The General Optical Council (GOC) has received mixed feedback on its draft Education Standards and Learning Outcomes during its latest round of consultation on the Education Strategic Review.
Of the 539 respondents, 71% disagreed that the blueprint of standards for education providers and learning outcomes for students is fit for purpose while 39% stated that the timescale for its rollout was unrealistic.
Only 19% of respondents said that the timescale was realistic, while 36% said they were unsure about the timing of the rollout.
Discussing the feedback at the latest GOC council meeting (15 May, London), the optical regulator’s chief executive Lesley Longstone said that the consultation had provided a “huge amount of useful, detailed feedback.”
An analysis of the consultation responses provided to councillors highlighted that respondents were positive about the increased flexibility of an outcomes-based approach and also welcomed an enhanced emphasis on practical experience.
However, concerns were raised about the evidence base for an integrated approach, the risk that standards would be lowered through outcomes being interpreted differently across different providers and the practicalities of implementing student placements.
Many respondents also called for the final examination to be independently conducted.
“At the moment, students can have a fragmented journey with different providers taking responsibility for different parts”
Further work needed
GOC director of education, Dr Subo Shanmuganathan, highlighted that stakeholder conversations revealed “a real recognition that there was a need for reform.”
However, she added that the GOC is conscious of the implications of asking large organisations, such as the NHS and universities, to implement change quickly.
“We need to engage with our stakeholders as to how this will work in practice,” Dr Shanmuganathan emphasised.
A single route
Council members discussed whether the GOC should support a single integrated route to registration.
Council member Clare Minchington highlighted that the current route to registration is not a coherent journey.
“At the moment, students can have a fragmented journey with different providers taking responsibility for different parts,” she shared.
She added that the regulator needs to be able to hold people to account for the whole journey rather than isolated parts of it.
Benefits of mentoring
Council member Helen Tilley highlighted that at present students can complete their three-year degree and pre-registration period, before going out to work as a locum or domiciliary with a low level of support.
If the GOC goes down the path of an integrated route to registration, it will be important to provide practitioners with mentoring following qualification, she added.
Ms Tilley highlighted that optometry is unusual in not providing regular peer support to newly-qualified practitioners.
On the issue of providing more clinical experience to students early in their degree, council member Roshni Samra observed that hospitals are not currently set up to take students early on. She also raised the issue of who would quality assess placements.
“We need to engage with our stakeholders as to how this will work in practice”
GOC chair, Gareth Hadley, summed up points from the council discussion, highlighting that the GOC would continue to work towards creating a single route to registration.
He explained that academic institutions may be able to contract out elements of training but would retain accountability.
Mr Hadley added that council had a preference for a standardised assessment framework rather than a national exam.
The GOC will move ahead with enhanced clinical content for undergraduates, and an increased emphasis on professionalism and clinical leadership.
Mentoring arrangements following qualification would bring optometry in line with other clinical professions, Mr Hadley shared.
“We are very much the outlier at the moment,” he said.
The GOC will hold workshops with stakeholders to explore the risks and benefits of the approach put forward by council.
Timeframes for implementation and models for delivery will also be discussed at the workshops.