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1. CHAPTER ONE

1.1 Introduction

Attrition from pre-registration therapeutic radiography programmes has been high for many years when compared to other health professions and occurs mainly during the first year of study. Strategies for improving retention among the health profession programmes have succeeded in bringing attrition down to levels comparable with other undergraduate degree programmes with the exception of therapeutic radiography which remains stubbornly high at 35.6% in 2010/11.1

The document ‘Improving Student Retention: Guidelines and Good Practice’ 9 identified specific factors related to practice placement as: preparation for a positive experience, easing students into placements and addressing their concerns, and providing effective support. Advice and case study exemplars are set out in that document. Subsequently, surveys of radiography students have suggested that dissatisfaction with practice placements was the most frequently reported reason why students did not complete their programme.2, 3

The National Cancer Action Team (NCAT) has sponsored this project in recognition that poor student retention is wasteful of resources and impeding the implementation of the National Radiotherapy Implementation Group’s (NRIG) plans for sustaining and developing the radiotherapy workforce.4

1.2 Project aim

The overall aim of the project is to improve student retention in pre-registration therapeutic radiography programmes. Its primary goals are:

  • to reduce attrition during the first year of study from academic year 2013/14;
  • to achieve a year on year improvement in student retention from 2014;
  • to produce an increase in students’ satisfaction with their practice placement experience as reported in the 2013 student survey.

1.3 Project objectives

The project objectives are:

  • to evaluate compliance with a range of nationally recognised quality standards for placement learning by Radiotherapy centres in England;
  • to gain an understanding of the drivers and barriers impacting on placement quality and the student experience;
  • to propose actions for improvement.

1.4 Methodology

A mixed methodology comprising quantitative and qualitative data gathering with a range of stakeholders, including radiotherapy service managers (RSMs), education providers and current students, was developed.  These different sources have permitted the data to be triangulated and cross checked, enabling an holistic and robust view of the attrition problem to be developed.

1.5 Data collection methods

  • Online audit of radiotherapy service managers in England to assess compliance with nationally recognised quality standards, using Survey Monkey™ (N=50).
  • Visits to 10 radiotherapy centres (20% of the sample) to verify and validate compliance by testing selected evidence, clarifying responses and interviewing an opportunistic range of staff and students.
  • Telephone interviews with HEI leads for pre-registration programmes (N=10).
  • A dissemination workshop for radiotherapy service managers, radiotherapy centre leads for student education and HEI programme leaders.
  • Student conference for cohort representatives from all pre-registration programmes offered by HEIs.

1.6 Ethical issues

The nature of this work is, broadly, an audit of current practice and perceptions of current practice in practice- learning placements in radiotherapy departments in England. As such, the study was categorised as part service evaluation and part audit.  Accordingly, there was no requirement for it to be scrutinised by a UK Research Ethics Committee. Nevertheless, the study was carried out such that the rights, safety, dignity and well-being of all participants in the study were upheld.

1.7 Summary

The methods, findings and analyses for each stage of the project are described in detail in the chapters that follow. Reliability is demonstrated through this transparency and the validity of the findings is assured by means of constant cross-checking of data with stakeholders. Each stage of the project was completed in order to meet the aim of improving retention of students on pre-registration therapeutic radiography programmes.

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