This study aimed to explore medical students' beliefs about medical education in the light of recent General Medical Council (GMC) recommendations for change and to examine how these beliefs relate to the students' year of training. All undergraduate medical students at a London medical school were given a questionnaire concerning basic sociodemographic information and levels of agreement with a number of statements relating to medical education. The response rate was 75.4% (n = 383). Most students agreed with the majority of recommendations for change. However, two key recommendations, 'more community-based teaching' and 'more optional courses', were supported by only 50.2 and 46.3% of respondents, respectively. Using factor analysis, students' responses were classified into five educational belief orientations relating to 'psychosocial' (e.g. communication skills), 'scientific' (e.g. new technologies), 'active' (e.g. optional courses), 'reform' (e.g. decreasing factual load) and 'group' (e.g. small-group teaching) educational belief orientations. The results showed variations in students' belief orientations across the 5 years of training. The results are discussed in terms of their implications for implementing the GMC recommendations and the impact of medical education on students' belief systems.