The AOP’s view on the GOC’s new education and training requirements

The General Optical Council approved the new education and training requirements for GOC-approved qualifications leading to registration as an optometrist or dispensing optician in March 2022, as part of its Education Strategic Review (ESR). This statement summarises our current position.

Our response to the GOC’s 2020 consultation

In a joint statement with the College of Optometrists and the Optometry Schools Council in 2020, we raised concerns that it was not clear whether education providers across the UK would be able to access the funding needed to deliver the changes the GOC was planning, including integrating clinical experience and academic study in a single qualification. Our response to the GOC’s 2020 consultation on the ESR set out a range of other issues with the reforms, including a lack of clear minimum requirements to join the register, and the need for the new rules to deal with the risk that the quality of supervision on clinical placements could be affected by commercial pressures.

In November 2020 the GOC Council recognised the strong concerns that we and others had raised about the ESR. Since then, we and other sector bodies have engaged with the GOC to look for solutions.

Our view on the new rules

We are pleased that in its final version of the new rules, the GOC has now addressed many of the concerns that we raised in 2021 including by giving a formal role to planned new sector guidance on the clinical content of optometry education, and by requiring education providers to address the risk of commercial pressures affecting placements.

The GOC has also agreed to work with the AOP and the sector bodies, as well as individual education providers, to assess and manage the risks to successful implementation of the ESR, including around funding. This does not mean our concerns about the ESR have all been resolved. We will continue to monitor developments closely and will keep members updated about our view of the new rules and the risks around them.

Some AOP members have told us they are worried that the ESR could lead to academic standards for optometry education being weakened. Given the changes the GOC has now made, we do not think this is a significant concern. In fact, some of the ESR changes – such as requiring any new optometry qualification to be set at Masters level, and to be a recognised academic award or regulated qualification – should reinforce the academic status of optometry training.

Degree apprenticeships

We know that our members are also rightly concerned that the proposal for a degree apprenticeship in optometry could be revived. Any new or revised proposal would have to be submitted to the GOC for approval. We argued in our most recent consultation response that any such application should automatically be treated as high-risk, and subject to full public consultation, because of our ongoing concerns over any route to registration as an optometrist that is mainly based in the workplace. That is still our position. We’ll publish further information for members on what we think the ESR means for optical education soon.