Connecting With SQA - SQA's Monthly E-zine.

Friday 8 December 2006
Issue 12

Christmas Greetings

We would like to wish all our customers a very Happy Christmas and prosperous 2007.

As part of our Environmental Policy, we have decided not to send out Christmas cards but to send this e-card to you as part of our December e-zine. The savings from these are being donated to our nominated charity for 2006, Cancer Research Scotland.

If you find this e-zine useful, why not register to receive it monthly - keeping you up to date with all the latest news and developments from SQA.

Register today.

New Chief Executive appointed

PHOTO: Dr Janet Brown, new SQA Chief Executive
John McCormick, SQA Chairman, has announced that Dr Janet Brown has been appointed as our new Chief Executive.

Dr Brown (55) joins us from Scottish Enterprise, where, most recently, she was Managing Director of Industries.  Before her five years at Scottish Enterprise, Dr Brown worked in the electronics sector, spending considerable time in the United States.  The last role she held before coming to live permanently in Scotland was as Director of Operations Networking Systems Memories for Motorola in Austin, Texas.

Born in Sheffield, Dr Brown holds a B.SC in Physics and a Ph. D in Metallurgy & Materials Science, both awarded by the University of Birmingham.  She lives in Paisley with her husband and two daughters.

Speaking about the appointment, John McCormick says, 'We are delighted to have someone of Janet’s calibre joining us in SQA.  Janet brings an impeccable track record of achievement and a proven profile of business, organisational, management and leadership skills.  SQA itself has developed into a strong organisation in recent years and I have every confidence that Janet will lead the organisation onto even more success.  This is all great news for Scottish learners and the Scottish qualifications system'.

Dr Janet Brown added, 'I am thrilled to be joining SQA.  My international experience has helped me understand that Scottish education and Scottish qualifications have a very strong reputation across the world.  I already know that there is a strong team at the helm, as well as dedicated and talented staff, and I look forward to playing my part with them in building a modern, robust qualifications system fit for Scotland in the 21st century.'

Dr Brown will take up her post in early 2007.  In the meantime, Tom Drake will continue as our interim Chief Executive.

SQA Annual Awards 2006 - the Results

LOGO: SQA Annual Awards LogoWe recently held our annual Awards Ceremony at the Sheraton Hotel in Edinburgh, with Shereen Nanjiani as our host. Yet again we had a record number of entries for our Awards and our judging panel had the difficult task of selecting three finalists in each category.

The categories cover the full range of participants in Scottish education:

  • The Centre of the Year Awards (School, College, Training Provider/Employer)
  • The Lifelong Learning Award
  • The Highlands and Islands Enterprise Award
  • The Partnership of the Year Award
  • The SQA Award for Academic Excellence
  • The SQA Hero Award
  • The Candidate of the Year Awards (School, College, Training Provider/Employer)
  • The Fellowship of the Scottish Qualifications Authority

Each finalist had an inspirational story to tell about their road to great achievement. Congratulations to them all. The Ceremony included entertainment from Fèis Rois Cèilidh Trail - giving young traditional musicians the opportunity to gain skills and experience in performing to live audiences, and Jazz Art UK - encouraging young performers to aim at the highest professional standards.

Our thanks to our sponsors, who presented the Awards.

  • Highlands and Islands Enterprise
  • Learning and Teaching Scotland
  • Leckie & Leckie
  • Microsoft
  • Scottish Enterprise
  • UCAS

It was a wonderful occasion, highlighting the strength of Scottish education.

Access full details and pictures of all the winners.

The Fellowship of the SQA

PHOTO: James McVittie receiving his Fellowship from John McCormick, SQA ChairmanPHOTO: Judith Sischy receiving her Fellowship from John McCormick, SQA Chairman


At our Annual Awards Ceremony we awarded two Fellowships of the Scottish Qualifications Authority. The Fellowship is the highest Award we present and is conferred on individuals who have made a significant contribution to education and training in Scotland.

The Fellowship Awards were conferred by our Chairman, John McCormick to:

  • Judith Sischy, Director of the Scottish Council for Independent Schools
  • James McVittie former Head Teacher of St Ninian's High School

Find out more.

