Guide to SQA qualifications

We offer a range of robust, relevant and respected qualifications, designed with industry to ensure learners gain the skills and experience needed in the workplace.

Our qualifications fall into four broad types:

  • National Qualifications (NQ)
  • Higher National Qualifications (HN)
  • Vocational Qualifications (VQ)
  • Specialised awards (called customised awards)

Available at SCQF levels 1-6


  • are part of the National Qualifications family
  • are characterised by their flexible nature and are nationally recognised
  • are suitable for a wide range of people at different stages
  • recognise the life and work skills that learners gain from activities they may already be doing in at school, at college or elsewhere – such as sport, mentoring, voluntary work or fund-raising activities
  • provide learners with opportunities to acquire skills, recognise achievement and promote confidence through independent thinking and positive attitudes

Browse Awards.

Available at SCQF level 7 (HNC) and level 8 (HND)

Higher National Certificates and Diplomas (HNC/HND) are delivered through colleges/employers/training providers.

HNCs and HNDs:

  • are normally college based
  • are often studied by those in employment
  • are based on National Occupational Standards
  • are Higher Education qualifications
  • are internationally recognised
  • prepare students for employment and enable advanced entry to a degree programme
  • can be delivered flexibly
  • are designed in partnership with colleges, universities and employers

Further information on HNCs and HNDs.

Browse HND and HNC subjects.

Available at SCQF levels 2-6

National Certificates are designed to prepare people for employment, career development or progression to more advanced study at HNC/HND level. They are aimed at 16-18 year old or adults in education.

National Certificates:

  • are mainly delivered by colleges, but can also be delivered through school/college partnerships
  • relate to subject/occupational areas and are mapped to National Occupational Standards
  • develop a range of skills, including transferable skills
  • are made up of National Units

Learn more about National Certificates.

Browse National Certificate subjects.

Available at SCQF levels 2-6

National Progression Awards (NPAs) are:

  • suitable for:
    • young people (16+), employed and unemployed adults
    • people preparing to go into or return to work
    • career development
  • designed to assess a defined set of skills and knowledge in specialist vocational areas
  • linked to National Occupational Standards

Learn more about NPAs.

Browse subjects.

At SCQF levels 1-7

National Qualifications (NQs) are taken by students in secondary schools and colleges (and some training providers). They can also be taken by adult learners.

The types of NQs available are:

  • National 1 to 5
  • Higher
  • Advanced Higher
  • Scottish Baccalaureate
  • Foundation Apprenticeships
  • Skills for Work

Learn more about National Qualifications.

Browse National Qualification subjects.

Available at SCQF levels 6-12

Shorter than HNCs and HNDs, PDAs are designed for those in a career or vocation to extend or broaden skills.

PDAs are:

  • aligned to National Occupational Standards or Professional Body requirements
  • made up of HN Units and/or SVQ Units

Learn more about PDAs.

Browse PDA subjects.

Ofqual introduced a new Regulated Qualifications Framework (RQF) on 1 October 2015. This replaces both the QCF (Qualifications and Credit Framework) and NQF (National Qualifications Framework) in England and Northern Ireland.

We offer qualifications in sectors including Construction, Creative and Cultural, Logistics and Maritime.

SQA is the sole awarding body for the Maritime sector.

Learn more about SQA's RQF qualifications.

Browse RQF subjects.

Available at SCQF levels 4 to 11

Scottish Vocational Qualifications (SVQs) are delivered by employers/training providers.


  • demonstrate competence in a particular occupational area
  • are normally delivered and assessed in the workplace
  • are based on National Occupational Standards
  • must be accredited by SQA Accreditation

Learn more about SVQs.

Browse SVQ subjects.

Available at SCQF levels 7 and 8

SQA Advanced qualifications are Higher Education qualifications meeting the needs of employers and enabling advanced entry into many undergraduate degree programmes in universities and higher education institutions across the world.

Learn more about SQA Advanced Certificates and Diplomas

Browse SQA Advanced subjects

Customised awards are unique qualifications developed in partnership with, and owned by, the partner organisation to meet their business needs, and demonstrate quality and industry compliance.

  • Customer can create their own bespoke qualification
  • SQA administered, quality assured, certificated
  • Credit rating
  • Credit and levelling customer training programme and qualifications onto the SCQF

Learn more about SQA customised awards.

At SCQF levels 2-6

Core Skills are:

  • transferable skills covering:
    • Communication
    • Information technology
    • Numeracy
    • Problem solving
    • Working with others
  • found in NQ, HN and Modern Apprenticeships
  • included on the Scottish Qualifications Certificate (SQC) in the candidate's core skills profile

Learn more about Core Skills.

Units are:

  • the smallest qualification offered and certificated by SQA
  • used as building blocks to form all courses and group awards
  • internally assessed and quality assured by SQA
  • available at all SCQF levels and in all subject and vocational areas
  • based on achievement of set outcomes

Most units are designed to take 40 hours of teaching time to complete and learners are expected to do some additional work on their own. You achieve a unit by passing an assessment — coursework, tests, or practical work marked by the teacher or tutor. The marking is then checked by SQA.

HN units

Available at SCQF levels 6-11

HN units:

  • are the building blocks for Higher National Certificates and Diplomas and Professional Development Awards
  • provide skills and knowledge for specific occupational areas and generalist areas, usually at technician or middle manager level
  • are designed to take 40 hours (20 hours learning, 20 hours studying)

Unit search

Scottish Credit and Qualification Framework (SCQF) levels

The SCQF helps to make the relationships between qualifications clearer.

Find information on SCQF levels.