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GOC Council approves new education and training requirements

It is anticipated that most education providers would work towards admitting students to approved qualifications that meet the new standards from the 2023/24 or 2024/25 academic year

pen and paper

The Council of the General Optical Council (GOC) has approved the new education and training requirements for GOC-approved qualifications leading to registration as an optometrist or dispensing optician.

Responding to the announcement, optical bodies have committed to working with the sector on ensuring that “risks are managed,” and that the framework meets its potential for future optometry professionals.

The education and training requirements are a result of the Education Strategic Review (ESR), which seeks to ensure that qualifications approved in the future are “fit for purpose.”

Key to the new requirements is a greater focus on the development of professional capability. The GOC described this as “a combination of critical thinking, clinical-reasoning and decision-making which are vital to ensure optical students can respond and engage to changing patient needs and up-to-date, research-informed clinical practice.”

Instead of the two-stage approach currently required for students to reach registration, candidates will now need to achieve a single qualification approved by the GOC.

Qualifications will also need to integrate 48 weeks of learning and experience in practice, and will need to be either an academic award or a regulated qualification.

The GOC also noted that, for the first time, qualifications in optometry will have a specified Regulated Qualification Framework of level seven, and for dispensing opticians the level has been increased from five to level six.

The requirements will replace the current Education Quality Assurance Handbooks for optometry (2015) and ophthalmic dispensing (2011).

The GOC suggests the changes will ensure that optical professionals “are equipped to deliver eye care services in a rapidly changing landscape and meet the needs of future patients.”

The newly approved requirements are outlined in three documents; Outcomes for Registration, Standards for Approved Qualifications, and Quality Assurance and Enhancement Method.

The regulator said: “It is anticipated that most education providers will work towards admitting students to approved qualifications that meet the new Outcomes and Standards from the 2023/24 or 2024/25 academic year.”

Optical bodies respond to the approval

Stakeholders across the profession have been involved in consultations on the ESR and have also engaged with the GOC to share concerns around the proposals.

Ahead of the November GOC Council discussion of the ESR, the AOP and other optical bodies wrote to the GOC Council members to set out concerns about the financial sustainability of the proposed framework, highlighting the risk of disruption that it could pose for the training of optical professionals and patient safety.

Tony Stafford, policy director for the AOP, explained: “After the meeting, we worked with several other optical bodies to seek assurances from the GOC about the structural and financial implications of the new framework, and the need to continue to manage risks during the implementation phase.”

Following constructive discussions on these areas, Mr Stafford explained that the optical bodies were “generally reassured” by the response, “Which confirmed that the GOC is not seeking structural change for its own sake – this was also confirmed in the papers for the February GOC Council meeting.”

Commenting on the Council’s approval of the new requirements, Mr Stafford said: “We are committed to working with the sector to ensure that risks are managed properly and the ESR fulfils its potential to equip optical professionals for the challenges of the future.”

“Fundamental change”

From March, the regulator has said it will work with providers of approved and provisionally-approved qualifications to “understand at what pace they will wish to adapt their existing qualifications or develop new ones.”

The GOC will also be communicating with stakeholders, including registrants, education providers and students to outline how the changes will affect them.

The GOC highlighted the research and consultation that has fed into the requirements, including co-commissioned research by the Quality Assurance Agency, the consultation, and the University of Manchester’s Delphi verification research. The GOC has also worked with its Expert Advisory Groups, made up of experts from across the sector.

Gareth Hadley OBE, GOC Council chair, thanked those who had contributed to shaping the proposals and provided assurance that the regulator would continue working closely with stakeholders through the implementation of the changes.

Mr Hadley said: “The new requirements mark the most fundamental change for over 35 years in the way optometrists and dispensing opticians are prepared for entry to our register and they will have direct and lasting positive impacts on patient care and safety.

“The qualifications will also give greater assurance that our requirements are being met and risks are being managed, therefore continuing patient and public confidence in our ability to maintain and monitor high standards.”

The GOC meeting

Bringing the proposals to Council, Leonie Milliner, director of education, said: “We’re very clear that we want to work together with the sector, as we’ve been working with the sector to date, to ensure that we scaffold implementation both strategically and technically.”

Key to this will be the results of longitudinal research, along with a knowledge hub, and indicative documentation providing guidance on the design of curriculums and approaches to assessment. Ms Milliner explained that the GOC hopes this will lead to an “iterative process” to ensure requirements remain up to date.

Councillors acknowledged concerns that had been highlighted through consultations around the timing of the review and implementation, as well as financial concerns. Councillors recognised the constraints facing providers and noted that working with providers to ensure the transition is as short as possible, without disadvantaging students, would be important.

Reflecting on a letter sent by optical bodies and academic groups ahead of the meeting, chief executive and registrar, Lesley Longstone commented: “We need to continue working together going forwards through the implementation stage.”

This will involve working out respective roles within the implementation, Ms Longstone added, also suggesting that plans are in place to meet with the optical bodies and academic groups to discuss how to continue engagement at both a strategic and working level.

Ms Milliner also confirmed the GOC’s understanding that optometry would be among the subjects included in a forthcoming Office for Students’ consultation on high cost strategically important subjects.

The AOP has published a full statement in response to the new requirements here.

The OT team is planning to produce further content to explain what the changes will mean, and answering key questions on this area. If you would like to submit a question for consideration, please email [email protected]