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Six pharmacy schools had pass rate of below 70% in June

GPhC: Pass rates have become more volatile in recent years

The University of Hertfordshire had the lowest registration exam pass rate of 48%, while Bath retained the top spot with 90%, according to the GPhC

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”.

View performance by school


School of pharmacy

Pass rate (%)

Aston University


University of Bath


University of Bradford (4-year and 5-year combined)


University of Brighton


Cardiff University


University of Central Lancashire


De Montfort University


University of East Anglia


University of Hertfordshire


University of Huddersfield


Keele University


King’s College London


Kingston University London


Liverpool John Moores University


University College London


University of Manchester


Medway School of Pharmacy


University of Nottingham


University of Portsmouth


University of Reading


Robert Gordon University


University of Sunderland


University of Strathclyde


University of Wolverhampton



Why do you think June's pass rate was so low?

We want to hear your views, but please express them in the spirit of a constructive, professional debate. For more information about what this means, please click here to see our community principles and information


cathryn brown, Community pharmacist

Okay - I might be sticking my neck out here, and I need to declare an interest as I teach at Uclan... Why have the C&D chosen 70% as their cut-off point? The overall pass rate was 74%, so surely it would make more sense to highlight all schools with a rate of below 74%? That would include UCL though, which doesn't help prop up people's theories about "new" schools...

Farmer Cyst, Community pharmacist

Probably because 70% is the required mark to pass the exam. Passing the pre-reg exam says that you are, at the very least, minimally competent to practice as a Pharmacist (it could be used to say more, but isn't). What the results do show is that there are schools where a quarter of students, after 5 years of teaching and experience, do not meet the absolute bare minimum standard. I was shocked at how easy the pre-reg exam was, but then I did go to Bath. I thought at the time, and still think now that if that exam is the gateway to our profession, we haven't got a hope in hell of getting anything more than we've got now, clinically speaking, because the bar is so low.

Lisa Jamieson, Community pharmacist

It's interesting to note the results when the universities are categorised according to whether they are: 'Old' schools of pharmacy; 'New' schools of pharmacy; Old universities; New universities (post-1992 i.e. former polytechnics); Russell Group universities. Some fairly consistent patterns seem to emerge...

Angela Channing, Community pharmacist

If this goes on, then in 10 years I think some of these 'new' schools will have been closed down. Either by the GPhC or the university concerned.

Pharmacist Pharmacist, Community pharmacist

University greed nipping them in the backside.

Ms B Wilson, Pharmaceutical Adviser

Opps! something is clearly not right. And do not get me started about students having to racially identify themselves. For those of us in the know, the only way to eliminate such bias of lack of is to completing mark papers blind - end of!!

Andrew O'Neil, Academic pharmacist

Perhaps it is time to introduce an independent entrance exam for prospective pharmacy students, along the lines of the ones used by the medical profession (e.g. UKCAT, BMAT, GAMSAT). Prevention is, after all, better than cure.

London Locum, Locum pharmacist

Yes that sounds a good idea. An entrance exam so you can earn £20k per annum when you're qualified. Right now it's a race to the bottom, soon you'll be able to get in to some pharmacy schools if you collect enough nectar points at the local supermarket.

Paul Samuels, Community pharmacist

Very cynical--but not too far from the truth??

London Locum, Locum pharmacist

I think the whole higher education scam is summed up nicely below: "Students who acquire large debts putting themselves through school are unlikely to think about changing society, Chomsky suggested. “When you trap people in a system of debt . they can’t afford the time to think.” Tuition fee increases are a “disciplinary technique,” and, by the time students graduate, they are not only loaded with debt, but have also internalized the “disciplinarian culture.” This makes them efficient components of the consumer economy." Noam Chomsky

M Yang, Community pharmacist

By all means the GPhC should look into the shockingly low pass rates of some of these pharmacy schools, but they should remember that the onus is on the candidate to pass. This should not be used as an excuse to tweak the marking scheme to get as many people to pass as possible, no other regulatory body would do that and the GPhC certainly should not. If the regulator wants to improve the image of the profession and instil trust in the public, it should be investigating the competency of individual pharmacy schools (and by extension, their graduates), focusing on those with exceptionally low pass rates e.g. Hertfordshire, Wolverhampton. Those in charge at the university level should be held to account for founding schools that are clearly not performing as well as they could, and the GPhC must have a more rigorous method for deciding if a school can open. Considering the string of news stories we've had for the past few years concerning pharmacists with questionable skill and moral character, and couple that with this, it would behoove the regulator to give more thought about whether we should open more schools or if some existing schools should be closed. On a related note, do check out this ongoing petition

John Randell, Non Pharmacist Branch Manager

funny how bath with a high requirements to enter the program produces the best pass rate.........those failing schools need better entrence standards,,... but wait...they dont care, they just want to fill in places to make money...

