully constructed syllabus through which the trainee works step by step, ensuring that there are no missed opportunities for improving skills.

Anyway, moving on, it turned out that a school in the West Midlands has developed a new system for rider assessment. The idea is that by using fixed routes and marking riders on “known actions at certain times such as signalling, choosing when to pull out, giving a lifesaver glance over the shoulder, etc.”

Thus by having a fixed schedule of things the rider should or shouldn’t do, the rider will be given a measurable score on how well they are riding which is consistant and comparable regardless of who assesses the ride and who performs the ride. By being re-assessed, a rider can then measure the effectiveness of any training or self-practice. They also say that with a ‘yes/no’ assessment system then the feedback to the trainee will be objective and not open to argument.

Nice idea in theory!

In reality it throws up a whole can of worms.

For starters, who decides what the ‘correct’ action at any one point actually is? It’s still the subjective viewpoint of whoever devised the course and passed on the assessment criteria to the assessor running the assessment, even if it takes out the variability of the actual assessment by different individual, a criticism that’s been thrown at the IAM for a long time. There are plenty of areas where I disagree with what are almost regarded as ‘rules’ by the advocates of ‘Roadcraft’ so there’s no guarantee that a different instructor from a different background would actually make the same choices in terms of what a rider should achieve. And let’s be frank; personally I think that’s no bad thing, if it avoids the issue of a too-rigid syllabus that’s not open to interpretation by the instructor.

There’s also a danger in reducing riding “to numbers”. It’s a criticism often aimed at the DSA test, where there are a few “must / must not do” actions that tick boxes on the report, the most obvious one being a lifesaver. The trouble is that just performing a lifesaver doesn’t mean a manoeuvre is safe – I took a very experienced rider out round my own carefully designed assessment route and he performed a lifesaver on a right turn at a very awkward junction where you really need your FULL attention focussed on oncoming traffic because you only get to see it at the very last moment. Given that the main road goes sharp left, being overtaken at this point is next to impossible at that particular junction, and the lifesaver is almost totally redundant.

Finally do I really want a trainee who accepts my own judgement without argument? Well, actually I don’t. I want them to argue the toss with me, because then it shows they’re thinking about their riding, and it also gives me the opening to guide their thinking through a creative discussion if I believe they are wrong. OK, I understand this is an assessment and not training, but if we tell someone they’re wrong without giving them an opportunity to discuss it, then the instructor performing the assessment has missed an opportunity for learning by the person being assessed.

Hopefully the system can, as the article suggests, be applied flexibly and constructively, but one thing I’ve learned by riding for as long as I have and training for half that time, is that there are very few black and white areas in motorcycling, but lots of shades of grey. And it’s very difficult to apply tickboxes to shades of grey!

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