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

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  1. When the report was published on 15 April I was surprised that this was not picked up by the press. Going back to the early days of the Training Standards Council this has always been an area of training that raised concerns about the workplace (and there are others). It is also one of the longer advanced apprenticeships, taking over four years to complete. The introduction of a detailed examination of safeguarding was scoffed at by many, but it has raised the profile and inspectors look at it in far more detail than CRB checks – covering treatment of apprentices, safe working and knowing how to raise concerns. It is one of the reasons that in the Ofsted report ‘Ensuring Quality in Apprenticeships’ published last October the recommendation was made of ‘consider introducing an independent whistleblowing hotline for employees, learners and employers where they can report their concerns’; it was suggested because of the existence of this kind of practice (and apprentices not have real jobs) along with poor value for money that goes unnoticed. It may not come out in inspection because of the fear of apprentices in reporting it. I still think that there is a need for an independent confidential hotline, but I also know there is a reluctance for government to action it, hence the use of the term ‘consider’ in the recommendation. If apprentices do not have access to an independent, quick, confidential reporting mechanism, this kind of practice is being allowed to continue. Where there is fraudulent assessment practice there is also no mechanism for apprentices or assessors to report without fear of reprisals. Inspectorates, whether providers like them or not, are very necessary, in identifying both poor practice so that it can be eliminated and good practice so that it can be emulated. This particular inspection also shows the value of having specialist inspectors who understand the particular industry, including the lead HMI. Something else that needs to be protected if inspection is to live up to its full potential.

  2. Just yesterday at an FE and Skills leaders event the Jisc RSC London organised with the regional AoC, we were discussing the role of Ofsted in a sector where the differences between small and larger providers have never been greater. We were wondering about the fairness of using the same standards across the board. Particularly now with the reduced reliance on public funds which is leading to greater competition within and across the sector. But clearly, when it comes to areas where human dignity is threatened by providers needing to increase productivity, Ofsted may always have an important role to play.

  3. Michael Bolton

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

    This sounds potentially more than a little dismissive of the serious concerns raised by Ofsted about bullying of farriery students. If Peake’s college has limited involvement with the students concerned, what exactly is its role? Does this limited involvement mean that it doesn’t concern itself with the safety and welfare of students that, presumably, are on it’s books? Is possible bullying at Hereford to be so lightly dismissed by its principal?