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21 May 2020

Racing’s educators finding ways to keep going during lockdown

Racing’s training providers are still managing to support students, while safeguarding their residents and observing social distancing during the lockdown.

Racing Together checked in with Grant Harris from the British Racing School (GH); Major Stephen Padgett at the National Horseracing College (SP); Eleanor Boden (EB) from the fledging Scottish Racing Academy and Zoe Elliott (ZE) at Careers in Racing.

British Racing School

GH: We continue to run the BRS as best we can. The welfare of our trainees, staff and horses are paramount. The easy option would have been to close the doors, send all trainees and staff home and turn all the horses out.
However, we have trainees with us who are undertaking limited training, while considering the need to reduce risk. These is a mixture of regular Foundation Course trainees, those that are vulnerable (who cannot go home or indeed have no home to go to) and some who have recently graduated who also cannot go home for a variety of reasons. The latter group includes those who are waiting for placements after original offers had been rescinded owing to falling numbers of horses in training.

A skeleton staff is working with the trainees and horses, while many of our horses have been turned out. We are in contact, daily, or weekly with a range of bodies, including the Government, the British Horseracing Authority; The Levy Board; Injured Jockeys Fund; Racing Welfare and our colleagues at the NHC. We are conscious that we need to be able to resume full training or other activities, as and when the industry requires.

A recent British Racing School Virtual Open Day

The School remains open for those trainees that are with us and we are, in effect a household looking after young, sometimes vulnerable people.

Plenty to look forward to once we are back

We have lots of young people loaded onto courses and hundreds to interview, so when the bottleneck is cleared, we are going to have a very busy second half of the year. In addition, we held a virtual open day on Facebook recently, which hopefully provided a good showcase for the BRS, given our current limitations.

We can isolate trainees within their own accommodation, and apply that to barns, horses and instructors as long as we are confident that bringing in the next course, we would be part of the resumption of racing.

We also aim to help the Newmarket Festival Covid-19 fund with our chef cooking lunches for distribution. We have seen some terrific examples of community spirit across the town with support from Godolphin, Jockey Club Estates and Stanley Stud, to name a few.

National Horseracing College

SP: We still have resident learners on site who were already with us before lockdown was initiated. They have continued their training successfully and last of them will graduate this week. Once they leave, we will continue to care for horses and infrastructure with our reduced team, with most of the team now on furlough.

We continue to deliver apprenticeships to learners employed (or a few furloughed) in yards by remote means and that is going remarkably well.
Plans are in place to re-commence on-site training for new recruits and for specialist courses just as soon as the national guidance and situation allows.
Realistically, on-site courses may not re-commence before September as, in my view, it would be wholly inappropriate for racing to be seen to circumvent guidance to mainstream schools, colleges and workplaces and in turn undermine the national intent. Whether an outbreak of Covid-19 was to occur here or not, I believe the industry’s credibility and standing could suffer strategic damage if we were perceived to be flouting the rules others are striving to apply.

Careers in Racing

ZE: During the pandemic, the team at careersinracing has been looking at the best way to support people with careers advice and support – in ways a little different to the normal events and activities. We have been very keen to help school and university graduates at a time when their options may not be looking quite the same as they may have expected.

We have been working with all of racing’s training providers to support their innovations in creating virtual open days for potential learners to see behind the scenes – hopefully new learners will be back on-site soon. It has also been brilliant to have the new Racing2learn online platform to direct people to, if they want to do some development of their own personal learning, and to build into their CV.

Adapting the BHA Graduate Scheme

Another flagship programme that has required redevelopment during the pandemic is the BHA Graduate Development Programme. The format is normally two weeks of intensive induction training, and then an eight-week work placement running July to September. The programme is well supported by the industry every year with up to 23 placements offered by a variety of racing organisations. Understandably, this normal format was not going to be possible this year, but we are acutely aware of how the pandemic is affecting young people entering the workplace for the first time, and we are determined to ensure we did not abandon the ‘class of 2020 graduates’.

We have created an alternative Virtual Graduate Development Programme for this year with a smaller group being selected from hundreds of applications, to take part in remote activities over the summer. They will be supported by online learning; industry webinars; coaching an industry buddy system and work experience/ work-shadowing opportunities when workplaces can safely facilitate. We are really excited about this offering – it’s actually the 30th year of running the programme – so it will certainly be a memorable one.

Scottish Racing Academy

EB: The Scottish Racing Academy (SRA) probably couldn’t have started at a more testing time and we have worked communicated regularly with the Scottish trainers during this uncertain period – the date for a resumption of racing has provided some optimism. The SRA is a collaboration between Scottish Racing, which represents all five courses; Scottish and British horseracing partners and educational institutions. Its purpose is to overcome the challenges in recruiting and retaining high quality, skilled racing staff. Our aim is to provide top-class education and training in Scotland and the North to support trainers and their staff in a way that meets their individual needs.

We have been working as best we can to keep the SRA on track for an August start (maybe more online than envisaged) and applications have already been promising. Building on existing good practice and assets, the SRA has created a series of innovative new qualifications that have been written to provide choice to learners, to nurture talent while people are still at school, right through to workplace training options.

The SRA is holding a virtual open day with Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) on 5th June from 2pm. Registration details can be found here or visit our website to find out more here

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