Update from the Higher National and Vocational Qualifications 2021 Group

Thursday 21 January 2021

The update below applies to the following group awards:

It does not apply to regulated units and group awards, such as Scottish Vocational Qualifications, VQ units or Apprenticeships.

Following discussions between SQA, Colleges Scotland and other stakeholders, it was agreed that a Higher National and Vocational Qualifications (HNVQ) 2021 Group* should be formed to develop advice and guidance to support assessment for vocational qualifications in 2020-21. The group met for the first time on 14 January. The work of the HNVQ 2021 group is supported by a Working Group - currently this includes representatives from colleges, employment training providers and EIS-FELA.

Alternative assessment approach for 2020-21

A number of changes to assessment and quality assurance procedures for HNVQ in 2020-21 have been developed over recent months. More information about modifications to vocational qualifications can be found on the 2021 Higher National and Vocational Qualifications pages of SQA's website.

The HNVQ 2021 group agreed that the ongoing and increasing restrictions associated with Covid-19 requires further changes to the assessment of some group awards, and the provision of an additional alternative approach to assessment is being developed to provide further flexibility for centres and learners whilst maintaining the integrity of certification and public confidence. This approach has been developed by SQA and the college sector working together. An outline of the approach agreed by the HNVQ 2021 Group is available below:

This approach will allow selected awards which are presenting critical assessment-related challenges to be certificated, where possible, on the basis of key critical evidence for each award. This will be specified nationally using a combination of the course aims and the critical competences from the units of the award. This will require a holistic approach and the use of professional judgement to confirm that learners have demonstrated overall competency in the identified alternative requirements.


Work will commence on this immediately and further information - including timelines - will be published shortly. SQA will prioritise high uptake awards for which assessment is already known to be problematic and sectors, identified by the Scottish Government, as being key to economic recovery. SQA will aim to start publishing information about key critical evidence for these awards from the week beginning 1 February.

We will continue to work with the college and ETP sector through the Working Group to ensure that we are focusing on the areas of greatest need and highest impact. From this work we will develop and publish a schedule for publication of the guidance.

Keeping you updated

The HNVQ 2021 Group is meeting fortnightly and will provide regular updates on the progress of this work over the coming weeks.

The HNVQ 2021 Group would like to acknowledge the continued efforts which have been made across the sector to address these challenges over previous months, and thank all centres, learners and stakeholders for their ongoing support.

Higher National and Vocational Qualifications 2021 Group

*The Higher National and Vocational Qualifications 2021 Group is represented by the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland (ADES), Colleges Scotland, the College Vice Principal Forum, Developing the Young Workforce (DYW), Educational Institute of Scotland - Further Education Lecturers' Association (EIS-FELA), the National Union of Students (NUS), the Scottish Funding Council, the Scottish Government, the Scottish Training Federation, Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA), Skills Development Scotland (SDS), and Student Partnerships in Quality Scotland (SPARQs).

View the HNVQ assessment decision tree.