GOC launches Education Strategic Review consultation
AOP policy director, Tony Stafford, discusses what is involved in the Education Strategic Review, why it is needed, and how members can share their views
03 August 2020
The consultation seeks views on the GOC’s Outcomes for Registration, concerning the proposed knowledge, skills and behaviours a dispensing optician or optometrist must have at the point of qualifying and registering.
Also under consultation are the Standards for Approved Qualifications, which considers delivery and assessment of outcomes leading to an approved qualification, as well as the Quality Assurance and Enhancement Method which explains how the GOC proposes to gather evidence to decide if qualifications leading to registration meet the requirements.
These documents would replace the GOC’s current Quality Assurance Handbooks for optometry and dispensing opticians, which includes the core competencies required of students and numerical requirements for their practical experiences, as well as related educational policies. They would also replace the GOC’s supervision policy and the policy on the Recognition of Prior Learning.
“The proposed documents will ensure the qualifications we approve are responsive to a rapidly changing landscape in the commissioning of eye care services in each of the devolved nations,” explained Leonie Milliner, GOC director of education.
“They respond to the changing needs of patients and service users and changes in higher education, not least as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as increased expectations of the student community and their future employers,” Ms Milliner added:
The ESR proposals build on feedback from the previous 2018-19 consultation, and concepts and principles consultation in 2017-18.
The development of the proposals was led by two expert advisory groups for optometrists and dispensing opticians, with input from the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) and feedback from stakeholders across the optical sector.
Ms Milliner explained that the consultation needs to take place to ensure the current requirements do not become out of date, and that the qualifications approved in the future are fit for purpose.
“It’s also important that we consult now so that the changes we make to our qualifications align with the changes we make to our pre-registration competence requirements as part of our Continuing Education and Training (CET) Review,” Ms Milliner added.
The consultation will run until 19 October 2020.
The AOP’s Policy team discuss the Education Strategic ReviewAs the country moves into a recovery phase, and in light of the challenges faced by educators over the past few months, it has been expected that there could be a renewed focus on optometry training and education.
“This is another area seriously affected by the pandemic, with universities moving to remote learning and pre-reg placements under threat,” said Tony Stafford, policy director for the AOP.
The AOP’s policy team has been working across a variety of areas to support members throughout the pandemic. This has ranged from working as part of the Optometric Fees Negotiating Committee (OFNC) to making the case to NHS England for additional funding for practices, to lobbying for better Government support for self-employed members.
“We know that many members will continue to face COVID-related challenges as we move into the autumn and winter, so government and NHS support will remain a top priority,” Mr Stafford outlined. “But there are also important proposals for long-term strategic changes to the way optometrists are trained in the UK, and we need to make sure those work in our members’ interests.”
This consultation is an important opportunity for our members and other stakeholders to influence the new education framework optometrists will be trained under in the coming years
The review looks to ensure the regulatory framework for the education and training of optical professionals is fit for the future and that programmes produce practitioners with the clinical skills that will be needed in future practice.
“The AOP continues to support this core aim and supported the need for reform, as long as it can be done effectively and without creating undue risks,” Mr Stafford added.
The AOP recently held a survey to gather experiences of pre-reg supervision from current and recent graduates and supervisors, with the aim of understanding how well the current system works and informing the AOP’s position on potential changes.
Mr Stafford suggested the GOC is aiming to sign off the new rules by the end of the year, so courses under the new framework could be up and running by autumn 2022, though it will be a few years before all the changes are in place.
“The review has moved slowly and had some false starts, but it’s now making more progress,” Mr Stafford explained. “This consultation is therefore an important opportunity for our members and other stakeholders to influence the new education framework optometrists will be trained under in the coming years.”
The policy team will be developing the AOP’s response to the consultation with the AOP’s Policy Committee and Council and will take account of the interests of different groups of members. Mr Stafford added: “We hope and expect that many members will be interested in the proposals, so we’ll be encouraging them to feed in views to us.”
What you need to know about the Education Strategic Review?
What are the key things members should know about the GOC’s Education Strategic Review consultation?
The GOC’s Education Strategic Review has been running since 2016, and is still some way from being finished. As the name suggests, it’s an attempt to reshape the way optical professionals are trained.
The current consultation is important because it’s asking for feedback on a new framework of requirements for education providers, which are quite different to the current GOC handbook. The new rules will shape the way the optometrists of the future are trained, so it’s important for all our members and the profession that the GOC gets this right.
What are some of the key changes or areas highlighted in the review?
The key changes that the GOC is looking to make to the system were agreed by the GOC’s Council in 2019. They include moving from the current ‘two-stage’ process for optometry training; with an undergraduate degree followed usually by the College’s Scheme for Registration, to a single-stage approach where a single education provider is responsible for each student’s whole journey to registration as an optometrist, with clinical placements integrated into the degree. There could be various ways that education programmes arrange clinical experience, and some may make arrangements similar to the current pre-reg scheme.
Whilst we support modernising the education system, the AOP has been saying for some time that there are some potentially significant risks with this approach, which the GOC will need to manage carefully. For instance, the single-stage approach could undermine consistency and affect patient safety.
The changes will also have significant cost implications for both education providers and students. That’s an even bigger concern now, because of the impact of the pandemic. The new structure could also give large employers undue influence over the way optometrists are trained.
The big underlying issue with a lot of these risks is funding. Optometry training is much less generously funded than some other clinical healthcare professions, including pharmacy. The GOC is proposing introducing a new framework which could work well if there’s enough money to pay for it – but it’s not yet clear that will be the case.
Earlier this year there were concerns raised about a proposal for a degree apprenticeship in optometry – how might the ESR effect this?
Once the new education framework has been finalised, any new optometry education programmes that seek approval to operate from the GOC will need to meet the new rules.
The degree apprenticeship proposal that was developed last year, and which the AOP and others have opposed because of concerns about patient safety and public confidence in the profession, was apparently based on the current GOC handbook, but any revised proposal is likely to be based on the new rules that the GOC are now consulting on. It’s obviously vital that the new rules provide robust protection for patients, including effective controls on the quality of workplace supervision of students in clinical placements.
How can members get involved?
We hope and expect that many members will be interested in the proposals, so we’ll be encouraging them to feed in views to us – via our online forums, and direct to our email inbox [email protected] as well.
Members can also see our responses to previous consultations on the education strategic review.