London Locum, Locum pharmacist

Yes, very curious that.

M Pat, Academic pharmacist

24 schools of pharmacy....goodness me. I looked at the assessment and my suspicions were confirmed- hospital pre-regs far out perform community. I'm not surprised given the exam preparation I had at Bart's. Seminars, support of a whole range of pharmacists from band 6 up to consultant, past papers up the wazoo (I had so many that I couldn't complete them all before my exam in 2012). In the 3-4 months leading up to the exam a friend and I used to go to the library (Bart's/QM library-again another perk of hospital- more studious environment) and get through our BNF's. Some trainers will say that's a waste of time- I completely disagree. It gives you a really good understanding of how to navigate it, gives you exposure to drugs you may never see in community, and gets you get a lot more confident using it.

Dilip Shah, Community pharmacist

GPhc are spot on with there assessment, from experience of training Pharmacy Pre registration students for a number of years I have come to the conclusion that the Universities which were below par have failed to tackle the basics e.g. foundation in pharmacology, dispensing competencies and pharmaceutics in their year 2 and 3 of the syllabus.

Jenny Etches, Community pharmacist

Just a quick scan of the results would seem to show that the older established schools, i.e. those that were around when I qualified in the 70s, have the best results. Just saying

Paul Samuels, Community pharmacist

Makes interesting reading!! It appears indicative of falling standards at some schools of pharmacy & it bears out all I have previously said & thought. Entrance standards should be increased in those schools who have a failure rate below the average so we can at least get suitably qualified applicants. I agree totally with Farmer Cyst that some students are not capable, but that partially rests with school as well as the student.

Lauren Keatley-Hayes, Hospital pharmacist

I think I have to partly disagree with you. I actually sat that exam in June and not much of it was applicable to practice. All the topics we're told to revise; common drugs and their counselling, drugs with narrow therapeutic indexes, OTC and minor ailments, true to life dose calculations etc. Hardly any of that came up. There were some very specialised questions in that exam, that stumped even my hospital counterparts. And there were some very vague questions too, that in practice would not happen because you would have access to more drug history and PMRs etc. It was on the whole a very bizarre exam set by the GPhC and I think they know it (based on their lack of response to the BPSAs recommendations). I paid out a ridiculous sum to attend revision courses too, supposedly to prepare myself for the exam (one of which is run by the Royal society) but none of those could have prepared me for June.

Farmer Cyst, Community pharmacist

Lets be honest - this isn't something we didn't all know already. Some of the universities on that list have a Pharmacy school because they think it brings them prestige - they want to have a 'halo' course, but the GMC and BDA aren't about to let them upset their professions by opening a medical or dental school, so they take the easy option and open a Pharmacy school. I was never the most academic student (at Bath) and so had resigned myself to being in a similar position within my profession after graduating. Then I started my pre-reg, and realised just how poor some Pharmacy graduates are. This is by far and away the biggest threat to the profession - the eternal optimists who tell us we have nothing to worry about when the big two replace us with Skype and robots, because 'services' and 'taking the workload off GPs' don't seem to realise that there's a sizeable chunk of our profession that simply isn't competent enough to offer these services, and the general public know it. They seem to ignore statistics like 20% of our fellow Pharmacists fail the pre-reg exam, which really isn't that taxing (considering that once you've passed, that's effectively 'it' in terms of training and knowledge, it's pretty scary how easy it really is). A crude approximation, I'll agree, but 20% of the general public is likely to use a Pharmacy where the Pharmacist struggled to pass the pre-reg exam - these people are highly unlikely to view their Pharmacist as a replacement for their doctor for any purpose. We can get all the services commissioned that we like, but if the public refuses to see as competent to provide that service, we're still done for.

Chris ., Community pharmacist

Marcus Rattray, head of Bradford University’s school of pharmacy, said the university admits applicants “as individuals” and is confident that all the graduates are “fit to practise”. “We know of no evidence to suggest that the standard of our graduates is slipping,” he told C+D. Really?

Debbie Graham, Public Relations

Queens or University of Ulster seem to be missing .......

Calum Nelson, Locum pharmacist

Most of their graduates will probably sit the PSNI registration assessment (I'm guessing). Because the assessment is different it wouldn't make for a fair comparison.

Chris ., Community pharmacist

To say that Bradford were blowing their own trumpet in your article about Schools of Pharmacy, they haven't come out looking too rosy have they either???

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