Degree apprenticeships Q&A

The recent debate about degree apprenticeships in optometry has highlighted a few misunderstandings, about the process of developing this proposal, the AOP’s involvement, and how degree apprenticeships work. We’ve published questions and answers to address some of those points.

Is the AOP supporting this proposal?

Until now the AOP has not taken a position on this proposal, because we have been seeking our members’ views. Our purpose is to represent and support our members, and our response to the consultation will reflect our members’ input.
Given what we have heard from our members, the AOP will oppose the introduction of degree apprenticeships for optometry.

Has the AOP helped to develop this proposal?

No. The AOP has not helped to develop this proposal. 

The proposal, like all apprenticeship proposals in England, is being developed by a trailblazer group led by employers. The optometry trailblazer group also involves some universities and the GOC. The AOP is not a member of the trailblazer group, and our inclusion in the list of “employers involved in the development of the standard” in the proposal consultation is incorrect. 

This consultation is the first time the trailblazer group has invited the AOP and other stakeholders to comment on a concrete proposal – and so this has been the first real opportunity we’ve had to consult our members.

What will happen after this consultation?

The consultation survey says that the trailblazer group will use the consultation responses to inform the next draft of the Standard, which will be submitted to the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education for their approval. 

We understand that before any university can offer a new course based on the Standard, the GOC will also need to approve both the Standard itself, and any new university course of study based on the Standard. 

After this consultation the AOP will engage with the trailblazer group, the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education, the GOC and other organisations as needed, to make the case for stopping this proposal. 

Would a degree apprenticeship mean you can become an optometrist without academic study or qualifications?

No. All degree apprenticeships require students to spend at least 20% of their time in ‘off the job’ university study. The 20% level is a general minimum requirement, but we understand the minimum ‘off the job’ study requirement for a degree apprenticeship in optometry could be higher. This would be decided by the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education if the proposal goes ahead, and would affect the level of funding available.

Students who successfully complete a degree apprenticeship in any subject receive a degree from the relevant university. To obtain the degree, students have to complete an End Point Assessment (EPA). We understand that the universities working with the optometry trailblazer group are still developing their proposals for the EPA. 

What would the entry requirements be?

The UCAS website says “apprenticeships are jobs and so employers are ultimately responsible for recruitment. Both employers and universities will need to be satisfied the applicant meets their respective requirements. It is likely that some employers and universities will therefore do recruitment jointly”. We understand that employers and universities would need to decide together what entry requirements apply to any degree apprenticeship course they might offer.

How will apprenticeships reach this level in around four years, given that it currently takes three years for an undergraduate degree and then a year or more as a pre-registration optometrist?

Traditional undergraduate degree courses include significant holiday periods, and degree apprenticeship students are likely to spend more time each year engaged in learning, either at university or in their workplace, than other students. However, it is not clear to us whether the learning and supervision available to students in workplace settings would enable optometry degree apprenticeship students to reach the same level of achievement in four years that other students currently attain through an undergraduate degree and pre-registration training. This is one of the points that AOP members have raised with us, and we will pursue further.

I've read that a degree apprenticeship in pharmacy has been halted. Why can't we do the same?

A proposal for a pharmacy degree apprenticeship earlier this year was put on hold by the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education, following negative consultation responses.  As the pharmacy press has recently reported, the employer trailblazer group that developed the proposal is apparently planning to bring forward a revised proposal for consultation.

Your views matter