The National Qualifications family consists of:
Standard Grade is the normal pre-16 examination in Scottish secondary schools. It is available at three levels:
and is usually taken at the end of the fourth year of secondary education (S4). It is awarded on the basis of performance in an externally-assessed exam and, in almost all subject areas, an internally-assessed Element involving coursework and projects.
SQA offers 38 Standard Grade Courses, with approximately 500,000 individual entries from 60,000 candidates being received annually.
Approximately 5,000 National Units are available at five levels:
All National Units (you might sometimes hear them referred to by their former names of 'Modules' or 'Short Courses') can be taken as free-standing qualifications. They are typically 40-hour learning blocks, which candidates can complete either as part of Courses or Group Awards or as stand-alone learning experiences. What a candidate has to do to get a National Unit is specified in:
Some National Unit specifications also include notes on the range of skills and/or knowledge to be assessed. In addition, each specification includes support notes giving guidance on learning and teaching and approaches to assessment.
National Units are internally assessed, are subject to external moderation and are awarded on the basis of evidence of the successful attainment of all the Outcomes.
The Performance Criteria define the standards of performance required to achieve the Outcomes.
National Clusters are available at Access 2 and Access 3 levels only and are groupings of National Units which form a coherent and relevant learning experience. National Clusters are internally-assessed and subject to SQA moderation procedures.
National Courses are available at Intermediate 1, Intermediate 2, Higher and Advanced Higher levels, in over 70 subject areas. They are post-16 qualifications, and are normally taken by candidates in S5 or above.
Each Course is a grouping of (usually three) National Units and normally consists of 160 hours for teaching, learning and assessment. Candidates also complete an external assessment set and marked by SQA. A pass in all the Units and the external assessment is required to achieve a National Course. Courses are graded A, B or C on the basis of the candidate's performance in the external assessment. The examination diet for National Courses is held during May/June each year.
Project-based National Courses are also available, mainly in vocational subject areas. These Courses have the same design features as exam-based Courses, but provide candidates with additional flexibility, as the external assessment is being carried out using projects which are not tied to a conventional exam diet.
Articulation and progression
Most National Courses and Units are designed in subject hierarchies to allow candidates to progress within the family to the level of their ability or to exit the system to Higher National qualifications and SVQs and beyond.