24 Mar 2020

We know many education providers are concerned about the impact of COVID-19 on learners’ progression through pre-registration education programmes, and practice-based learning in particular. This is clearly a rapidly changing situation that is significantly impacting all areas of the economy and day-to-day life.

We are taking a measured approach informed by government guidance and have drawn together advice for BDA accredited Higher Education Institutes [HEIs] that will help teams manage the impact of the measures imposed by the Government in response to the pandemic. This advice should complement advice from the Health and Care Professions Council [HCPC], and seeks to address issues specific to the professional body expectations of accredited programmes.

As you will appreciate, although we are trying to pre-empt as many of the implications that we possibly can, we cannot provide advice for all eventualities as the situation is changing so rapidly. It is important to note that whilst the advice is applicable to all programmes, each team will need to consider the implications for themselves locally due to any differences in delivery patterns. Programme teams are advised to check the website regularly for updates.

A BDA HEI group on Basecamp has been set up - this system provides a virtual space for HEIs to come together to share thoughts, experiences, information and strategies. Please contact m.wyn-wright@bda.uk.com if you require any further information on how to join and use the system.

HEI teaching and assessment

  • There are many ways to deliver learning online both synchronously and asynchronously - the BDA actively supports the move to online learning where possible in these circumstances.
  • In some circumstances, programmes may need to reconsider how they assess academic modules. Changes to the assessment method that do not involve changes to learning outcomes or the weighting between assessment components would normally be considered a ‘minor change’ that does not need to be individually agreed with the BDA. Where changes extend beyond that, they would normally be considered a ‘major change’, and we would ask that you keep us informed so that our records remain up-to-date (c.mcgibbon@bda.uk.com). In these exceptional circumstances, we recognise that notification may come to the BDA after, rather than before, changes are implemented.
  • Our key advice is for teams to use their professional judgment on what will work locally to balance learner welfare and service user safety, while making sure final year learners are able to graduate as close to their normal exit point as possible. HCPC guidance makes a similar point. Like them, we are not requiring teams to formally request changes to their programme.

Practice-based learning

  • The BDA recognises that the evolving situation may have implications for the availability of practice-based learning, which may, in turn, have implications for learners’ experiences on their programme of study. These are exceptional, global circumstances during which the BDA will be taking a pragmatic and proportionate approach with the intention of supporting education providers to act in the best interests of their learners, staff, partner organisations and the public, while upholding the Standards against which they are accredited.
  • The BDA Curriculum Framework 2013 indicates [P14] “In order to allow flexibility in placement provision, learners will usually be expected to undertake not less than 1000 hours of practice learning. It is expected that the majority of this will be outside the HEI in practice placements”. This provides a degree of flexibility with regard to practice-based learning that education providers are encouraged to utilise to exercise creativity within the spirit of the framework (for example, the use of simulated practice-based learning; learning in non-frontline settings for exposure to strategic and leadership roles and/or within research departments or organisations). Many providers will have built into their programme/s at least some additional ‘contingency’ hours to allow for possible periods of ill-health or absence for other reasons. We encourage accredited BDA education providers to facilitate access to suitable practice-based learning experiences for their learners.
  • The BDA recognises that in some instances there may be no option but to postpone learners’ practice- based learning. Page 15 of the curriculum framework allows for this indicating that the maximum time for an individual learner’s period of study from entry onto a pre-registration dietetic programme until qualification as a dietitian should usually be double the length of the programme (minus one year). NB. Exceptions to this must be considered at local level, each case being based upon individual merit. This should accommodate the needs of the vast majority of those unfortunate enough to be in this position (notwithstanding that they may be financially and otherwise disadvantaged by a situation outside their control).
  • The BDA supports teams to take a flexible approach to programme management delivery during post COVID-19 pandemic to ensure learners have met SOPs and adequate practice-based learning, ensuring that learners are not disadvantaged long-term by the need to manage the current pandemic. We would particularly encourage teams to work regionally with regards to practice-based learning.
  • To enable final year students to be eligible to join the register, the BDA is supportive of teams adopting an outcomes-based approach to the expectation that 1000 hours of practice-based learning is achieved. It is important to note that this is a temporary measure that will only be in place to help manage this extraordinary situation – clinicians, learners, managers and HEIs themselves are clear that retaining an expectation set at 1000 hours is the ideal scenario. However, teams must ensure that they have the appropriate measures in place should learners not be able to complete their normal placement profile. 
  • Final year students: due to contingency built into their hours, it would be reasonable for these programmes to allow learners to graduate if they fall short by two to three weeks (a week normally equating to 37.5 hours) without the need for much adjustment to your programmes. In these circumstances, we encourage teams to take a pragmatic approach and consider including hours accrued from clinical activity that might not normally be included. This could include earlier volunteering, earlier observational placements and other activities (including simulation). Please do use these experiences only if they give you confidence in your learners’ abilities and if it could legitimately help you make a case for your learners being assessed and deemed to have met the Standards of Proficiency, being safe and employment-ready.
  • We recognise that there will be learners who will fall significantly short on the recommended 1000 hours. You should ensure that you have identified and put in place contingencies, including alternative assessments, so that you can assure yourselves, your learners, their employers and ultimately service users that learners have met the HCPC Standards of Proficiency. As each HEI operates with autonomy and sets its own regulations, it is your own institution’s regulations which will need to be considered carefully.
  • However, even with these measures, there will still be some students who are unable to graduate at the normal point of graduation. Teams should feel empowered to make the difficult decision that a learner is not ready to graduate and put in place action plans to support them to graduate as soon as in possible.
  • Whilst the issue of practice-based learning for learners not in their final year is less acute, we are aware that some HEIs are already introducing strategies to frontload most of the university teaching with learners picking up placement at later points.

Temporary HCPC register

  • The HCPC are responsible for determining an individual’s eligibility to go on the register. The temporary HCPC register will need careful thought as learners are likely to still be required to have completed sufficient practice-based learning and meet HCPC Standards of ProficiencyWe have also created additional guidance to complement the HCPC advice.
  • You will also need to consider the implications for learners completing their full academic profile ahead of, or alongside, learners joining the register. Learners themselves will need to consider these implications in terms of insurance etc.
  • Teams will need to strike a balance to ensure that those who are graduating ultimately meet the Standards of Proficiency and the full programme aims.
  • We will follow up with additional guidance once it becomes available.

In summary, education providers are encouraged to:

  • Think creatively and be pragmatic

  • Draw your practice-based learning from all sectors and settings and make greater use of role-emerging style practice-based learning

  • Exercise sound professional judgement that is in the best interest of the learners, and the service users that will be treated by your graduates
  • Ensure that those who graduate from your programmes should not be disadvantaged in the long-term by decisions that are made in response to the short-term needs
  • Follow government guidance as it emerges
  • Make judgements in the best interests of your learners, staff and partner organisations
  • Use normal university systems and processes for supporting learners who need to take time out due to illness or have extenuating circumstances
  • Use normal university systems and processes for managing delayed placements and/or module completion
  • Work collaboratively with service provider partners to identify local solutions that are mutually acceptable
  • Also keep up to date with the guidance from your university and from the HCPC as regulator when developing contingency plans

The BDA will offer further advice in relation to COVID-19 as appropriate, according to evolving circumstances.


Latest government and country-specific advice

For the latest government and country-specific information, please refer to:

For government guidance for health professions, please refer to:

For government advice for industries including prisons and schools:

Advice from our regulator

HCPC

Advice for the general public, please refer to: