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History of the GOC

Early days
The GOC was created by Parliament in 1958 through legislation known as the Opticians Act.

Before the Opticians Act, optometry and dispensing optics were not regulated professions. It was not until after the introduction of the National Health Service (NHS) in 1948 that the then Health Minister and the Secretary of State for Scotland set up a Committee to determine whether a regulatory body should be created.

Professional regulation
The Committee, led by Lord Crook, considered evidence from optical and medical bodies, training institutions, trade unions and members of the public. Committee members recommended that:

  • Legislation should establish a statutory registration body to be known as the General Optical Council; 
  • The Council should maintain registers of optometrists and dispensing opticians who have the relevant qualifications;
  • The Council should manage the inspection of training institutions and examining bodies which grant qualifications;
  • The practice of optics and use of protected titles (such as optometrist , dispensing optician ) by those who are unregistered should be prohibited by statute;
  • The Council should exercise disciplinary powers over registered opticians, and instil and enforce appropriate ethical standards.

Six years later these recommendations resulted in the Opticians Act which sets out our powers and duties. This legislation was consolidated to form the 1989 Act which includes all subsequent amending legislation. In 2005, a number of changes were made to the legislation. These included the introduction of mandatory continuing education and training for full registrants, and the introduction of registration for student optometrists and dispensing opticians.

The changing face of optics
It is now over 50 years since the beginning of statutory regulation. In that time, the profession has changed considerably.

Our registration figures show that in 2005 for the first time more than half of registered optometrists were female. Women dispensing opticians overtook their male counterparts in 2003.

Historical records suggest that most women in optics started out as widows who inherited their late husbands’ business. In 1898 the first female candidate sat and passed the British Optical Association’s exam in ophthalmic optics (now more commonly known as optometry). She was only eligible to take the exam because of a male relative who was an Association member.

World War I challenged social norms concerning women and work. New opportunities were opening up, allowing women to enter many professions. At the outbreak of Word War II, all four examining bodies for ophthalmic optics accepted women candidates.

The number of female practitioners increased steadily throughout the 20th century, and continues to do so.

You can read more about women in optics by downloading our 2006/7 Annual report.

For more information on the history of optics and the GOC, download our 50th anniversary publication:

Acrobat Reader icon 50th anniversary publication


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