In the darkest moments of the Covid-19 pandemic, I found myself sometimes yearning to write about something else. Anything else, in fact. Even the divisive topic of a proposed optometry apprenticeship, was a preferable subject matter at the time.

As the pandemic took hold, talk of the apprenticeship naturally faded and I thought we had reached a point where it might not return. After all, everyone has their hands full at the moment and we are still in the College’s amber phase guidance.

So I was as surprised as the Association of Optometrists to learn that an application had been submitted to the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education (IfATE) by the trailblazer group of employers. If you cast your mind back to January 2020, it was fairly clear where people stood on the subject of optometry apprenticeships. The sector’s two most influential institutions, the AOP and the College, had both voiced serious concerns about what they felt were the shortcomings of the proposed scheme. It was beginning to look like a non-starter.

But the trailblazers say they have been busy behind the scenes during the pandemic, tweaking the standard to meet regulatory requirements and engaging sector bodies in how it will work. If that is the case, I’m not sure why the AOP and College of Optometrists are feeling so blindsided. Something doesn’t seem right, but I’m sure it will sort itself out in due course.

What has flown under the radar is that the apprenticeship consultation currently open on IfATE (ST0773 on, runs out fairly soon, November 16 in fact. It’s important that everyone has their say before IfATE makes a decision early next year.

Whatever IfATE’s decision, the optometry sector can be safe in the knowledge that the standard will then have to be rubber stamped by the General Optical Council – which was involved in helping the group of trailblazer employers develop the scheme.