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GPhC: Wider university access may be factor in low pre-reg pass rates

GPhC: There are many factors that go into determining success in pre-reg exams
GPhC: There are many factors that go into determining success in pre-reg exams

Universities choosing to “widen access” to their pharmacy courses may be one of “multiple factors” behind low pre-reg exam pass rates, the GPhC has told C+D.

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.”

What should the GPhC consider when investigating low pre-reg pass rates?

I think a finger should also be pointed at the establishments where the students have done their pre-reg year. It doesn't matter where you go to university if you have a poor pre-reg placement where you are used as free labour. For example, the pass rate is much higher for students who have done their placements in hospital not because they have been to a "better" university, but because they have been better prepared for the exam.

nawaz mohamed, Locum pharmacist

The increase in the number of pharmacy schools, and apprenticeship roles, together with lower entry grades, has mysteriously coincided with lower pass rates and poorer quality pharmacists? Doesn't take a genius to work out what's happening? Solutions? Close failing pharmacy schools, more stricter inspection strategy, a more universal course, better quality lecturers, increase entry requirements to AAB across the board (or equivalent).

Benie I, Locum pharmacist

Close failing schools !! But what will they do for income. Clearly comon sense dictates you should just keep churning out sub standard graduates regardless. Education ! Education ! Education !

NQ Pharmacist , Primary Care Nurse

I agree the course structure needs to change at the university I attended (Kingston university). I luckily passed my pre reg exam but many of my friends have failed and some are even on the third attempt!! This being because we are thought and practise a handful of calculations and not much emphasis is given on this topic! And a lot of my peers failed this exam because of this reason, accessing the course through wider routes doesn't mean poor chance of passing the pre reg exam! Me and many were given this opportunity and passed the exam and are now qualified pharmacists. Problem is the course structure!

NQ Pharmacist , Primary Care Nurse


C A, Community pharmacist

Clearly the problem is that students aren't doing apprenticeships, bring them in and everything will be grand :roll-eyes:

Benie I, Locum pharmacist

Don't worry. So long as Boots et al have cheap labour all will be well.

stacey gregory, Community pharmacist

Surely this screams "no apprenticeships"?  I'm all for increasing access to realistic working environments for Pharmacy Students and support the new joint pre-registration year arrangements in Wales but, a Pharmacy degree is not easy to come by?  It's demanding and challenging and needs to be-to prepare students for a demanding and  difficult professional role and the pre-reg year is an extension of this?  How on earth will students manage to study for a full-time, scientific degree, while working within the demands of a busy Community Pharmacy?  

chris langtry-lynas, Community pharmacist

Is 'widening access' the same as lowering standards? Might just explain lower pass rates. 

Greatly Pedantic and Highly Clueless, Senior Management

It would be interesting to see a sample pre-reg exam paper to see if it is relevant to the real world. Considering who is setting the exam paper, my guess says this could be part of the problem. I'm sure Duncan is perfectly qualified to validate the exam's veracity. 

Bob Dunkley, Locum pharmacist

Setting aside a tried and trusted formula of entry to the profession, ie A levels of physics, chemistry and biology leads to results like these. Politically correct schemes to widen access to university education are not the way to provide the profession with quality graduates that will advance the cause of pharmacy in future years. There may, however be some ray of hope in all this: if the GPhC see what unsuitable entrants to pharmacy are capable of ( or not) it may strengthen their resolve to deal apprenticeships a fatal blow.


Thomas Wilde, Community pharmacist

I think this is a good way of showing why apprenticeships won't work. If  some universities aren't getting students up to a good enough standard to pass the exam how could an apprentice get to the right standard? 

D Change, Community pharmacist

Both my younger brother and I are pharmacists. I went to London's pharmacy campus and he went to one of the universities mentioned in the article. The difference in all levels from knowledge to professionalism was vast. They just didn't grasp the higher levels required. From their very different lectures and simplified exam structure throughout all 4 years. Many did pass their pre registration but the quality of pharmacist is very subpar in mine and my siblings eyes.

Essentially; the standards are lower. And lower standards equate to lower quality students applying and graduating.

Adam Hall, Community pharmacist

Universities allowing unsuitable candidates to access & complete their course who then go on to fail the pre-reg exam and (possibly) don't mke it as a pharmacist? Could this be anything to do with the tuition fees?

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