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Instructors Mike McGann and Craig Spivey. JONATHAN WELCH

Jonathan Welch pays a visit to Stagecoach Manchester to find out about its comprehensive driver training regime

Training. It’s a word that usually strikes dread into those of us who have been in the industry for any length of time, as in the majority of cases, it means a driver CPC course. And we all know that they can sometimes end up being a little on the dry side. From that perspective, it’s easy to forget how many of us started our careers in the world of coaches and buses; the driving test.

Whilst ongoing professional training and development is important for drivers and other staff alike, the importance of that initial period of training is often overlooked. I paid a visit to Stagecoach in Manchester to meet some of the training academy team based at its Hyde Road depot and find out how it tackles driver recruitment, initial and ongoing training.

Stagecoach has 22 driving instructors based in Manchester, who are responsible for everything from driver training, CPC courses and ongoing overt and covert driver assessments and remedial training, which can be targeted following an incident or at random. I was introduced to training instructors Mike McGann and Craig Spivey who showed me around the depot’s facilities and training fleet.

Initial impressions

Thinking back to my own training days, I saw a lot of similarities with the instructors at Stagecoach Manchester. The old saying of first impressions count is often true, and as soon as I was introduced to Mike and Craig, I knew this was going to be not just an informative visit, but a fun one. After a quick introductory chat with some of the team in the office and the obligatory group photo, Mike and Craig showed me around the facilities while we chatted about the day-to-day operations of the driving school.


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We started off in the first training room, equipped with a suite of computers which, Mike explained, are mostly used during recruitment for basic maths and English tests before applicants are given a drink and drugs screen, after which they undertake a short test drive in one of the company’s pool cars to check basic roadcraft and competency. Mike highlighted that it’s surprisingly easy for applicants to fail the drugs test if they are on certain medications, and re-iterated the importance of for drivers of making sure line managers are aware of any medications they may be using. “It’s important to tell us, because if a driver is asked to do a random drugs test and it shows up, then there’s a record to explain it,” Mike said.

Speaking about pre-employment testing, Mike added: “English and maths are important, especially English, as our drivers need to be able to communicate well with our customers. We employ a lot of non-native English speakers.”

Besides the usual training requirements, the training academy also has to adapt to the quick-changing nature of the bus scene in Manchester as a result of the introduction of franchising; Stagecoach has gained Oldham and Queens Road depots, and will need to factor those into its plans, including the uncertainty of whether drivers will choose to stay at the depot under a new employer or move to remain with their current employer. The start of that process has already begun in Bolton and Wigan with the transfer of depots to Go North West, the current incumbent at Queens Road.

Indeed, for a period in early 2024, Stagecoach will have its newly-inherited depots plus its current ones, bringing even more recruitment and training challenges. “It’ll take a while for everything to settle down,” Mike noted, his positive, ‘can-do’ attitude seemingly unfazed by the task to come.

From left: Training instructors Steve Bowe and Craig Spivey, Interim Training Manager Dawn Findlay, Recruitment Co-ordinator Susanna Coleman, and training instructors Michael McGann and Martin Riley. JONATHAN WELCH


Moving along, we dropped in on one class of trainees in another training room, interrupting the session to grab a quick photo, before Mike explained that they were on a two-day introductory course for new starters. We’d dropped in during their ticket machine training.

“We don’t just tell them how the machines work, we try and create scenarios to get them used to what they might encounter out on the road; everything from Mr Angry to kids trying to pull the ticket before it’s finished printing or dog tickets. We try and make it fun. If they’re enjoying the course, they’re more likely to learn and remember it. When a driver is out on their own, It can be quite stressful to remember all of the ticket types,” he said.

“We like to make it interactive,” agreed Craig. “And we remind them that learning never stops. They can always ask another driver in the canteen or come and see us if there’s something they’re not sure of.”

Passing through the canteen – tea and coffee always available of course – we bumped into three more trainees on a break after some driving practice. A brief chat revealed that they were enjoying the training so far, an opinion which, despite the presence of the two driving instructors, was clearly genuinely given; not for the last time today, I got the impression that this really was a well-run department in which instructors and trainees managed to strike a great balance between professional and friendly.

Passing the drivers’ quiet room, Craig pointed out the social section, which organises events such as days out or Christmas parties for children and such like. “We have a quiet room where drivers can relax on split shifts, and the social section is great for new people coming in too, as it helps them to get to know people and feel a part of the company,” he added.

In the classroom: new drivers discuss the importance of incident reporting. JONATHAN WELCH

Theory & practice

Next we arrived at the theory test room. New drivers are given the resources to familiarise themselves with the theory and hazard perception test before they start, and then have three days of classroom training before they sit that part of the driving test. Moving on to the practical test, Mike noted that although there had been some highly-publicised delays in obtaining licences, that was all now in the past and few problems are now being encountered with the DVLA.

