Frequently Asked Questions

We have produced frequently asked questions about the new education and training requirements and how they may affect you.

Why are new requirements being introduced?

Our new requirements replace handbooks for optometry (2015) and ophthalmic dispensing (2011), Independent Prescribing Handbook (2008), and Contact Lens Handbook (2007). The new requirements reflect modern regulation practices whilst ensuring that all optical professionals are equipped to deliver eye-care services in a rapidly changing landscape and meet the needs of patients in the future.

Watch the short video below for more information. 

What are the key changes?

Our new requirements introduce several important changes to make sure we regulate optical education in a way which keeps pace with developments in the sector. This will enable qualifications we approve to continue to be fit for purpose. Key changes include, but are not limited to:

  • Introducing a new outcomes-based approach specifying the knowledge, skills and behaviours expected of GOC registrants.
  • Ensuring students gain greater experience of working with patients, interprofessional learning, and teamwork.
  • A greater emphasis on equality, diversity, and inclusion (EDI).
  • A new risk-based approach to the GOC’s quality assurance and enhancement.
Will the qualification/degree I am taking still exist once the new requirements are in place?

There will be no disruption for students currently enrolled on any existing GOC-approved optical education/training programme.

We are working with all providers of existing GOC-approved qualifications on their plans to adapt to the new requirements. All students on existing GOC-approved programmes will gain a registrable qualification. You will be able to find out more from your education providers on their plans for adapting to the new requirements.

We will continue to quality assure all GOC-approved qualifications against either the existing handbooks or the new education and training requirements. Eventually, all providers will offer programmes against only the new education and training requirements.

When are providers expected to adapt their current qualifications to the new education and training requirements?

The implementation of the new Education and Training Requirements (ETR) is provider-driven, and it will be their decision about whether a programme is ready to start using the new requirements, although we expect most to do so from September 2023 or 2024.

See our timeline graphic for more information about the steps we took to develop and introduce the new ETR. 

If approval is granted for a provider to start a new programme, will the GOC review each year, as with the previous accreditation processes or is there an alternative approach?

Providers of existing GOC-approved qualifications will adapt their existing programmes to be in line with the new requirements. Education providers wishing to offer a new qualification will need to go through a staged process to gain GOC approval. More information can be found on the Education and Training Requirements page

Once a provider has completed the adaptation/approval process, they will move onto the new quality assurance and enhancement method (QAEM). You can read about this in section 3 of our ‘Requirements’ documents, specifically subheading 6 ‘Periodic, annual, thematic, and sample-based reviews. 

Will having different routes to qualification lead to variation in the type and level of qualified optical professionals?

All student optometrists and dispensing opticians will be required to meet the knowledge, skills, and behaviours for outcomes for registration as outlined in the requirements, regardless of where they have gained qualification.

Who made the decision to move to a Level 7 for qualification, and why?

We co-commissioned research conducted by the Quality Assurance Agency, alongside the Association of British Dispensing Opticians (ABDO), the College of Optometrists, the Opticians Academic Schools Council and the Optometry Schools Council, to recommend the Regulated Qualification Framework (RQF)/Framework for Higher Education Qualification (FHEQ) level at which optometry and ophthalmic dispensing should sit.

The research, published in December 2020, resulted in two recommendations: that qualifications approved by the GOC for entry on to the register should be set for optometrists at Level 7/11 and for dispensing opticians at Level 6/10.

Why did you change the current two-stage process for qualifying optometrists?

Our Council considered developing a two-stage knowledge and competence set of outcomes (and associated standards) for GOC-approved qualifications, but ultimately did not think this would be viable, given that it would not address the urgent risks or problems of the existing two-stage system. It was also noted that such an approach would not be in-step with the 2017 “concepts and principles” or later 2018–2019 consultations, or with approaches taken by the majority of healthcare regulators.

In addition, it was acknowledged that there was no guarantee that proposals for a two-stage process for each profession would be less burdensome or less costly to students, providers, or employers, or offer greater protection for the public or increased resilience in the sector than the ETR integrated approach.

What is an integrated approach, and what advantages does it bring?

The new ETR integrates academic study, clinical experience and professional practice, instead of dividing theoretical and practical experience into two stages. This approach ensures that detailed curriculum and assessment remain current and responsive to local, regional, and national patient and service user needs. Under the new requirements, providers also have more flexibility to choose how they deliver their qualifications.

For example, trainees are no longer required to have been practising as an optometrist for two years before undertaking an additional supply (AS), supplementary prescribing (SP), or independent prescribing (IP) qualification. As a result, providers may choose to integrate the AS, SP or IP qualification within their undergraduate optometry Level 7 programmes, resulting in the student acquiring two qualifications.

Will the process of qualifying become more expensive, due to an additional year of tuition for most students?

We are aware there are some concerns regarding the financial impact of the education framework, and we continue to work to address the funding and financial implications of the new requirements to ensure the new model is sustainable and financially viable for future students, providers, and optical employers. We continue to work with key organisations across the optical sector through the Sector Strategic Implementation Steering Group to address various areas to aid providers as they adapt, including a separate workstream focused on funding.

How will the new requirements improve optical education?

The new requirements reflect modern regulation practices, while ensuring that all optical professionals are equipped to deliver eye-care services in a rapidly changing landscape and meet the needs of patients in the future. They were introduced in response to enhanced optical roles dealing with an increased volume of eye care and provision of specialist services in the community, helping to ease the burden on the NHS.

The requirements emphasise the development of professional capability needed for current and future roles. This also includes a greater focus on key skills such as professional judgement, patient-centred communication, management of risk and diagnostic, consultation, and clinical practice skills, so that registrants are equipped to play a much greater role in providing care to patients and service-users from their first day as qualified healthcare professionals. 

Will the new ETR create a “better” qualified optical professional than one who has completed the Scheme for Registration?

Students studying on either the current or new requirements will be eligible for GOC registration upon successful completion of their studies. The reforms are not about creating “better” optical professionals, but making sure the next generation is equipped to deliver eye care services in a rapidly changing landscape and meet the needs of patients in the future.