Current National Qualifications framework

National Qualifications (NQs) are for students in secondary schools and are also offered in colleges of further education. NQs are Standard Grades, National Units, National Courses and Group Awards.

Overview of the framework

Standard GradesNational Courses/Units
Advanced Higher
Higher 1
Standard Grade - Credit Intermediate 2
Standard Grade - GeneralIntermediate 1
Standard Grade - FoundationAccess 3
Access 2
Access 1

NQs have been designed to be as flexible as possible to meet the needs of all students. Qualifications can be built up over time, encouraging students to progress to the highest level they can achieve.

NQs cover hundreds of subjects to suit everyone's interests and skills. Schools offer a range of traditional subjects as well as new subjects that will be useful in today's workplace, such as biotechnology, media studies and information systems.

National Courses

National Courses are available from Intermediate 1 to Advanced Higher. They usually consist of three subject-related National Units, which are assessed by the class teacher/lecturer, plus an external assessment. To gain a full Course award, students have to pass all the Unit assessments as well as the exam.

Standard Grades

Standard Grades are generally taken over the third and fourth years at secondary school, usually with an exam at the end of the fourth year.

Students often take seven or eight subjects including Maths and English. There are three levels of study: Credit, General, and Foundation. Students usually take exams at two levels - Credit and General, or General and Foundation. This makes sure that students have the best chance of achieving as high a grade as possible. This table shows the levels and grades that can be achieved:

LevelGrade
Credit 1 or 2
General 3 or 4
Foundation 5 or 6
Course completed7

 

National Units

National Units are the building blocks of National Courses and Group Awards.  They are also qualifications in their own right. They generally take around 40 hours of teaching to complete. Many full-time NQ college courses are made up of groupings of National Units.

National Courses

National Courses are usually made up of three National Units and an external assessment (which could be an exam or piece of work assessed by examiners.  They are available from Intermediate 1 to Advanced Higher. They usually consist of three subject-related National Units, which are assessed by the class teacher/lecturer, plus an external assessment. To gain a full Course award, students have to pass all the Unit assessments as well as the exam.

Access levels

Programmes of study at Access levels 1, 2 and 3 are unit-based and do not involve national examinations.

Groupings of units built up by learners at Access levels 2 and 3 lead to course awards, such as Business, Computing, Media Studies and Social Subjects.

Group Awards

National Qualification Group Awards are built up from National units.  They are vocational qualifications designed to prepare people for employment, for career development or from progression to further study.

Overview - how NQs are assessed

Unit assessments

Unit assessments are tasks set and marked by teachers and lecturers to national standards. This is known as internal assessment.  Before starting a Unit, teaching staff will make sure that students know what has to be learned and what they have to do to pass.

The students will be told in advance when the assessment will take place, and students will be awarded the Unit when they have passed all parts of the assessment satisfactorily. If they don't pass first time, they can be reassessed. The Units are marked on a pass/fail basis. It is important to be aware that passing the Unit assessments does not guarantee that the student will pass the exam. In the exam, students have to show that they can use and apply the knowledge and skills gained from the whole course.

External assessment

External assessment can take many forms. In many subjects it is an exam taken in May/June, but in some subjects it is project work or folios completed during the Course. The assessment should demonstrate the knowledge and understanding students have gained while working towards their qualification. In all cases, the assessments are set and marked by people appointed by SQA, normally teachers and lecturers.

Students' performance in the external assessments decides the final Course grades that they will achieve. External assessments play an important role, too, in ensuring that the rigorous standards of National Qualifications are achieved and that all students are being assessed in the same way across Scotland.

Grades and Course awards

To get a full Course award a student must pass all three National Units as well as achieve a grade in the external assessment. Pass grades are awarded at A, B, and C, and a grade D is awarded to a student who just fails to get a grade C. Access Courses and Units are not externally assessed.

Project-based National Courses

Project-based national courses (PBNCs) are usually delivered in colleges. These Courses consist of Units, and a project that has to be assessed by SQA. To gain a Course award candidates have to pass all component Units and achieve a pass for their project.

Examples of PBNCs include Fitness and Exercise at Higher and Intermediate 2 levels, Care at Intermediate 2 level and Care: Health Care at Higher level.

More from Education Scotland

  • National Qualifications

    Free resources and subject guidance for teachers of National Qualifications in Scotland's secondary schools and further education colleges.

Other websites

  • SQA NQ homepage

    News, information and support materials for SQA’s suite of National Qualifications.