A Curriculum for Excellence - the future of assessment and qualifications

LOGO: A Curriculum for Excellence logo

PHOTO: Lena Gray, Business Manager, A Curriculum for Excellence

Within the next few weeks, the Scottish Executive’s Curriculum for Excellence programme will publish its fourth newsletter.  The newsletter outlines the possible implications for assessment and qualifications of A Curriculum for Excellence.  As reported in our October issue, we are working with partners to lead work to review qualifications at SCQF levels 4 and 5.

The key points to note are:

  • Ministers are keen to ensure that the scope and nature of assessment and qualifications are consistent with the values, purposes and principles of A Curriculum for Excellence.  They have also emphasised the importance of providing more effective opportunities for the development and recognition of learners’ wider achievements beyond National Qualifications.
  • In relation to National Qualifications, Ministers intend to retain Access, Higher and Advanced Higher as points of stability within the system.  These qualifications will have to adapt over time to reflect A Curriculum for Excellence, but this will be built into the normal procedures for updating and refreshing National Qualifications.  The main focus is on addressing the use of Standard Grade and Intermediate qualifications (SCQF 4 and 5) in providing a unified structure that reflects A Curriculum for Excellence.
  • The Scottish Executive has established an Assessment and Qualifications Task Group involving SQA, LTS and others to undertake technical work on developing options and proposals for formal consultation on the future arrangements for qualifications at SCQF 4 and 5.
  • The Task Group is also developing proposals on how learners’ wider achievements can be recognised more effectively.  The Curriculum Review Programme Board is developing proposals on what kinds of achievements might be included.
  • A range of key stakeholder groups will be involved in helping to develop the options and proposals on both qualifications and recognition of wider achievement.  In particular, the Scottish Executive’s National Qualifications Steering Group which brings together representatives from education authorities, all the main teaching unions, the further and higher education sectors, parents and business will act as a sounding board offering advice and other assistance to the Task Group.  SQA and LTS are also leading early engagement work, including work with young people.  Ministers expect that proposals for formal consultation on qualifications at SCQF 4 and 5 and recognition of wider achievement will be made around summer 2007.

For further information, including details on how you can be involved in the engagement process, contact Lena Gray on 0845 213 5396.

Appointments to the SQA Advisory Council

The Minister for Education and Young People, has appointed three new members to the Advisory Council that provides stakeholder advice to the Board of the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA).

The Advisory Council provides advice to the SQA Board and/or to Scottish Ministers in relation to qualifications devised or awarded by the SQA, and the SQA’s functions and procedure in so far as they affect stakeholders.  The council can also provide advice on other matters as it thinks appropriate.

The three new members are:

  • Alex Paterson - Director, Developing Skills – Highlands and Islands Enterprise
  • Brian Lister – Chief Executive Scottish Further Education Unit and Principal Cumbernauld College
  • Grant Ritchie – Assistant Principal Dundee College

Members are appointed in a personal capacity, but on the basis that they will bring knowledge and experience from a relevant stakeholder background.  The appointments will be for four years. We look forward to welcoming them to their first meeting of the Advisory Council in January next year.

Audit Scotland Section 23 Report

The Audit Scotland Section 23 Report on SQA was recently published. The Report provides a positive assessment on the progress we have made since 2000.

Robert Black, Auditor General for Scotland said, 'The SQA has successfully re-established confidence in its work and is demonstrating an ongoing commitment to making improvements.'

Findings in the report show that:

  • since 2000 we have been successful in re-establishing customer and stakeholder confidence
  • the Board and executive team have shown commitment and leadership in driving forward improvements
  • our corporate planning process has established clear objectives, although performance management information is not clearly linked to these objectives at present
  • we are developing a deeper understanding of the link between our costs and activities and are beginning to benchmark our activities against other organisations

Robert Black concluded that, 'Our report makes a number of recommendations to aid the SQA in its progress. These include that the organisation develop performance indicators linked to key objectives, and that it explore opportunities for greater use of benchmarking to inform performance management activity. The SQA also needs to continue to develop a more strategic focus and to identify opportunities for efficiency savings.'

We are continually working towards these improvements and welcome your feedback and support.

Access the Audit Report.

SCQF Partnership

LOGO: SCQF LogoThe Development Partners of the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework have set up new arrangements for managing the framework.  They have formed a company limited by guarantee called the SCQF Partnership.  The first meeting of the Board of the new company took place on Wednesday 15 November 2006.

