COVID-19 and the Scheme: Info, updates and FAQs

We are acutely aware that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused uncertainty and disruption for all trainees. We do not take decisions to alter, postpone or reduce assessments lightly, and we are working hard to ensure that your path to qualification can progress as quickly as possible.

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Throughout the pandemic we have worked to: 

  • adapt the Scheme, to ensure trainees can demonstrate fulfilment of Scheme requirements safely, without compromising education and professional standards, including those set out by the GOC 
  • arrange extensions to trainees’ allotted time on the Scheme.  

We are listening, and are taking your feedback seriously. 

Latest Scheme updates

February 2021

We are recruiting for a pre-reg reference group. Apply by midnight on 22 February.

Remote Stage One and Two assessments can continue under current national restrictions 

Face-to-face assessments in allied health subjects, can go ahead, according to current government guidelines. Travel is permitted for work and educational purposes, so assessors are still able to visit practices for assessments.  

Please be assured that we will continue to work within government guidelines to ensure the safety of all involved in the Scheme. All trainees, supervisors, assessors, and examiners should follow the College’s COVID-19 guidance

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COVID-19: Changes to the Scheme

General changes

  • Trainees who have experienced delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic have had their allotted time on the Scheme automatically extended.  
  • Trainees who completed visit 2 before 18 March 2020 have had their time extended by six months
  • Trainees who enrolled before March 2020, but who had not completed visit two, have had their time extended by 10 months.
  • We’ve changed our supervision arrangements to make supervision more flexible and intuitive, while upholding the high standards expected trainees. 
  • Trainees starting the Scheme can access our Preparing for Pre-registration course to support them during their first days in practice. 
  • Trainees who are unable to arrange a hospital eye service placement, can access our Virtual Hospital Eye Service experience. 

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Stage One changes

  • Trainees who had completed visit two by 18 March 2020, are able to complete remaining Stage One visits remotely. They must complete 350 refractions, 200 dispenses and 30 contact lenses before applying for the OSCE. 
     
  • Trainees who enrolled before March 2020, but who had not completed visit one, are able to resume Stage One via a mixture of remote and face-to-face visits. These visits are the same as for trainees enrolling in 2020-21, but these trainees have been prioritised for these visits. They must complete 350 refractions, 200 dispenses and 30 contact lenses before applying for the OSCE. 
     
  • Trainees who had not enrolled on the Scheme before March 2020 are now able to enrol. They can carry over any outstanding university competencies and have these signed off by their supervisor. During Stage One, they will be assessed via both remote and face-to-face visits. They must complete 520 patient encounters, and record them in a new online logbook.

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Stage Two changes

  • Trainees must opt into Stage Two when they have completed Stage One.  

  • Stage Two is in two parts: the overarching assessment is remote and based on a series of case scenarios, and the face-to-face direct observation, which consists of an eye examination and a contact lens fit and aftercare.

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OSCE changes

The September OSCE ran successfully under strict social distancing and infection control measures.   

We had to make the difficult decision to reduce the number of OSCE sittings planned for January 2021 because examiner availability fell significantly following the strengthening of restrictions across the UK. 

The reduced OSCE ran on 27, 28 January and 3 February for up to 75 candidates. We prioritised  candidates in order of when they passed Stage Two, and have added additional days to the March OSCE to accommodate everyone.

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Frequently asked questions
 

General FAQs

Why have pre-registration trainees not been able to have their qualification fast-tracked, like some other healthcare professionals?

The Scheme for Registration, and in particular the OSCE, are the final step in qualification for optometrists. Passing the Scheme via the OSCE allows a pre-registration trainee to become a full GOC registrant and practise independently. This is not the case for many other healthcare professionals, where there is further training and assessment after graduation. 

Early on in the pandemic we decided that the OSCE examination should remain in its current form as much as possible, to ensure that all trainees graduating from the Scheme, before, during and after the pandemic had been assessed to the same standard. 

However, we have allowed university students to carry over any outstanding GOC stage 1 competencies into the Scheme, which allowed them to graduate from university in summer 2020. 

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Why did you not allow pre-registration trainees to have provisional registration, like pre-registration pharmacists?

The General Optical Council has responsibility for the registration of optometrists, and so it is not in our power to change the requirements for registration. 

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Why have there been delays to the Scheme?

We understand how frustrating this has been. Before the pandemic, the Scheme was based on a programme of face-to-face assessments involving assessors and examiners directly observing trainees. 

To restart the assessments after the first national lockdown, we had to factor in the impact of COVID-19 pandemic on supervision, patients and the practicalities of practice. It has been a complex and constantly evolving situation. We had to work with universities and employers to ensure the changes proposed to the GOC were practical, robust and delivered the best possible outcome for trainees. This work has happened as quickly as possible, but it has taken time to identify solutions that work across different settings and are fair to all trainees. 

