The Skills Funding Agency has demanded “immediate action to safeguard the welfare of all trainees” at a Midland-based provider after Ofsted reported physical and verbal bullying, harassment and exploitation.

The education watchdog’s inspection of National Farrier Training Agency (NFTA), in Peterborough, claimed learners suffered at the hands of approved training farriers (ATFs) and “in a small minority of cases by college trainers”.

The report, which downgraded the NFTA (which teaches the shoeing of horses and similar animals) from good to inadequate, said: “Examples of bullying and exploitation of apprentices in the workplace are not identified or resolved adequately by the care, support and guidance provided by the NFTA.

“In the worst cases, apprentices receive verbal abuse and are required to carry out tasks that are humiliating or are not in any way related to the requirements of the apprenticeship.

“In other cases, ATFs use the apprentices’ fear of losing their employment to make unreasonable demands about their working conditions.”

The report continued: “Serious allegations of physical and verbal bullying and harassment by ATFs are not investigated effectively.”

An agency spokesperson said it had been in talks with the NFTA and the Farriers’ Registration Council (FRC) — the accountable body — over Ofsted’s findings.

“Although the inspection report did not name individual learners, the agency insisted that the FRC and NFTA take immediate action to safeguard the welfare of all trainees even before the report was published,” she said.

“The FRC and NFTA contacted all learners to remind them of their rights and the means by which they could safely raise concerns about their treatment. Similar action is being taken to remind ATFs of their responsibilities.

“The agency sought and received specific assurances from the colleges delivering the off-the-job assessment that their arrangements to protect learners were robust, transparent and understood.”

She added: “No new learners can be recruited until this longer-term plan is agreed.

“The agency is working closely with the FRC, NFTA and other stakeholders to ensure the issues identified are addressed effectively for the benefit of learners.”

Ofsted also reported that the 400-apprentice NFTA, its board and the FRC had “been ineffective in applying a coherent strategy that will rationalise the numbers of farriers trained in future years, despite the calls for such work from many registered farriers and a number of stakeholder bodies”.

An NFTA spokesperson said: “Measures have already been put in place to reassure all apprenticeship learners of the zero tolerance to all instances of bullying and harassment, and that immediate action will be taken by the NFTA against any who do not meet the highest standards.

“The FRC and NFTA also stressed their strong commitment on behalf of all involved in farriery training to the implementation of the improvements highlighted in the report as they give all concerned the opportunity to review the provision, structure and content of the farriery training programme so that it retains its reputation for the highest standards of equine welfare in the world.”

The NFTA has three subcontractors — Herefordshire College of Technology, Myerscough College and Warwickshire College, according to Ofsted.

Herefordshire principal Ian Peake said it had “limited” involvement with the learners.

A Myerscough College statement said it was “concerned” by the report and “supportive” of its recommendations and had a “zero tolerance approach to bullying”.

A Warwickshire College spokesperson said Ofsted and the NFTA had said the accusations did not relate to its training.


Editorial: Invaluable inspection

The Ofsted inspection report on the National Farrier Training Agency demonstrates just how valuable the independent inspectorate can be.

Had the government relied on recruitment and achievement statistics, it seems highly unlikely the ‘physical and verbal bullying’ would ever have been exposed.

Inspectors visited the provider, spoke to staff and learners and established a shocking picture of mistreatment.

The report does not pull its punches and as a result action is being taken, including by the three colleges that subcontract provision.

So, the lesson to be learned?

Ofsted inspections are uniquely placed to look beyond the numbers, and at times nothing else could be more important.

Nick Linford, editor