The members of the Board are drawn from the SCQF Development Partners and are: John Young, Director of Qualfications SQA; Norman Sharp, Head of QAA Scotland; David Caldwell, Director Universities Scotland; Dr Ray Harris Principal of Edinburgh's Telford College, representing Scotland's Colleges, and Stephen Kerr, Head of Skills for Life and Work Division within the Scottish Executive's Enterprise, Transport and Lifelong Learning Department . Dr Andrew Cubie has been appointed as Chair of the company.

The SCQF Partnership's role will be to:

  • maintain the quality and intergrity of the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework
  • promote the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework as a tool to support lifelong learning
  • develop and maintain articulation agreements between the SCQF and frameworks in other parts of the UK, Europe and internationally

The next development will be the recruitment of a Chief Executive for the company and the establishment of a Quality Committee to support its work.  A new SCQF Forum for wider stakeholders will also be set up to replace the Joint Advisory Council.

Introducing New Customer Support Arrangements

Delivering exceptional support to our customers will always be one of our top priorities.
All our customers are familiar with the roles carried out by our Customer Account Managers (CAM) and Quality Assurance Managers (QAM).  We constantly get great feedback from customers about the support, advice and guidance given so we know you value their services greatly.

Building on this success and our constant wish to improve services for our customers, we have merged the CAM and QAM roles into a single role of Customer Support Manager (CSM).

The aim of our new CSM team will be to provide exceptional customer service and support.  The team will act as a ‘one stop shop’ into us on all customer issues in addition to providing a range of quality assurance activities such as approving new centres to offer our qualifications.

CSMs will cover a geographical area of Scotland and provide support to all schools, colleges and training providers in their area.

Our new CSM team will be part of the Chief Executive Department and led by Senior Customer Support Manager, Lorna Chalmers.  Lorna is committed to working with customers to improve the quality of service provided. You can contact her at 0845 213 5119 or

Your CSM will be in touch soon with your Co-ordinator to introduce themselves and pass on their contact details.

Creative Writing Competition Launch

PHOTO: Lesley Kelly, winner of the 2006 Unpublished Writer category, reading her FrauenkopfWe recently celebrated the launch of the 2007 Creative Writing Competition in partnership with The English Speaking Union Scotland (ESUS), The National Galleries of Scotland (NGS), Scottish Poetry Library (SPL) and The Scotsman, at NGS, Edinburgh.

The event, raising the profile and encouraging participation in the 2007 Creative Writing Competition, included readings from some of last year's winning entries:

  • Alice Howlett's Edinburgh (New Town)
  • Jemma Mackenzie's Wee Man
  • RJ Richie's The Berth of Venus
  • Lesley Kelly's Frauenkopf
  • Rowan Simpson's Instead

The competition, using the art in the collections of the NGS as inspiration, has five entry categories and anyone can get involved.

  • Published adult writers
  • Unpublished adult writers
  • School pupils between 16 and 18 years
  • School pupils between 12 and 15 years
  • School pupils under 12 years

So, if you are feeling creative or have students who are creative, why not write or encourage others to write a short poem or piece of prose in not more than about 1,000 words inspired by a piece of art. Images of many of the works can be accessed through the NGS website in the section ‘Online Collections’.

Entries should be typed with double spacing and e-mailed to A copy should also be posted to English-Speaking Union Scotland, 23 Atholl Crescent, Edinburgh EH3 8HQ by Friday 19 January 2007. The results will be announced by Friday 30 March 2007.

Full details of the competition entry categories, prizes, guidelines and rules can be found at, or or telephone 0131 624 6534 or 0131 229 1528

Find out more.

SQA pioneers Avatar Signing

IMAGE: Avatar Signing
We have teamed up with the University of East Anglia and the Royal National Institute for Deaf People to explore the potential of signing avatars to provide British Sign Language (BSL) support in examinations.  With funding from the Teaching and Learning Research Programme, the project seeks to explore whether avatar based signing support can overcome some of the difficulties that candidates with BSL as their first language can experience when accessing our qualifications.  This research will inform how we can best enable access to its qualification for all of our candidates.  If successful, it could be rolled out across the qualifications range.

Find out more.

English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) Candidate Case Study: Maryam Habibollahi

PHOTO: Maryam Habibollahi, Medical ReceptionistMaryam Habibollahi from Iraq arrived in the UK without the English language skills which would enable her to integrate into society.

