Protecting standards of medical education

by Luke Stephenson-Heskey and Rob Tucker

An introduction from your new BMA medical student committee co-leads on UK Foundation Programme exercise

Location: UK
Published: Monday 11 September 2023
Woman taking notes at laptop

We are pleased to be your newly elected co-deputy chairs for education for the BMA medical students committee.

Our priorities for this year will be to ensure the standards of medical education are not damaged by the introduction of the new medical degree apprenticeship model, to monitor the impact of the PIA (Preference Informed Allocation) system for the foundation programme, and to review the GMC’s Outcomes for Graduates framework to ensure it remains reflective of safe, modern and inclusive practice.

One of the most significant changes we will oversee this year in the role is the implementation of the new PIA system for foundation posts. In early 2023, a stakeholder engagement exercise launched by UKFPO (UK Foundation Programme) proposed changes to the foundation allocation method that traditionally involved the SJT (Situational Judgement Test) and EPM (Educational Performance Measure).

For many years, medical students complained the SJT was not fit for purpose, and it added undue stress. The UKFPO survey received 14,600 responses, most of them from students, with two thirds of them supporting a change to the foundation allocation method that removes the SJT/ EPM and introduces a new PIA system for 2024 applications.

Following engagement with students via our national webinar and after hearing from your MSC representatives at MSC meetings, MSC gave its support to PIA as an interim measure, proposing that time be given to further investigation into better, long-term options. We outlined this position to UKFPO in March 2023 in a joint letter with the BMA medical academic staff committee.

In this letter and in our regular meetings with UKFPO, we were clear that a reserve list would be entirely incompatible with PIA. Following BMA lobbying, the UK health departments had already confirmed there would be no reserve list for the 2023 foundation programme intake, and we’re pleased to see UKFPO’s announcement that this will again be the case for 2024, with all eligible applicants set to be guaranteed a place.  

We also called for the SFP (Specialised Foundation Programmes) application process to remain in its current form given the academic component and until the impact of the broader changes is analysed, and although we have not received a long-term commitment on this, the SFP allocation method has remained the same for the 2024 intake.

UKFPO agreed with our suggestion that we should continue to look into alternative options despite the introduction of PIA, and we will be using the opportunity to push for further improvements, including our suggestion of separate rankings for school and programme allocations. You can read more details on the process in UKFPO’s 2024 full guidance here.

We remain cautiously optimistic about the new system roll-out as it removes the stress of the SJT, but the PIA allocation method could have unintended consequences and it will be important to assess how it compares with the old method when it comes to 'highly' ranked applicants being allocated low preferences. We will be working with UKFPO over the upcoming year to help minimise any disruption, anxieties or confusion to students.

In anticipation of your questions, we have asked UKFPO to host a series of webinars so applicants can be better informed. The next webinar takes place on 13 September and recordings will be posted on their website afterwards.

While UKFPO will be answering questions at the sessions, they will only be taking questions in advance, which you can submit via the forms linked on these event pages.

We believe students should be driving the changes that impact them and making this happen will be our focus this year. We need your help to monitor the implementation of the new PIA system, so if at any point you experience issues or require support, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with the BMA helpline service or reach out to your local MSC representative.

You can continue to share your stories and tag us on social media @BMAstudents


Luke Stephenson-Heskey is a final year medical student at University of Nottingham Medical School and Rob Tucker is a fourth-year medical student at Barts and The London School of Medicine. Rob and Luke are your MSC deputy co-chairs for education for 2023-24 session