Wednesday, May 29, 2013

British Farrier Apprentice System Suspended as Training Suffers Negative Government Evaluation

Apprentices are traditionally part of the landscape of farriery in Great Britain. These apprentices to Jim and/or Allan Ferrie competed at the Clydesdale shoeing event at the Royal Highland Show in Scotland. (David McCrone photo, used with permission)

A crisis has emerged in Great Britain, where the future of farrier education has been endangered by a withdrawal of government funding for the program following an unfavorable inspection report to Parliament by a national agency.

The situation described in this article has been going on for a few weeks now, and it seems like there is hope now for a solution, so here’s a report on the situation as it stands today.

                 Dateline: London
First of all, the background: farriery in Great Britain is governed by an Act of Parliament known as the Farriers Registration Act. Farriers must be registered with a governmental agency called the Farriers Registration Council. The current registration requirements are the earning of a diploma that signifies passage of an examination and completion of a coordinated four-year on-the-job apprenticeship and college training.

The curriculum for what apprentices learn is passed down from the Worshipful Company of Farriers, a historic non-governmental "livery" company that has governed farriery in London and beyond for around 700 years, even though most of the members are successful businesspeople in London, not farriers.

Not every farrier in Britain can take on an apprentice. First, he or she must apply to become an Approved Training Farrier (ATF) and then follow guidelines for what the apprentice learns and when s/he learns it, in conjunction with what is being taught in the college courses. ATFs as well as apprentices are overseen and inspected by the National Farriery Training Agency (NFTA), a relatively new arm of the Farriers Registration Council.

Apprentices--most of whom are about 16 years old when they start--must seek out their own situation with a training farrier. Most take a pre-farriery course at a college to prove their worthiness.

British farriers tout their system as the best in the world. It may be, but from an American point of view, it is all tied up with a big bow of red tape that would make independent farriers here start to twitch. However, to those who came up through the system, it makes sense, and most British farriers accept the bureaucracy that comes with the imprimatur of a Worshipful Company of Farriers diploma, associateship or fellowship.

The red tape aspects of farriery in Great Britain became evident on April 15 when a government education inspection agency published a report evaluating the effectiveness of the entire farrier apprenticeship scheme in Britain. The inspectors were candid in their criticism of the way that the program works or--in their opinion--does not work to prepare young farrier apprentices.

Ofsted is the Office for Standards in Education; it would be similar to something like the General Accounting Office in the US Government, but limited to education. It reports directly to Parliament. Farrier apprentices receive a government stipend during their apprenticeship that helps offset some of their living expenses. Parliament controls the stipends and funds oversight of the system.

Ofsted’s report landed on the desk of another British governmental office, the Skills Funding Agency, and on May 16, the NFTA announced on its web site that, henceforth, “there will be no public funding for new Apprenticeships until Ofsted are sure that the problems they identified have been addressed,” according to an NFTA press statement.

The press statement continues with this information:

Only when that position changes and possibly not until a re-inspection in February 2014 can NFTA take on new learners. We have looked at the option of offering privately funded Apprenticeships in the interim but have had confirmation that this will not be feasible. As a result Intake Group 37L, who were due to start on 1 July 2013, will now be unable to enroll.

NFTA deeply regret the difficulties that recent uncertainty has caused. Our view is that we need to ensure that the Apprenticeship is available to anyone, irrespective of background, so our absolute priority is to satisfy Ofsted and get funding reinstated as soon as possible. To that end NFTA has produced a comprehensive action plan to address these issues, including an urgent review of:

  • How we look after apprentices welfare and ensure they make progress to suit their individual abilities;
  • all ATFs in terms of their performance;
  • a full and robust analysis of the performance of each college;
  • all Field Officers in terms of their performance;
  • NFTA procedures to ensure they are sufficiently robust to quality assure the training provision both on- and off-the-job.

We will keep you informed of any developments as soon as we can.

As can be imagined, the situation has become fluid and work is in progress to both restore the apprenticeship program and institute change that brings the program into more compliance with standards expected by agents of the British government.

Which brings us to last week, when Hansard, the transcript service that records debate from the floor of Parliament (similar to the Congressional Record in the United States), recorded some action in favor of the farriery situation.

On May 21 Dan Rogerson MP, from the Cornwall region of England asked the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills what steps are being taken to ensure that "people with an offer of an apprenticeship provided through the National Farriery Training Association that was due to begin in autumn 2013 can start their farriery apprenticeship this year".

Rogerson was reportedly inquiring on behalf of a mother of a would-be apprentice in his district.

Rogerson was answered by Matthew Hancock, MP, representing the district of West Suffolk, who reported:

“Provision at the National Farriery Training Association has been suspended as a consequence of Ofsted's judgment that this was inadequate.

“I have asked the Skills Funding Agency to follow its intervention policy to deal to the issues raised by Ofsted. In addition, the agency is working closely with the Farrier's Registration Council and the National Farriery Training Association to put in place an alternative model of delivery that addresses the immediate concerns raised by Ofsted, and will allow apprentices to start in autumn 2013.

“Senior staff from the agency are meeting with the Chair of the Farrier's Registration Council to explore this model in the next few days.”

Here is the Hansard citation of this interchange

According to an optimistic memo from the Worshipful Company of Farriers, signed by Master of the Company, Sir Evelyn Webb-Carter, and dated May 17, "Apprentices of the future can be assured that the farriery profession, for which the UK is justly renowned worldwide, is in safe hands, and that the training, when it becomes available again, will be greatly improved."

The Company memo also hints at a training program to be led by the colleges, and stiffer inspections and qualifications of training farriers.

So, contrary to rumors you may be hearing, farriery is not dead in Great Britain. However, the future may look a little different for both apprentices and training farriers alike.

Thanks to Gill Harris, the National Farrier Training Agency, Carl Bettison, AWCF and Chris Pardoe, AWCF, PhD for their generous assistance with this article.

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