By accessing the link, you can now listen to or read her inspirational story as a pdf or flash download. You'll learn how undertaking our NQ ESOL qualifications at Stevenson College Edinburgh enabled her to progress from being a complete beginner in ESOL to achieving a Professional Development Award in Medical Administration and thereafter finding employment as a Medical Receptionist with Riccarton Medical Practice in Heriot Watt University.

Access the Case Studies.

Sustainable Development

The Scottish Executive’s strategy for sustainable development is outlined in the document, Choosing our Future, which was published in December 2005.  It is clear from this document that Scotland is committed to building a sustainable future and part of the strategy for this will involve the educational system.

We are working with a number of stakeholders and other agencies to ensure that education makes its contribution to a Scotland where:

  • learning for sustainable development is a core function of the formal education system
  • there are lifelong opportunities to learn
  • the sustainable development message is clear and easily understood

We have set up a cross-cutting group for sustainability to harness ideas and suggestions from across all sectoral and subject areas.  It is important that sustainable development retains this cross-cutting flavour and is not seen to be the preserve of one particular subject.

The group has commissioned a guidance document aimed primarily at writers to give them an awareness of what sustainable development is and how its principles can be promoted through our qualifications.  This will be followed by further guidance material aimed at a wider audience and will be issued in conjunction with national workshops which will be run early next year.

As the Curriculum for Excellence programme develops, education for sustainable development will be integrated across subject areas.

A number of new qualification developments will address sustainability directly.  These include HN Units in renewable energy being developed as part of Engineering modernisation as well as a Skills for Work Course in Energy which is currently being scoped.  In addition there are a number of individual Units which are suitable for use with this topic.

In the words of Choosing our Future, 'We are facing major and unprecedented challenges to moderate our previously unsustainable patterns of development'.  Our contribution to meeting those challenges will be an important part of its work strand over the next few years and it is our intention to keep stakeholders informed of all relevant developments.

NQ Clusters to become Courses from January 2007

The term ‘Cluster’ has been used since the Higher Still Development Programme to refer to subject specific groupings of Units at Access 2 and 3 level (made up of three Unit credits) which provide articulation with Courses at Intermediate 1 level and above.

The term ‘Cluster’ was discussed as part of a consultation carried out in 2004 during the review of our Qualification Portfolio. One of the conclusions of that review was that we should change the title of 'Clusters' to 'Courses' to bring them into line with other qualifications within our portfolio.

As a result we have now decided to rationalise the titling of National Qualifications by dispensing with the title ‘Cluster’ and extending the use of the title ‘Course’ to Access 2 and 3 levels (SCQF levels 2 and 3).

This will mean that all 'Clusters' that currently exist at Access 2 and 3 levels will be called ‘Courses’ in any of our publications published from 1 January 2007.  In addition, when the new SQC (Scottish Qualification Certificate) is introduced it will refer to 'Courses' rather than 'Clusters' at Access 2 and 3 levels.

Issues Affecting HN Graduates Applying to University

The number of HN graduates applying to university in Scotland is increasing.  At the same time, Scottish HEIs, in line with the Widening Participation Agenda, are showing more and more willingness to accept these applicants and to offer them advanced standing.  However, despite this progress, there are some issues which we would like to take forward and try to resolve.

These fall generally into the two broad categories of application difficulties at the beginning of the process, and timely sharing of results between institutions at the end of the process.

We have already taken steps to help overcome these obstacles. A major focus of this can be found on our website designed for informing HEI staff.

For further information on this topic please contact

Access the HEI section of the website.

Personal and Social Development: Update

After further discussion with key stakeholders and partners, we have revised the timescale for the introduction of  the revised Course in Personal and Social Education.  This new Course, which is likely to be renamed 'Personal Development', will be introduced at  Access 3, Intermediate 1, Intermediate 2 and Higher levels from August 2008, and will replace the existing Courses at these levels in Personal and Social Education.  Work is also under way to extend this qualification to Access 2 level.

Key Features of the Course:

 The new Personal Development course will:

  • be an ungraded Course consisting of three Units at Access 3 and four Units at levels beyond this
  • focus on experiential learning
  • provide a valuable contribution to building the curriculum around the capacities of A Curriculum for Excellence
  • be flexible enough to be delivered in a wide variety of contexts
  • allow different contexts, or the same context, to be the focus across all Units
  • have clear pathways for progression between levels
  • provide a clearer progression pathway from Social and Vocational Skills, Standard Grade into National Qualifications
  • allow recognition of practical abilities and communication skills
  • provide a flexible approach to the gathering of evidence to demonstrate candidate performance
  • use verification procedures to provide support to centres
  • be supported by SQA and LTScotland who are co-operating in the production of assessment  and learning/ teaching materials

Further information about the Personal Development Course will appear in future editions of e-zine, on the subject page of the website, and in update letters to centres.  Alternatively you can contact one of the following staff who are directly involved in the development:

If you wish to register to receive further updates directly to your e-mail address please contact

Access the latest update.

