My heart currently goes out to all the apprentice farriers whose future is currently held in limbo due to an impasse between the two main groups that administer the diploma qualification necessary by law for the job.

At the time of writing, the situation regarding the endpoint assessments (EPAs) (the latest terminology for final exams, which on a technicality had to be replaced) scheduled in a week's time has yet to be resolved despite calls from within the industry to sort it all out. Most of us are acquainted with the stresses and strains associated with exams so it is understandable that the current situation can only add to the problem with the mental health lobby making its voice heard.

For those outwith the system, it takes a bit of unravelling however as far as I can make out, it involves The Worshipful Company of Farriers (WCF), the awarding body whose officers carry out the assessment, the Farriery Registration Council (FRC) that handles the apprenticeship scheme and receives Government funding to do this, the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education (IfATE) that works with employers to develop, approve, review and revise apprenticeships and technical qualifications and the Office for Qualifications (Ofqual), the official Government body responsible to the Department for Education (England, Wales & Northern Ireland) for setting and maintaining standards within the awarding of national qualifications.

At the outset, it is important to understand that control of the qualification system within Higher Education, in all its complexity, lies with the ScotGov remit but is based on a system of continuous learning very much akin to that of our own. The pathway begins with National Vocational Qualifications at the school/college level running all the way to diplomas, degrees, and doctorates at the college/university level and beyond. The WCF oversees and awards farriery certificates at various levels with the Level 3 Diploma the basic requirement for the necessary legal registration as a farrier.

It seems no time at all since I reported the successful farriery competitions held at Ingliston under the auspices of the WFC, a company dating back to its royal charter status awarded in 1674 and which has conducted craft-specific farriery examinations since 1887; few would deny the important and significant role it has played in the development of education and training in farriery nor the role it played in legislative reform under an animal welfare act requiring all farriers to be registered under law culminating in The Farriers Registration Act of 1975 amended 1977. Its history and the role it has played over the years can't be challenged and the high standards it sets in the field would appear to be held in high regard throughout the world. In light of all of this, it seems logical that the WFC holds responsibility for any assessment.

On the other hand, the Farriers Registration Council (FRC) is a corporate body comprising sixteen appointed members who are registered farriers, vets, and appointees of equine and rural development bodies as laid down by the Farriers (Registration) Act 1975. The FRC officially states: Our vision is the "Prevention and avoidance of suffering by equines through ensuring that equine owners are able to access the equine hoof-care that best meets their needs in a timely and assured manner; this care will be delivered only by those capable and qualified to do so." This is the company that oversees the register of farriers in the UK as well as the apprenticeship scheme and handles all the funding from the Government that it entails. Crucially, it is answerable to the Department for Education (England) through both Ofqual and IfAte.

Although not outlined in as many words, it would appear that the current difficulty surrounds a mismatch between assessment standards required by Ofqual and those delivered/operated by WFC. There would appear to be no criticism of the level of practical expertise or knowledge and experience of the assessors – they are acknowledged as the right people for the job - nor is there criticism of the content or standard held within the diploma itself – it seems to be fit for purpose. However, criticism has been firmly placed on the procedure(s) adopted by the assessors or the assessment process. These have yet to be outlined however there are mutters of non-acceptance on the part of the WFC to embrace modern methods of education including assessment using aspects of IT. As the official body responsible for the apprenticeship scheme, it has been the task of the FRC to be the bearer of the bad news to the WFC that its role in assessment is no longer valid.

The fact that the issue appears to have been on the table for several months doesn't help those apprentices about to sit their exams not to mention the registered farriers who currently employ and train them and the colleges that run the diploma courses. With discussions presumably ongoing official responses have been limited, here's what has been said.

The WCF issued a statement on 5th October which read: The Worshipful Company of Farriers is disappointed at the statement released today by the Farriers Registration Council on their website concerning the withdrawal of approval under s11 of the Farriers (Registration) Act 1975 and it is working hard to rectify the situation. The Company recognises the impact this will have on farriery students, Approved Training Farriers, and the Colleges delivering farriery apprenticeship training, and every effort will be made to mitigate these impacts. The Worshipful Company of Farriers remains committed to the welfare of the horse and to its duty of promoting, encouraging, and advancing the art and science of Farriery and education as it has done over the centuries.

By way of vindicating its actions, in a statement recently released by the FRC on 2nd November, it reads: The Institute for Apprenticeship and Technical Education (IfATE) has today issued a statement in respect of the EPA for the Farriery Apprenticeship. The statement says: “IfATE recognises the urgency of the situation and is working at pace with the Farrier Registration Council (FRC), DfE, and Ofqual to ensure all apprentices can complete their EPA to industry standards. Our priority is upholding quality and ensuring the best outcomes for the learners. More information will be provided as soon as possible.”

Having spent a lifetime in education myself, I understand only too well the words of wisdom that come down from on high and the obvious lack of understanding of the task at hand passed on to those at the sharp end of delivery. In this case, I suspect that politics have had a hand in all of this at many levels ranging from national to local level. Post Covid, with the resultant controversies surrounding educational assessments and the resultant awards, it would seem that England's statutory regulator for qualifications, (Ofqual) has gone into overdrive to ensure that overall standards of assessment for national qualifications demonstrate consistency and rigour.

At the same time, IfATE has had to be seen to react and set one of its sights on the farriery apprenticeship whose diploma assessment might well have remained unchanged for decades – who knows? The introduction of IT as a tool for assessment and recording is an element common to all educational systems so perhaps that has played a pivotal part in change/improvement -again, who knows?

As for the two groups currently in the firing line, with dependency on government funding and controlling its distribution to the industry, the FRC will be subject to all sorts of demands from the Department for Education agencies. If they say 'jump; it will be a matter of 'how high?'. It could also be that there is some institutional rivalry between the WFC and the FRC or between individuals who control them. Then again, it may be a case of an 'aye bin' attitude of the old brigade of the WFC and a resistance to change dictated by a new generation within the world of education.

With conflict high on the agenda within World politics at the moment, this issue seems small fry by comparison. It stands to reason that some compromise will have to be met and the sooner the better for the innocent players, the farriery apprentices, whose future and personal welfare is at stake.