For drivers who pass their tests first time, the training schedule lasts around six weeks, with trainees paid from day one of course.

Our next port of call was to see delegated driving examiner Glynn Carter. “I carry out all of the driving tests, theory, hazard perception, multiple choice, and the driving test itself,” he explained. “I’ve carried out just over 1,400 tests in around five years as a driving examiner. I’ve been with the company for 36 years. I started as a driver at Princess Road for nine years, then spent 21 years as a driving instructor.

“I love it, I really enjoy the job. I’m fully approved by the DVSA, they carry out assessments on me. I do on average 35 driving tests a month as well as all of the other tests. If you were waiting for tests at a DVSA site, it could be months. The beauty of being a delegated examiner is that if I have time, I can fit in a test when it’s needed.”

“Glynn knows everything,” added Mike. “If we have a question, we can come and speak to him. It’s very handy having him on-site. It makes it much easier to arrange tests. Some drivers can be ready for it after 16 hours of training. Some might need 30. There’s never any pressure to sit the test before they’re ready to.”

Second chance

Is there a second chance, I wondered, for those who don’t pass? “It depends on why they’ve failed. Sometimes it’s not for everybody,” Glynn explained. “If they fail the first one for a major fault, and then make a dangerous fault on the second, maybe it’s not for them. But often it’s just minor faults, so we’ll look at each case and decide what’s best.”

I asked Glynn, Mike and Craig their thoughts on the current testing regime. “From our side, I think it’s good,” said Glynn. “We’re looking at upgrading to digital driving test reports here now too, instead of the paper forms, which will be even better. The hazard perception test is a lot better than it used to be too, the clips have improved a lot.”

Speaking about CPC courses, Mike reflected that for Stagecoach, as for the wider industry, it has both rewards and practical challenges. “It’s an expensive process, and when the industry is struggling nationwide for drivers it can be difficult to release them from their duties for CPC training, but a driver can’t drive without it,” he noted. “Like for a lot of other operators, the pandemic created a backlog for us; for lots of people who had a CPC before Covid-19, September is when they ran out, so we’ve had to make sure we caught up and had everyone through before then.

“We’ve got eight different courses running just now, including ones on safety procedures, disability awareness, inclusivity and eco-driving. Most of our training is done here but we also have classrooms over at our Sharston depot.”

A group of trainees arrives back at the depot after a morning of driving practice. JONATHAN WELCH

Training fleet

After our tour of the depot facilities, we drifted into the kind of chat that always happens when bus people come together, sharing experiences good and bad as we headed out into the depot to have a look at some of the training buses. At the time of my visit, the training fleet was in the process of changing. The previous generation of specially-liveried Alexander ALX400-bodied Dennis Tridents is on its way out, in favour of the much more instructor-friendly ALX300 and Enviro300 single-deckers; as Mike and Craig pointed out, the lack of staircase makes for a much better view for the instructor and for other trainees seated in the saloon.

I joined Mike, Craig and trainees Mike and Nick for a short trip around Manchester – see our YouTube channel in the coming weeks for footage of Mike’s excellent commentary drive. As a former driver and mentor, I find it hard to switch off when on board a bus, and am always on the lookout for good and bad driving skills. With trainees listening in, Mike gave a faultless drive, highlighting hazards and explaining his road positioning, giving a clear and concise commentary.

Our bus was ALX300-bodied MAN 18.240 SF57 LUB, fleet number 22521. I noted that, although undeniably an older bus that was no longer in the flush of youth, it had been neatly converted to its new training role and was well presented both inside and out, giving trainees a good first impression of the company. Recently repainted, it wore a blue and white version of the company’s current livery, dotted with ‘L’-plate logos. On the inside, it had been kitted out with sturdy tables towards the rear, along with storage and the obligatory instructor’s seat just behind the driver. A neat touch was the indicator and brake light repeaters fitted above the windscreen.


One final thought that struck me during my time with Craig and Mike was the new Stagecoach uniform and slogan. Both were smartly presented in company-issue polo shirts with the ‘Proud to Serve’ motto, and do you know, I genuinely felt they were. It’s easy to get carried away with marketing slogans or be cynical, but after a couple of hours with the pair, their enthusiasm and passion for what they do, day in, day out, for better and worse, was infectious. I can imagine any trainee joining the company feeling like they’ve made the right decision if their reception is even half as warm and friendly as mine was.

See our YouTube channel for a trip aboard Stagecoach Manchester’s training bus.

SF57 LUB has been converted to provide work space on board, including tables and storage. JONATHAN WELCH
Delegated Driving Examiner Glynn Carter in front of one of the current training fleet. On his desk was an image of an altogether older generation of training bus (below left). JONATHAN WELCH