Online Research Bulletins

LOGO: Research Bulletins

In recent months, several new research bulletins have been published on our website:

Research Bulletin 18 - Training Activites and Engagement with Qualifications in the Social Economy: A Summary
A study carried out for SQA by BiGGAR Economics
Research Bulletin 19 - Assessment: A Literature Review
This paper outlines debates in assessment research, practice, and theory, with regard to formative and summative assessment and the impacts of social and personal factors.

Research Bulletin 20 - Profiles of Achievement: An Investigation into International Developments
This paper is the result of an initial investigation looking for examples of assessment and certification which would assist us in the context of recording formally how students in Scottish secondary schools progress in the four capabilities set out in A Curriculum for Excellence - ie successful learners, confident individuals, responsible citizens, and effective contributors.

Research Bulletin 21 - Unsuccessful Appeals Forms
This paper gives the results of an evaluation of the new set of unsuccessful appeals forms introduced by us in 2005.

Research Bulletin 22 - Differing National Models of Short-Cycle, Work-Related Higher Education Provision in Scotland and England
This paper summarises the first stage of a comparative study of Higher National Certificates/Diplomas in Scotland and Foundation Degrees in England.

Access the Bulletins.

Qualifications can cross Boundaries - rough guide on the web

IMAGE: 'Qualifications can cross boundaries' leaflet'Qualifications can cross Boundaries - a rough guide to comparing qualifications in the UK and Ireland'; many of you will be familiar with the purple leaflet that shows the qualification frameworks of Scotland (the SCQF), England, Wales and N. Ireland  (the NQF and HE) and Ireland (NQAI) and how the qualifications in these frameworks compare across the different education and training systems of the UK and Ireland. The rough guide is now available as an interactive website, a link to which is given below.

The 'Qualifications can cross Boundaries' website allows you to access information about, for example, the level descriptors for each framework, the qualifications that sit underneath each level, the websites of the bodies responsible for the qualifications, and much more.  The new and revised qualification group awards that emerged from our port folio review (National Certificates, National Progression Awards and Professional Development Awards) are also included in the SCQF diagram on this website.

Please visit the website and pass this link around to whoever you feel would find it useful.

Click here to access the interactive website.

New National Qualification Course Reports

We are currently piloting new National Qualification (NQ) Course reports in a small group of subjects:

  • English
  • Graphic Communication
  • Hospitality
  • Mathematics

The purpose of these is to give you information on internal and external assessment for the subject in the one place; an easier way of making a comparison across levels and years; and support in achieving consistency in national standards across levels for both internal and external assessment. The reports will be useful for subject specialists, subject managers and centre managers.

Your feedback on the usefulness of these reports and any improvements that could be made would be very much appreciated. Please contact the relevant Qualifications Manager for your subject, details of which are available on each course report.

Access the Course Reports.

New Publication: Estimates, Absentees and Assessment Appeals: Guidance on Evidence Requirements

LOGO: Front Cover of Estimates, Absentees and Assessment Appeals: Guidance on Evidence Requirements


Following our review of Estimates, Derived Grades and Appeals, the revised Estimates, Absentees and Assessment Appeals: Guidance on Evidence Requirements has been published. This document will support our work with teachers, lecturers and partners to enhance understanding of standards.

Access the guidance.

Dewar Arts Awards

LOGO: Dewar Arts Awards logoThe Dewar Arts Awards were set up in memory of Scotland's First First Minister Donald Dewar.

These awards are given to young people under thirty In Scotland who can demonstrate exceptional ability in any art form and whose financial circumstances make it difficult for them to fulfil their potential.

Nominations from a third party with details of the candidate and two references are examined by a board of trustees who may then have applications professionally assessed. Awards are made on a rolling basis throughout the year to offer maximum flexibility to those hoping to complete projects or seek further qualifications or tuition.

Full details of the application process and news of previous award winners are available on the Dewar Arts Awards website.

Find out more about the awards.