Temporary changes to our Optometry Handbook and Supervision policy

Closed 6 Aug 2020

Opened 23 Jul 2020

Results Updated 25 Aug 2020

From 23 July to 6 August 2020, we ran a short consultation on proposed temporary changes to our Optometry Handbook and Supervision policy in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Optometry Handbook contains the GOC’s requirements that education providers must meet as well as the required core competencies and the practical experience (patient episodes) that students must obtain in order to be eligible to join the GOC register. The Supervision policy outlines requirements for the supervision of students undertaking practice-based learning.

We received a total of 71 responses and would like to thank all respondents for their commitment to helping us navigate the exceptional circumstances. After careful consideration of the feedback , we have now approved a number of temporary changes which will protect patients, students and the public and enable clinical experience to be delivered in a safe and practical way in light of the limitations that the pandemic has put on clinical practice.

A summary of the approved changes is below:

  • Stage 1 patient experience: We have amended and further defined the minimum number of patient episodes that students must achieve to obtain ‘an appropriate breadth of patient experience’ and we have broadened the types of experience that can be counted for this – including observation with formal reflection. This approach will enable clinical experience to be delivered in a safe and practical way and contribute to preparing students for the new world of practice brought about by the pandemic.
  • Certificate of Clinical Competence (GOC stage 1): For students who graduated in summer 2018, we have granted an extension to the Stage 1 Certificate of Clinical Competence (which students receive upon successful completion of their undergraduate studies) until 31 December 2020. We will work towards permanently removing this GOC requirement in its entirety so that any decisions regarding the currency of learning form part of a provider’s enrolment/admissions policy (such as the enrolment policy for the College of Optometrists’ Scheme for Registration).
  • Stage 2 patient experience: We have reduced the total number of GOC stage 2 patient episodes that students must achieve by 10% and removed the categorised patient episode numbers. The provider must instead ensure that the student achieves an appropriate breadth of experience, and set and justify its level of any minimum experience in specific areas of practice.
  • Supervision policy: We will permit non-GOC fully-qualified registrants to supervise students, if they meet our supervision criteria, are regulated, only supervise tasks that are within their professional scope of practice, and the education providers ensure that all other supervision requirements are met – including clarity about any role in patient episode or core competency ‘sign off’ that these supervisors may have.

These temporary changes to our Accreditation and Quality Assurance Handbook ‘Routes to Registration in Optometry’ (‘Optometry handbook’) education standards and requirements are applicable as follows:

  • Temporary changes affecting undergraduate education are applicable from 1 September 2020 for the 2020/21 academic year only.
  • Temporary changes affecting the College of Optometrists’ Scheme for Registration or other registrable qualifications are applicable to this year’s (Autumn 2020) incoming cohort of students/trainees only. Due to the nature of the Scheme for Registration, these changes will apply to students/trainees enrolling onto the Scheme for Registration between 1 September 2020 and 30 May 2021.

Files:

Overview

We are consulting on proposed temporary changes to our Accreditation and Quality Assurance Handbook for Optometry and our Supervision policy, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

This is a targeted consultation and we are particularly interested in the views of those affected – such as education providers, students, employers and professional bodies – although members of the public are welcome to respond.

Background

We are responsible for protecting the public by setting education standards and core competencies and approving and quality assuring qualifications which meet our standards and core competencies. This matter is in relation to our standards for Optometry as set out in our Accreditation and Quality Assurance Handbook ‘Routes to Registration in Optometry’ (2015) (referred to as our ‘Optometry handbook’) and the GOC Supervision policy. Current versions can be found in the Related Documents section below.

Due to the different COVID-landscape within which clinical experience still needs to be delivered, we recognise that rapid changes are required in order to respond to the significant challenges in the sector and to enable education providers to deliver high quality education and training.

The focus of this consultation is to seek views on our proposed changes to ensure that students’ ability to continue to practise safely and enter our fully qualified register is maintained.

Rationale for the changes

The continuing impact of COVID-19 on education and training, as well as the optical workforce, is wide and, as yet, of uncertain duration. Whilst many education providers have successfully moved to online / remote teaching delivery and assessment, deferring or trailing some of the GOC requirements (particularly core competencies and patient episodes), these were only intended to be temporary changes until ‘normality’ returned. It is clear however, that the sector will have to make further and potentially longer term changes in order to deliver education and training which adequately prepares students for practice and meets our standards. 

Key areas that are particularly affected for education and training are:

  • teaching and assessment of clinical skills – moving primarily to remote methods, although some skills still require a physical demonstration and assessment;
  • availability, nature and volume of placement provision (and the delivery of eye care services) is at present uncertain; and
  • students' wellbeing and the impact of Covid-19 on their education and training, ‘rights of passage’ and progression, including into pre-registration placements.

We continue to consider impact, further to those that have already been considered (published here).

Scope of the proposed temporary changes:

These temporary changes to our Accreditation and Quality Assurance Handbook ‘Routes to Registration in Optometry’ (‘Optometry handbook’) education standards and requirements are applicable to the following:

  • For the changes affecting undergraduate education, these would only be active from 1 September 2020 for the 2020/21 academic year only.
  • For the changes affecting the College of Optometrists’ Scheme for Registration or other registrable qualifications, these changes would apply to this year’s (Autumn 2020) incoming cohort of students/trainees only.

We acknowledge that due to the structure of their courses, for the current cohorts in the University of Bradford’s BSc Optometry (Accelerated Route) and University of Hertfordshire’s Master of Optometry students who are currently undertaking clinical experience, these changes may need to be retrospectively applied. We would consider an application to recognise experience (which meets our criteria, once finalised and approved) from 21 March 2020 from these providers.

Consultation timeframes:

We are running a two-week targeted consultation to act swiftly, which we believe is in the best interests of the sector. We recognise that two weeks is incredibly short, however we want to be agile and manage these temporary changes to our standards as quickly as possible.

Should organisations or individuals object to the two-week timeline, they are asked to submit their notice to object and a brief rationale to the GOC before the consultation closes. We would seek to organise a meeting with any concerned parties within the two weeks, to discuss their feedback to the consultation, if that would expedite the process.

We hope that the sector will support our approach and make every effort to respondparticularly if there are any potential unintended impacts.

What Happens Next

We focus on the evidence and reasoning given in consultation responses, making primarily qualitative analysis of the responses. Decisions are never made on strength of numbers. Our decisions are made on the basis of the strength of the arguments put to us and how well they match with our core principles.

We will publish feedback after the consultation giving the outcome and how we will implement the policy changes.