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Dental students: The latest on Dental Foundation Training (DFT)

Blog Author Paul Blaylock

Blog Date 28/01/2021

Paul Blaylock finds out the latest on entry to DFT and how it’s been affected by the pandemic.


Undergraduates are the dental professionals of the future and we couldn't be more impressed with how they've coped with the past year and the upheaval in their training. I know that some students have provided valuable volunteering support throughout the pandemic, and many have persevered with their studies in face of considerable uncertainty and disruption. However, delays and concerns remain.

That’s why we, the BDA Students Committee, met with Peter Briggs, Lead Dean for DFT at Health Education England (HEE), on 13 January to find out what we can expect in the months ahead. Here’s what you need to know:

Delays to current DFT recruitment

As HEE has already announced, the opening of the system for preferencing of DFT schemes will take place later than usual this year amid uncertainty about the number of graduates requiring places for 2021-22. It’s yet to be confirmed when precisely preferencing will open, but HEE and the Dental Schools Council (DSC) are working closely together to allow for this as soon as possible. However, given that place allocations are usually not made until summer, new graduates entering DFT may not receive significantly less notice than in any other year.


“I advise you to preference all schemes so you do not filter yourself out of an available place.”

Schemes are likely to be broader in scope than normal to allow HEE greater flexibility when allocating places. So I urge you to keep in mind that not all graduates will get the scheme they want. We expect there to be sufficient places for all UK graduates, but I advise you to preference all schemes so you do not filter yourself out of an available place. We will keep you updated on this process when the timeframe becomes clearer.


We are still hopeful that many graduates will be able to begin their DFT schemes in September. However, if graduations are delayed, HEE has not ruled out the possibility of adding an additional later DFT start date. How this would impact placement allocation is not yet clear, but efforts are being made to avoid running a second recruitment process for 2021 graduates. However, undergraduates who do not graduate in time for a 2021-22 start date will need to go through the recruitment process for the 2022-23 DFT.

Graduates as safe beginners

All clinical years have been affected by the disruption to their learning and some undergraduates are understandably concerned about their readiness for progression onto DFT. The role of Educational Supervisors (ES) at DFT is to take safe beginners that exit dental school and support them to become independent practitioners.

The committee was told that undergraduates who don’t reach the competencies of a safe beginner won’t graduate, but will have additional opportunities to reach that level before graduating and entering DFT. We’re looking for clarity on this and will update you when we have more information.


“All graduates can consider themselves to be safe beginners and progress with confidence.”

All graduates can consider themselves to be safe beginners and progress with confidence. Graduates will have an e-portfolio this year including a Personal Development Plan which they will share with their ES to help with this process. Graduates are not currently required to have received the COVID-19 vaccine in order to start DFT. But this is a developing situation and could become a requirement in future. Indeed, we believe vaccinations are now being offered in dental schools.


Some things remain unchanged. HEE does not currently expect that an across the board training extension will be needed for those completing DFT in 2021-22. Any extensions would cause significant issues in terms of funding and capacity to deliver.

Looking ahead

As we begin to look to a future beyond the pandemic, we hope that those leaving DFT in 2022 will be able to conquer the challenges that these times have created. Treatments by current FDs are now counting towards a practice’s NHS targets in England until at least the end of March 2021. This new development has resulted in FDs being given more patients, thereby increasing their levels of experience.


“No decisions have yet been taken about the recruitment process for 2022-23.”

As it remains unclear what restrictions will be in place by autumn, no decisions have yet been taken about the recruitment process for 2022-23. Virtual interviews are being planned by HEE for other recruitment areas. But with the clinicians required to run them potentially needed for clinical work or redeployed in the NHS, it remains to be seen if these are workable. We will provide a further update when possible.


Amid the ever-changing circumstances of the past year, the Students Committee has advocated for students and graduates and will continue to advocate on your behalf and update you as the situation develops. In the meantime, we urge any students experiencing financial problems to contact the BDA Benevolent Fund who can help those struggling to meet their basic needs. Our mental wellbeing support service also provides 24/7 access to counselling and support for our members. If you are under stress, please do reach out. We’re here for you.


Paul Blaylock


Paul Blaylock

Chair of the BDA Students Committee