Develop: Phase 2 – developing new/revised Units for a Group Award

Unit development and validation process

All Units will be validated by SQA.

The writing and vetting of Units is undertaken by contracting with writers and vetters who are involved in the subject area and can also be members of the QDT. (The QDT will have identified Unit writers and vetters (who may also have been members of the QDT). You should arrange for contracts to be issued to them.)

It is best to have related Units written by the same writer, if this is possible. Related Units are those which form a sequence or are closely related in content.

Unit development and validation process overview

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15 Unit development validation process overview

Tools to help with the Unit writing process

Unit writer training

SQA offers monthly practical Unit writing training sessions in our Glasgow office which are run by a pool of in-house Unit writing trainers. Training is primarily aimed at new Unit writers and provides an opportunity, where appropriate, to learn about the writing process in the context of their development. Sessions will run from 4.00 - 7.30 in the evening, to support writers' day-time commitments.

In addition to the practical Unit writing training session, a site has been set up on SQA Academy to support the writing process. New Unit writers are expected to undertake the SQA Academy programme before attending a Practical Unit writing training session. The programme is delivered through the SQA Academy Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) and holds further exemplification, hints and tips and additional information writers will need to carry out their writing.

Instructions on how to join the training for Unit writers course on SQA Academy are given in the Unit Writer Brief.

Provisional places for Unit writers should have been booked by the SQA Lead Officer as part of the development planning process and places confirmed at the time of contracting Unit writers. Experienced Unit writers are not expected to attend the Practical Unit writing training sessions however, the person leading the development should ensure the writers/vetters have copies of the most up-to-date versions of the tools they need to carry out the writing process.

Monitoring Unit writing and vetting

To ensure the required timescales as stated in the project plan for the validation of the Unit(s) are met, it is important that communication between the person leading the development, Unit writer, vetter and the SQA Lead Officer is maintained in order to identify and address any issues as and when they arise.

While it is important to recognise that most Unit writers and vetters are in full time employment and have personal and social commitments, there may come a point that the Lead Officer must decide on whether a Unit writer's/vetter's contract should be withdrawn and alternative arrangements put in place.

Technical Edit

A technical edit must be carried out on each Unit by SQA.

Technical edit is a check to ensure that a Unit:

The SQA Lead Officer will also refer to the Unit Writer Brief and any comments on the Unit Writer checklist to see whether any changes from the brief have been confirmed as being acceptable eg after consultation with the person leading the development.

After technical edit, regardless of whether any changes have been made, the SQA Lead Officer arranges for the draft Units to be saved as version 0.2, with the electronic footer being updated to show this version number. This version number reflects the stage of the Units in the development process.

Core Skills Audit and Validation

The Unit writer is required to identify on Checklist 1: whether the Unit is to be put forward for Core Skills audit and validation by the SQA Lead Officer.

Audits are conducted by subject specialists in the area in which the Core Skill is claimed. Claims will be audited within 2 weeks of receipt.

The auditor compares what the candidate has to do against the Core Skills framework (243 KB) to see whether the general and specific skills are met within the mandatory section of the Unit specification.

The auditor will make one of the following judgements:

  • agree with claim
  • disagree unless recommendations are actioned
  • disagree with level/components claimed
  • disagree with claim

The auditor will record their judgement in writing and inform the SQA Lead Officer who in turn will inform the person leading the development.

Where the auditor:

agrees with the claim
disagrees with the claim
disagrees with level/components claimed

no further action is required until the final decision is notified to the SQA Lead Officer following the Core Skills validation meeting.

However, where the auditor disagrees unless recommendations are actioned, the auditor will make recommendations on what revisions to the Unit require to be made to enable the Core Skill/Core Skill component to be embedded. The person leading the development should decide whether to amend the Unit specification to address the auditor’s comments or whether the suggested amendments would distort the purpose of the Unit. Depending on what the recommendations are, the person leading the development may wish to consult with the Unit writer. Whatever is decided, the SQA Lead Officer should be informed so the Core Skills validation panel can be updated.

Please note that the final decision as to whether a Core Skill/Core Skill component is embedded is made by the Core Skills validation panel. Core Skills validation meetings normally take place six times a year, but ad hoc meetings can be arranged if required.

Subject Specialist Check

Subject Specialist Check is where each Unit is vetted by a subject specialist who has not been directly involved with the development. The person leading the development should ensure vetting is carried out.

The vetter is responsible for:

  • advising that a Unit is clear, accurate and ready to be used by practitioners


  • highlighting any issues which have to be addressed before the Unit is ready for use


  • checking that the content of the Unit is technically accurate

The vetter will use the relevant checklist to establish whether each section of the Unit specification will be readily understood by practitioners

Following technical edit the person leading the development will arrange to send the appropriate version of the Unit along with Checklist 1 - Unit Writer to the vetter. This process may be carried out by post, e-mail or a meeting.

The person leading the development decides on any necessary changes (after discussion with the Unit writer and/or vetter, if necessary) and ensures that the required amendments are made to the draft Unit specifications. The amended version should then be saved as version 0.3 and sent to the SQA Lead Officer along with the completed Checklist 3.

The SQA Lead Officer will review the Unit specification and Checklist 3 and decide whether the Unit is validated or further work required.

Further work required - the SQA Lead Officer will liaise with the person leading the development

Unit validated - the Lead Officer arranges for the Unit to be formatted, coded and uploaded onto SQA’s website. The SQA Lead Officer will inform the person leading the development of any new codes.

Important note: if section 2 of Checklist 3 has identified a potential barrier in terms of the protected characteristics (disability, race, age, religion or belief, sex, gender reassignment, pregnancy and maternity, or sexual orientation), SQA approval is required on any proposed adjustment that could be made to overcome the barrier or recording a justification for not removing the potential barrier before the Unit can be validated.

The person leading the development should complete the Equality Review Form (112 KB) and send it to the SQA Lead Officer. The SQA Lead Officer will present this to the Qualification Development Management Team (QDMT) for approval.

The content and assessment of all Units should contribute to the aims of the Group Award. Section 5.1 in the Group Award specification is designed to help the Qualification Design Team map the content of Units to the aims of the Group Award (304 KB).