HMS Albion marks Learning at Work Week

Earlier this month students all across England and Wales sat their GCSE exams. Thousands of miles away in the Asia-Pacific region, a group of sailors and marines aboard the assault ship HMS Albion were doing likewise.

Among them was Petty Officer Erica Tarr, who was sitting GCSE Maths. She said, “I wanted a qualification that would open up options within the Navy but also for my long term future. It’s free to sit GCSE exams in the Royal Navy and as this is a long deployment I brought my textbooks with me.

"My role managing the ship’s galley means I’m always busy around mealtimes, but I’ve had a few lessons in the evenings and the rest of the time I’ve been teaching myself whenever I’ve had a spare moment.”

Learning at Work Week begins on Monday 14 May, and the message from the Royal Navy is that just because a ship is away from home doesn’t mean the learning stops. Indeed, for some a long deployment provides the ideal opportunity to work toward a professional or personal goal.

HMS Albion’s commanding officer, Captain Tim Neild, said, “The Royal Navy is a first class provider of educational opportunities and is hugely supportive of people who want to gain new qualifications and skills at any stage of their career.”

“HMS Albion recently hosted a Naval Education and Training Advisor to speak to the Ship’s Company about the opportunities that are available to them for personal development. We are now working hard to support as many people as possible to further their education and skills while we are away on operations”.

I wanted a qualification that would open up options within the Navy but also for my long term future. It’s free to sit GCSE exams in the Royal Navy and as this is a long deployment I brought my textbooks with me.

Petty Officer Erica Tarr

Education at sea is managed by a small onboard team headed by HMS Albion’s chaplain, with GCSEs, AS Levels and A-Levels in core subjects like English, Maths and Science being taught by suitably qualified members of the ship’s company.

However, a range of other distance learning opportunities – from technical skills and foreign languages through to degree level courses – are supported by the Naval Education & Training Service at HMS Drake in Devonport, where HMS Albion is based.

“HMS Albion is a floating community and the moment we leave the dockyard we have to think about how to support ourselves at sea, from food and fuel to healthcare, and it’s exactly the same for people’s education”, explains HMS Albion’s Assistant Education Officer, Petty Officer Christopher Heale.

“There are more than 500 people onboard HMS Albion at the moment and I would say a large majority are taking part in some kind of formal learning be it as part of  their ongoing professional naval training or for personal development”.

PO Heale is himself a beneficiary, “I’ve always tried to work hard, but when I was younger the effort didn’t always translate into results. Too often it felt as if I was standing still. That changed the moment I joined the Navy, because I learnt that if you work hard it’s the kind of organisation that enables you to get ahead.

“I took my own maths GCSE when I was serving on HMS Illustrious. A petty officer with a maths A-Level gave up a couple of hours each week to sit down with 15 of us and work through the GCSE syllabus over the course of the deployment. That opportunity put me on track for promotion earlier than would otherwise be the case. Now I want to help others take control of their career development in the same way as I did.”

Captain Tim Neild added, “This is a significant and demanding deployment for HMS Albion, with a busy programme of defence engagement throughout Asia-Pacific, but I’m enormously proud of my Ship’s Company for giving their time and effort to make the most of the personal development opportunities that the Navy offers, whilst continuing to deliver on operations.”

PO Heale agrees, “It couldn’t be easier. The Navy gives you the opportunities, the funding and the support - all you need to do is turn up with the right attitude.”