Guide to SQA qualifications

SQA qualifications are recognised worldwide and are accessible to all. Our qualifications provide clear progression pathways and are supported by industry.

National Qualifications

What are National Qualifications?

National Qualifications (NQs) are one of the most important types of qualifications in Scotland. Almost everyone leaving school or college today has one or more NQ.

NQs are taken by students in secondary schools and colleges (and some training centres). They cover subjects to suit everyone's interests and skills, from Chemistry to Construction, History to Hospitality, and Computing to Care.

The types of NQs available are:

  • National 1 to National 5
  • National Units
  • National Courses
  • Group Awards
  • Highers
  • Advanced Highers
  • Skills for Work
  • Baccalaureates

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Scottish Vocational Qualifications (SVQs)

What are Scottish Vocational Qualifications (SVQs)?

Scottish Vocational Qualifications are based on national standards which are drawn up by people from industry, commerce and education. There are SVQs for nearly all occupations in Scotland, from forestry to IT, management to catering, journalism to construction.

Discover how you can gain paid employment combined with the opportunity to train for jobs at craft, technician and management level.

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Professional Development Awards (PDAs)

What are Professional Development Awards (PDA)?

Professional Development Awards (PDA) are aimed at developing the skills of those already in professional employment.

They are principally designed for those already in a career or vocation who wish to extend or broaden their skills base. They may also be embedded within another qualification such as HNC/HND

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National Certificates and National Progression Awards

What are National Certificates and National Progression Awards?

National Certificates (NCs) and National Progression Awards (NPAs) provide those preparing for work with opportunities to develop skills much sought after by employers.

National Certificates

National Certificates are designed to prepare people for employment, career development or progression to more advanced study at HNC/HND level. They also aim to develop a range of transferable knowledge including Core Skills. These certificates are aimed at 16-18 year olds or adults in education and are at SCQF Levels 2 to 6. Each one has specific aims relating to a subject or occupational area.

National Progression Awards

National Progression Awards are aimed at assessing a defined set of skills and knowledge in specialist vocational areas — linking to National Occupational Standards, which are the basis of SVQs. Available at SCQF Levels 2 to 6, NPAs are successfully delivered in partnership between schools, colleges, employers and training providers in a variety of sectors.

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Higher National Qualifications (HNCs and HNDs)

What are Higher National Qualifications?

HN Qualifications are offered by colleges, universities and many other training centres. Higher National Certificates (HNCs), Higher National Diplomas (HNDs) and Professional Development Awards (PDAs) are specially designed to meet the needs of employers.

HN Qualifications can also give candidates access to 2nd or 3rd year entry at university and membership of professional bodies.

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SQA Awards

What are SQA Awards?

SQA Awards are small, flexible qualifications, suitable for any type of learner. Awards are designed to address and provide proof of specific skills. The awards include:

  • Employability
  • Leadership
  • Volunteering Skills
  • Steps to work
  • Safe Road User
  • Personal Finance

SQA Awards are designed to recognise Wider Achievement and the development of skills which will help learners to succeed in today's world. Wider Achievement recognises the life and work skills that come from a wide range of activities which can include sport, mentoring, voluntary work or fundraising activities - whether they take place at school, college or elsewhere.

We have a number of SQA Awards from SCQF levels 1 to 6 - all suitable for a broad range of learners.

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Qualifications for work

Introduction to Work Place Skills (IWPS)

The Introduction to Work Place Skills (IWPS) is a qualification designed specifically for young people aged 16-19 that have a positive 'can do' attitude and are preparing for the world of work, but need some support to develop their core skills and employability skills. Young people will get an employer assessed work experience placement of a minimum of 150 hours.

The IWPS will allow learners to develop their underpinning core skills, and to start to develop competence in a working situation. As some young people may not be quite ready for a real work environment, simulated workshops, sheltered and supported work environments, as well as real work environments can all be utilised for the work placement element of the IWPS.

The IWPS encompasses existing SQA nationally recognised employability and core skills units which supports the Skills Development Scotland customised unit. These units form a quality framework around the delivery of good quality work experience at SCQF level 3.

Successful completion of this qualification gives the young person evidence of their core skills and experience, from which they can progress on to the Certificate of Work Readiness, further training, education or employment.

This qualification is available through colleges and training providers working in partnership with employers.

Certificate of Work Readiness (CWR)

The Certificate of Work Readiness is an award designed specifically for young people who are ready for their first experience of the world of work, but need some guided support. The certificate includes a unique employer assessed 'real life' work experience placement, providing a meaningful qualification and a credible standard employers can recognise and trust.

Successful completion of this award offers the young person greatly improved job prospects and transferable skills in self evaluation, planning and goal setting that can be applied to any workplace.

This qualification is available through colleges and training providers working in partnership with employers.


Our Apprenticeships section has an overview of Modern Apprenticeships and Foundation Apprenticeships.

For more detailed information, see the Skills Development Scotland Apprenticeships website.

Core Skills

What are Core Skills?

Core Skills are five skills that are key to learning and working in today's world. Employers have identified these skills as those most likely to be needed in a work environment. Not every job will need people who are proficient in all five Core Skills but every job will require some level of ability in some or all of these skills.

Each Core Skill is available at levels 2 to 6 of the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF).

The five Core Skills are:

  • Communication
  • Numeracy
  • Information and Communication Technology
  • Problem Solving
  • Working with Others

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We also develop qualifications for England and Wales and for the international market.