Lectures go digital and assessments suspended due to COVID-19

Universities have suspended face-to-face teaching, whilst the College of Optometrists is stopping assessment activity on the Scheme for Registration

Student on laptop
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The College of Optometrists is stopping assessment activity on the Scheme for Registration and higher education providers are moving lessons online as the UK continues to manage the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.

In a press conference on the developing COVID-19 outbreak at the beginning of the week, the Prime Minister Boris Johnson recommended stopping “non-essential contact” and for the public to “start working from home where they possibly can.”

Universities around the country have responded to the advice, with many ceasing face-to-face teaching and putting structures in place to support learning online and adjusting examination schedules.

Aston University in Birmingham, announced there would be no face-to-face teaching, including seminars, tutorials and lab-based classes, after 17 March until “at least the end of June.”

Campus-based assessments have been cancelled, such as exams, presentations and labs, until the end of the spring/summer examination period.

Speaking to OT, an Aston University spokesperson said: “The university is working with other schools of optometry in the UK, the College of Optometrists and the General Optical Council to develop reasonable adjustments to best support our optometry students.”

“Aston University has established a team to closely monitor and manage the situation and is acting on advice of Public Health England, Universities UK and the NHS,” the spokesperson continued.

University College London (UCL), confirmed that face-to-face teaching would be suspended for the rest of the academic year, with UCL president and provost, Professor Michael Arthur, commenting that these are “unprecedented circumstances.”

UCL has also agreed to release all clinical academics from their university responsibilities should they wish to support NHS services during the outbreak. The university collaborates with hospitals including: University College London Hospitals, the Royal Free London, Great Ormond Street Hospital, Moorfields Eye Hospital, the Whittington Hospital, and the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital.

Stage 1 and 2 visits cancelled

Following the Government announcement, the College of Optometrists revealed the decision to stop all assessment activity on the Scheme for Registration from 18 March. This means all assessment visits at Stage 1 and Stage 2 have been cancelled until further notice.

“We have not taken this decision lightly. It is to protect the safety of trainees, supervisors and assessors, as well as patients and the public,” the College said in a statement, also assuring trainees that it will continue to provide support in this period.

The College and the Optometry Schools Council (OSC) released a joint statement on supporting final-year students’ progression to the Scheme for Registration, commenting that the organisations “are working together to minimise the disruption caused by COVID-19 to optometry education provision and to enable optometry students to meet the requirements to enrol on the Scheme for Registration in 2020.”

The organisations confirmed they were developing plans “as a matter of urgency” to provide as smooth a transition as possible for graduating students and those on programmes integrating study and the scheme.

The College is developing plans to support all trainees’ progression through the Scheme for Registration during the exceptional circumstances created by COVID-19

The College of Optometrists and Optometry Schools Council

The statement also included an explanation of arrangements the College is working to put in place.

This included reassurance that students or new graduates with any deficits in their patient episode numbers or clinical competencies that cannot be addressed due to the current disruption to their studies will be supported by universities and the College to demonstrate fulfilment of these requirements during the early stages of their pre-registration placement.

Another measure the organisations are working to put in place is that students with outstanding patient episode numbers or clinical competencies in 2020 will be eligible for the award of an optometry degree, providing their degree performance is at a 2:2 standard or above.

The College and universities will work with stakeholders – including supervisors, employers and College assessors – to ensure all parties, including patients and the public, can have confidence in the arrangements and feel supported in their implementation.

Universities will also work with the College to consider how new graduates can be appropriately supported in the transition to the Scheme for Registration, the organisations confirmed. “Recognising that there may be unavoidable gaps between individuals’ last contact with patients as undergraduate students and their enrolment on the Scheme,” they said.

More detailed plans will be released as they are developed, the associations said, with particular consideration being given for students on degree programmes into which the Scheme is integrated, and for those who enter the scheme via other progression routes.

“The College is developing plans to support all trainees’ progression through the Scheme for Registration during the exceptional circumstances created by COVID-19,” the College concluded.

The General Optical Council (GOC) has also updated its guidance to include a statement on education provision, stating that it would be “flexible and pragmatic” in its approach during the emergency, adding that: “The current situation will bring significant challenges for education providers in supporting students and staff to adapt to different and/or remote teaching and assessment methods, whilst also maintaining GOC standards.”

The GOC reassured education providers that so long as new provisions meet the standards outlined in the Approval and Quality Assurance handbooks, educators can simply notify of any changes made, but to alert the GOC if the changes to provision means the standards may not be met.

Supporting students

AOP Student Councillor and third-year optometry student at the University of Plymouth, Luke McRoy-Jones, told OT that for many students, particularly those in their final year: “This is a worrying time.”

As the universities have “understandably” ceased face-to-face teaching and clinical activities, and the College has ceased all Scheme for Registration exams, Mr McRoy-Jones explained: “Progression, from a degree for which we’ve worked very hard, is at the forefront of most students’ minds.”

“Presently, it is immediately unclear how assessments will be adapted, particularly those in an objective structured clinical examinations or practical format,” he commented. “Some students are also yet to fully achieve patient episode numbers and GOC core competencies.”

The communication at my university has been excellent and I would like to reassure all students that our educators are working very hard…to ensure disruption is minimised and progression is achieved

Luke McRoy-Jones, AOP Student Councillor and third-year optometry student at the University of Plymouth

Despite the uncertainty, Mr McRoy-Jones praised educators and offered reassurance to fellow students: “The communication at my university has been excellent and I would like to reassure all students that our educators are working very hard with the GOC, the College, each university and each other to ensure disruption is minimised and progression is achieved.”

“During this time, I would like to remind students of the support on offer and highlight the role of the AOP in protecting its members. The AOP’s Peer Support Line answers calls 24/7 and its legal, professional and membership teams are available via email,” he added.


OT endeavours to keep the most up-to-date news on our website and this information was correct when published. However, the situation regarding the novel coronavirus is rapidly evolving. Please check OT’s rolling optics-specific coverage for the latest news and guidance on coronavirus.

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