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Why has there been little communication from the College?

We have always updated you as soon as decisions on the Scheme were made. We are listening to your feedback, and will be starting a programme of regular communication to trainees over the next few months. 

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Stage One FAQs

How do I fill in the new logbook?

You should record each patient that you see during your training. The new logbook does not have separate tabs for refraction, contact lenses and dispensing. Instead, all the patients should be added to the same tab, and the type of patient is automatically worked out by the columns you fill in.

Some columns have drop down menus to help you. If you see a patient for two different reasons  (for example, refraction and dispensing), the type will change to red. This is normal, and is to let your assessor know that you have seen a patient for more than one reason.

You can view the total number of encounters and characteristics you have achieved on the first tab of the logbook.

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How much time do I need to spend in the consulting room?

You need to spend a minimum of 10 hours per week in the consulting room. If this is not possible, you should speak to your supervisor in the first instance. If this is still proving difficult, contact our Lead Assessor for advice. 

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I have been furloughed, can I continue with my assessments?

If you are at Stage One, talk to your Stage One assessor in the first instance. You may be able to continue with assessments, depending on the evidence you have available, and how many patient encounters you have completed. 

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How long is it taking to enrol trainees? How do I know if I’ve been enrolled?

It is currently taking us up to 14 days to process enrolments. If there are issues with your supervision, then it may take longer. 

You can check the status of your enrolment by logging into your account. If you have not heard from us, and the status of your application has not changed after 14 days, contact us.

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I’ve been enrolled but my assessor has not made contact. What should I do?

Assessors have been asked to contact all trainees within 14 days of their enrolment being confirmed. If 14 days have passed and your assessor has not been in touch, email the lead assessor.

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I requested to add a supervisor, but nothing seems to have happened. What should I do?

We are currently processing a high volume of supervisor additions and removals.  

If you are on the new 2020-21 supervision arrangements, and your principal supervisor has not changed, you do not need to add additional supervisors online - just include them in your supervisor log. If you are waiting for a new principal supervisor to be approved, or you are changing a supervisor based on the old supervision arrangements, supervision changes are currently taking us 14 days to process.

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Would a contact lens patient need to be seen for both a fit and end of trial to count as one encounter? Or would this be two separate encounters in the logbook?

When logging contact lens encounters, the lens fit and the contact lens end of trial count as two separate encounters. When you enter these into the logbook, the patient characteristics (fit and end of trial) will show on the front totals page. 

If another optometrist completes the end of trial, then you can still count the initial fit in your logbook.   

However, in order to use a patient record (PR) as evidence of a soft fit (competency 5.1.1.) in visit three, the assessor will need to see the initial fitting record and the end of trial record. The end of trial will allow you to write an appropriate order for a soft lens which is an indicator requirement. 

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Find more information on Stage One in our Scheme guidance
 

Stage Two FAQs

How long is it taking to book a Stage Two assessment?

Overarching assessments will be booked within six weeks of us receiving your opt-in form. 

Unfortunately, we currently have reduced capacity for direct observation assessments, and in the most extreme cases these are taking up to three months to book. 

Assessor capacity is currently reduced as some assessors are having to self-isolate, shield, or cannot assess due to childcare arrangements. 

We are asking those that are able to assess to cover outstanding visits and travel outside of their local area if necessary.   

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How do I cancel my Stage Two assessment?

If you test positive for COVID-19 or are instructed to self-isolate, you must let us know as soon as possible by email. If it is less than 48 hours before direct observation assessment, call us on 020 7766 4365. We will rearrange your assessment with the next available assessor. 

If the assessment is an overarching assessment, and you are both well enough to sit the assessment while self-isolating, you can continue with the assessment.

If you can’t make your assessment for any other reason, email us. 

As per our cancellation policy, there is a fee for rearranging a visit without a valid medical reason.

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I am a 2019-20 trainee and have completed Stage Two and the required 200 dispenses, but have received an email telling me I have episodes outstanding. Why is this? 

Our system is set up to automatically flag any trainee who has not achieved 250 dispenses and we are unable to change this. As long as you have achieved 350 refractions, 200 dispenses and 30 contact lenses, you will be allowed to apply for the OSCE. 

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Find more information on Stage Two in our Scheme guidance
 

OSCE FAQs

Why do I have to sit the OSCE when I have already been observed and assessed at Stage One and Stage Two?

We ensure the rigour of the Scheme by combining multiple assessment points and methods. Removing one of these stages would reduce the robustness of the Scheme overall. 

The Scheme for Registration is based on the principle of programmatic assessment. It ensures a trainee’s competence by combining evidence from formative assessment at Stage One, synoptic assessment at Stage Two and a final sampling through summative assessment at the OSCE.

