The Education Training Requirements: questions answered about the changes to optical education
The GOC answers OT ’s questions about its Education Training Requirements
06 October 2022
Last year, after an extensive four-year Education Strategic Review (ESR) process, the General Optical Council (GOC) signed off its plan for changes to its education and training requirements. Now moving into the implementation phase, the regulator’s head of education (development), Samara Morgan, answered key questions as universities prepare to begin the rollout of the new Education Training Requirements (ETR) from September 2023.
1 What is the ETR and how is it different to the ESR?
The ETR refers to the implementation of the GOC’s new education and training requirements for optometry and dispensing optics, independent prescribing, and contact lens opticians. The new requirements are the result of the Education Strategic Review, the regulator’s review of optical education, which has now come to a close, the GOC confirmed, following the introduction of the ETR.
Speaking to OT, Morgan, explained that the new requirements set out the knowledge, skills and behaviours that are required of those in training and qualified to be eligible for registration. They replace the current Education Quality Assurance Handbooks for optometry (2015) and ophthalmic dispensing (2011), Independent Prescribing Handbook (2008), and Contact Lens Handbook (2007).
The requirements introduce several changes to “make sure optical professionals are equipped for their future roles and that qualifications we approve are fit for purpose,” Morgan told OT.
The new ETR is intentionally non-prescriptive, which means that providers can use a range of methods and techniques to gather the required feedback depending on what works for them
2 How is the GOC working with universities to implement the new ETR and when do you expect implementation to start?
The GOC has already entered the implementation phase, Morgan confirmed, sharing that “all providers have been invited to start adapting to the new ETR.”
Morgan explained that the projected start date for implementing the new ETR is set by the education institution as the provider and “will be influenced by their own internal processes and development timescales.”
The GOC is meeting with all providers in order to understand their needs and timescales “which will help us to ensure a smooth transition to the new requirements,” Morgan said.
However, the GOC would anticipate that “most” will work towards enrolling students on courses that meet the new outcomes and standards from the 2023–24 or 2024–25 academic year. Yet “some providers may, in consultation with us, agree a later start date,” Morgan shared.
During the transition period, when courses will be produced to both the current and new standards, Morgan confirmed that the regulator will continue to quality assure all GOC-approved qualifications, until, eventually, all providers are offering programmes against only the new education and training requirements.
Asked about how universities can involve students, as well as staff and employers, in the design and implementation of their new course structure, the GOC encouraged students to speak to their education providers.
Morgan told OT that within the new education and training requirements, the GOC expects “the design of the programme curriculum, and the delivery and assessment of the outcomes to be informed by feedback from a wide range of stakeholders, including patients, employers, students, placement providers, commissioners, members of the eye care team and other healthcare professionals.”
She added that “the new ETR is intentionally non-prescriptive, which means that providers can use a range of methods and techniques to gather the required feedback depending on what works for them.
“We look forward to hearing about providers’ plans and the utilisation of innovative and creative solutions to drive forward good practice within the optical sector,” she said.
3 How will the new requirements affect current and future optometry students?
There will be no disruption for students currently enrolled on any existing GOC-approved optical education or training programme, Morgan confirmed.
She explained to OT that during the transitional phase, which she referred to as the teach out or migration phase, the Quality Assurance Handbooks for optometry (2015) and dispensing opticians (2011), including the list of required core competencies, the numerical requirements for students’ practical experiences, education policies, and guidance contained within the handbooks, as well as the regulator’s policies on supervision and recognition of prior learning, will continue to apply to all existing GOC-approved and provisionally approved qualifications.
To current students who are concerned about the impact of the perceived standard of their degree in light of the new requirements, Morgan reassured: “Regardless of whether a student successfully completes their studies under the new or current requirements, they will be eligible to register with us,” adding that “all approved programmes will continue to be subject to the GOC’s robust quality assurance procedures.”
Discussing how the ETR would affect future optometry undergraduates enrolling on their degree, Morgan explained that a key change that will be introduced through the requirements is for education providers to fully integrate at least 48 weeks of clinical, patient facing experience into the course.
“This will enhance the clinical capabilities of future optical professionals to increase their confidence to safely occupy current and future roles within service redesign,” she said.
“There is also a greater focus on key skills such as professional judgement, patient-centred communication, management of risk, and diagnostic consultation and clinical practice skills,” Morgan explained, adding: “Our new requirements will ensure that optometrists and dispensing opticians can meld critical thinking, clinical reasoning and decision-making; are well-prepared to take responsibility for decisions and actions; engage in research-informed clinical practice, and respond effectively to changing patent and service-user needs in each of the four nations.”
When it comes to ensuring the fair treatment and assessment of students under the new ETR, Morgan shared that within the GOC’s quality assurance processes, it will be looking to ensure that providers’ procedures for assessment of students are fair, transparent, and robust.
Our new requirements will ensure that optometrists and dispensing opticians can meld critical thinking, clinical reasoning and decision-making; are well-prepared to take responsibility for decisions and actions; engage in research-informed clinical practice, and respond effectively to changing patent and service-user needs in each of the four nations
4 What does the new ETR mean for the future of the pre-reg placement programme?
Under the new ETR, “optometry programmes will fully integrate practical and theoretical learning and experience, offering a single and direct route to registration with the GOC,” Morgan shared. As such, she expanded, “the pre-registration period in its current form will cease to exist.”
Under the new requirements, courses must provide experience of working with patients; inter-professional learning; and teamwork and preparation for entry into the workplace in a variety of settings. This includes in clinical practice, community, manufacturing, research, domiciliary and hospital. “This experience must increase in volume and complexity as a student progresses through a programme,” Morgan said.
Students must complete at least 1600 hours/48 weeks of patient-facing learning and experience for optometry and dispensing optics, with practical experience integrated into the course.
Some students have expressed concern for their future peers, questioning whether any grants or bursaries will be offered to students to offset the potential travel and placement costs. This concern extends to additional tuition fees and living costs for future students, as well as how this may negatively impact those from disadvantaged backgrounds and second time students, entering the profession.
Posing this to the GOC, the regulator said it has set up a Sector Strategic Implementation Steering Group (SSISG) in order to “discuss issues related to funding, supervision and workforce supply,” adding that the SSISG will consider a wide range of issues with stakeholder groups, and within the SSISG a range of working groups have been meeting to discuss issues including tuition fees and funding.