Design Principles For Developing HNC'S And HND'S

Appendix 1 is available to download here in Microsoft Word format:


HNCs and HNDs have supported technician, technologist and first line manager occupations for over 75 years, including progression in professional qualifications and other higher education awards. More recently, some HNs have been specifically designed to support progression from Modern Apprenticeships and to degrees.

In order to continue serving these occupations, HN programme designers should adhere to the following design principles. Design teams must always conduct market research, particularly among candidates and employers to ensure the continuing fitness for purpose of the HNs. Where this clearly indicates that any of those design principles marked with an asterisk needs to be re-interpreted or modified, SQA will work with the design team to develop alternatives, which are coherent with the other principles.

The validity of the market research and the fitness for purpose of the proposed alternatives will be confirmed at validation.

Further considerations for design teams are also indicated.

(a) Design principles

SCQF level and SCQF points

Core Skills

Mandatory section

Graded Units

The purposes of Graded Units will be to assess the candidate’s ability to integrate and apply the knowledge and/or skills gained in the individual HN Units to demonstrate that they have the principal aims of the Group Award, and grade candidate achievement.

(b) Further considerations

HN Unit and Graded Unit specifications

SQA produces guidance on how to write HN Unit and Graded Unit specifications. These include templates and examples of how the specifications should be laid out. This guidance should always be used in developing new or revised HN Unit or Graded Unit specifications. The minimum change to current Unit specifications would be to remove the merit statement and to add an SCQF level and SCQF credit points.

Validation of HN Unit specifications

A key part of validation is to confirm the proposed allocation of SCQF levels and SCQF credit points to each Unit, and this needs to be seen to be done consistently.

Until the process of devolving this to centres is fully worked out, SQA will validate all new or revised HN Unit specifications. Centres may continue to develop HN Unit specifications for validation by SQA.

Validation of HN Group Awards and group award Graded Units

Group Award validation may continue to be done by those centres with devolved powers to do so. As Graded Units relate to the principal aims of a Group Award, these too may be validated by devolved centres as part of Group Awards.

Validation periods

HN Units, Graded Units and Group Awards will be kept under review by design teams in order to ensure continuing fitness for purpose. Normally, these will be reviewed every five years or more frequently if recommended by validation panels. However, specific time periods of validation will not be specified.