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

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Pixabay/Andreas Breitling
The General Optical Council (GOC) has launched its Education Strategic Review (ESR) consultation on the proposals to update its education and training requirements for GOC-approved qualifications, ensuring they are “fit for purpose.”

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Ms Milliner explained that the consultation needs to take place to ensure the current requirements do not become out of date, and that the qualifications approved in the future are fit for purpose.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 Review

As 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

Tony Stafford, AOP policy director

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.”