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Why have you reduced the January OSCE when optometrists are still practising in amber phase?

The OSCE has been reduced due to examiner availability, not due to government guidance on the safety of healthcare practice.

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Why can’t the OSCE be run regionally so that fewer people have to travel?

Any venue used would need to have the same facilities as the London centre to ensure the examination was fair to all, including 14 closed-door clinic rooms, and a remote monitoring system for examiner standardisation and quality assurance. Venues which meet our needs and are available at suitable times are hard to come by. We have explored other clinical assessment centres, but these are currently being used to host a backlog of exams for medics.

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Why can’t the OSCE run online?

We are exploring how the OSCE can be delivered remotely. Some suitable systems are being developed, but are in testing stage. The OSCE is high-stakes, as it is a gateway to qualification, and we do not believe that any of these systems are well-tested or quality assured enough for the OSCE at the moment. Any significant change to the OSCE would also need to be approved by the GOC. It is has therefore not been possible to deliver a remote OSCE by January, and it is unlikely that remote delivery will be approved by March. 

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We were told that the OSCE would go ahead in early January. What changed?

OSCEs are still going ahead, but fewer than planned, unfortunately. The Prime Minister's press conference last week announced new national restrictions in England, which followed an earlier lockdown announcement in Scotland. A key message was to stay at home, however, travel for medical appointments, education and training is permitted. Following these announcements, we reviewed our guidance and that of teach nation’s governments, and announced that the OSCE could go ahead. Since then, these restrictions have had an impact on the personal and professional lives of the people we depend on to help us run the OSCE. Some examiners who were available when we opened bookings are no longer able to attend. 

We are committed to helping trainees progress through the Scheme, so we are running as many sessions as we can with the examiners available. We are incredibly grateful to those still able to attend so we can progress as many trainees as possible, safely. 

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Why didn’t I get one of the remaining places available?

We felt the fairest approach was to allocate places to those who completed Stage Two first, and have waited longest.

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Why don’t you hire more examiners?

We have recruited examiners in the last 12 months.
 
Unfortunately, due to the lockdown restrictions and social distancing and capacity limits at the September OSCE, we have not been able to complete their training. A key part of our examiner training involves new examiners observing current examiners and then being observed by a chief examiner. This has not been possible in 2020. Without this training, it would not be fair to candidates to be examined by a new examiner.

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What are you doing to ensure that March OSCE can run?

We are putting the following measures in place ahead of the March OSCE:

  • We are now working hard to fill all examiner slots for the March OSCE, and are also looking to confirm reserve examiners for each day. We are hopeful that the prospect of reduced national restrictions, and the vaccination programme roll out, will make this possible.
  • We are working to put training in place for additional new examiners ahead of the March OSCE.
  • We are looking at the possibility of putting on additional OSCE sittings in spring and summer 2021. We will update you if and when these additional sittings are confirmed. 
  • We will ensure that we update you on any unfolding developments with the March OSCE with as much advanced notice as possible.

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If I had two OSCE attempts remaining in my allotted time, but had my OSCE deferred from January to March, will I receive and additional extension if I fail the OSCE in March?

If I had two OSCE attempts remaining in my allotted time, but had my OSCE deferred from January to March, will I receive and additional extension if I fail the OSCE in March? 

 

Yes, trainees whose OSCE was deferred, but who had two OSCE attempts remaining before the deferral, will still be able to have those two attempts if needed. 

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Find more information on the OSCE in our Scheme guidance
 

Reasonable adjustments

I have submitted a request for reasonable adjustments and not yet had an outcome. What should I do?

We are aware that a number of applications for reasonable adjustments have not been processed yet. We are prioritising our response to these, but if you have an upcoming assessment visit or examination, and have not had confirmation of your reasonable adjustments, email us.  

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Find more information on reasonable adjustments in our Scheme guidance

 

Tier 5 visas

What effect has the COVID-19- pandemic had on Tier 5 visa applications?

See our information on Tier 5 visas for the latest updates. If you have a query about the progress of your Certificate of Sponsorship, or have received your Tier 5 visa and are waiting to be enrolled, contact us

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COVID-19 vaccine

Will pre-reg trainees be able to receive the vaccine along with fully-qualified optometrists?

All practice staff with patient-facing roles, including pre-registration trainees, will be offered a vaccination along with all frontline healthcare workers. This applies equally to NHS and non-NHS funded care. 

The pace of vaccine deployment will vary from region to region, but the current target is to have all frontline healthcare workers vaccinated by mid-February.  

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Can't find the answer to your question?

Make sure you've checked our Scheme guidance. If you still can't find your answer, submit your question below.

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