Six pharmacy schools had a pass rate of below 70% in last June's registration exam, the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) has revealed.
The University of Hertfordshire came bottom of the class with a pass rate of 48%, while the universities of Bradford, Brighton, Central Lancashire, Kingston University London and Wolverhampton also came out with pass rates of less than 70%, the regulator said in its assessment of the exam last Thursday (September 10).
Hertfordshire University said it is "working very hard" to identify the cause of low exam performances. It is conducting a further review of its pharmacy course programme as well as offering "additional support to existing graduates during their pre-registration training," it told C+D.
Bath University retained its position as the highest-scoring pharmacy school with a pass rate of 90% (see below for full breakdown),
The average pass rate for the exam was 74% - the lowest since the GPhC became responsible for the assessment in 2010. When asked by C+D whether it will investigate the lowest-performing universities, the regulator said it is continuing to analyse the pass rates.
Education and training provided by universities is just one of a range of factors that affect pass rates, the GPhC stressed.
The average pass rate in the June 2014 exam was 85%, when the University of Portsmouth scored the lowest with 70%.
In its report for this June's exam, the regulator said pass rates in the "last few years" have been “more volatile and lower”. It recognises that pass rates are “the subject of much speculation and assertion” and will take appropriate action to resolve any "specific issues of concern" that arise from its analysis of the results, it said.
Variation between groups
The variation in pass rates between candidates from the hospital and community sectors had stretched to 20 percentage points in June, and the GPhC said the "persistent" lower performance of community pharmacy students is a "cause for concern".
The pass rates of students from different ethnic backgrounds also "varies significantly", the GPhC said. Only 55% of students who described themselves as "Black-African" passed the exam, and the regulator said it is in the "final stages of commissioning qualitative research into the experiences" of these students.
The GPhC's board of assessors decided to lower the pass mark for the exam by three points to 114 out of a possible 168, due to the “relative difficulty of the paper” this year. "Candidates should not assume that because they found some questions difficult, the overall standard is too high," it added.
In August, the GPhC urged pharmacy schools to “reflect” on failing students after union the Guild of Healthcare Pharmacists hit out at universities for creating a “conveyor belt of students”.
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