As part of role in protecting patients, the GDC is responsible for quality assuring dental education and training programmes which lead to registration as a dental professional.
The GDC’s Quality Assurance team leads this work. It is guided by the ‘Standards for Education’, which outline the standards that dental education programmes must meet in order to be fit for purpose. The Standards cover four broad areas: patient protection, quality evaluation and review, student assessment, and equality and diversity. Each standard contains a number of individual requirements that education programmes are expected to meet.
Under the ‘Standards for Education’, education providers and awarding bodies must only allow students to pass if they can demonstrate that they have met a set of ‘learning outcomes’. These are defined in ‘Preparing for Practice: Dental Team Learning Outcomes for Registration’. These learning outcomes, designed with a focus on patient protection and future oral health need, require students to possess high levels of skill in professionalism, management and leadership, communication and clinical ability.
“We quality assure both new and existing qualifications that lead to registration as a dentist or dental care professional”, says Ross Scales, Operations Manager of the Quality Assurance team. “We don’t rank or grade programmes, but we need to be confident that the programme is good enough to produce dental professionals who are ready to practise as ‘safe beginners’ and this includes knowing not to do something they don’t have the skills to do.”
Education providers that want to offer a new programme that would lead to registration must demonstrate to the GDC how that programme will satisfy the ‘Standards for Education’. Existing courses are assessed through regular monitoring and inspection to ensure that they continue to meet the standards.
When an inspection is carried out, the GDC engages external expertise. Quality Assurance inspectors carry out inspections of courses, working closely with the Quality Assurance team. The GDC currently has 62 inspectors, who were recruited in 2012 and comprise dentists, dental care professionals and lay members from legal, education, management and healthcare backgrounds.
“While the GDC inspection does not look at individuals, it seeks to protect patients by quality assuring the providers’ own quality management of the clinical experience and assessments of the cohorts leading to eligibility for registration” says Paul Wright, who has worked with the GDC as an inspector since the late 1990s.
Inspections are carried out periodically, but can also be triggered when a programme undergoes major changes, or where the GDC becomes aware of concerns about a programme through monitoring, whistleblowing or complaints raised with the GDC directly.
Inspections can involve two or more separate visits to the programme in question. First, there is a programme inspection where the panel has the opportunity to meet with staff involved with the management and delivery of the programme and with students across each year of the programme.
This is followed by an inspection of the point where students are signed-off as fit to practise. During this inspection, the panel will observe examinations and assessments and attend meetings where the results of these are agreed and the pass list is determined. Inspection panels make recommendations to the GDC about whether a programme is of the standards we expect for education providers.
You can find out more about the work of the QA Team at www.gdc-uk.org.