Some pharmacy schools have made “important commitments in terms of widening access” to higher education and training, but this may be one of a number of factors contributing to their “students having got more challenging pass rates” in registration exams, General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) chief executive Duncan Rudkin told C+D in an exclusive interview earlier this month.
While enrolling students with “non-traditional academic backgrounds compared to more traditional A-level scores” is a “positive commitment”, universities need to ensure they can adequately support these students to “progress and achieve what they need to, [first] through their degree, [then] into practice and [later] into the registration assessment”, Mr Rudkin said.
Meetings with universities “ongoing”
The regulator announced in September that it would visit five universities that had pass rates lower than 65% in June’s pre-reg exam – Central Lancashire, Wolverhampton, Brighton, Kingston and Portsmouth universities – “to hear their views on the reason for the lower performance”, it said.
Mr Rudkin told C+D this month that these discussions are “underway and ongoing”.
“There are a number of schools where the pass rates are capping consistently towards the bottom,” he said.
However, “there will always be people at the top and at the bottom of a group, that does not necessarily mean there’s a problem”.
“It’s important we speak to [pharmacy schools]…to make sure they are interrogating their own data intelligently and thoughtfully to understand what may be going on and what, if any, action they need to take,” he added.
Integrated education and training
“Multiple factors” can influence candidates’ success in the registration assessment and “it's not solely a function of the quality of the undergraduate education they are receiving”, Mr Rudkin stressed.
“Not least because [students] are also undertaking pre-reg training and their own educational backgrounds will be very different.”
“Too many people” also struggle to pass the pre-reg exam because of “structural” issues around the lack of integration between undergraduate education and pre-reg training, he added.
“The whole process needs to be questioned and potentially re-engineered.”
The GPhC has proposed combining the pharmacy degree and pre-reg training to attain a “stronger link” between academic study and practical experience, which “in principle, very few people” have a problem with, Mr Rudkin said – as demonstrated by the responses to its consultation published in September.
“In some form, it needs to happen,” Mr Rudkin added. “There are some very serious practical issues to work through and we are committed to playing our part in that, with the universities, with the Pharmacy Schools Council, as well as employers, representatives and the NHS, to address those long-term structural issues.”