​Scottish qualifications

In Scotland, qualifications are awarded by the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA), the national accreditation and awarding body. A variety of qualifications are offered, including:

  • National Qualifications (National Units, National Courses and Group Awards)
  • Wider Achievement Awards
  • Skills for Work Courses
  • Scottish Baccalaureates

Qualifications in the Scottish qualifications system sit at various levels on the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF). There are 12 levels on the SCQF and each level represents the difficulty of learning involved. Qualifications in schools span SCQF levels 1 to 7.

National Qualifications (NQ)

SQA designed and developed new National Qualifications to support Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) – the new national curriculum in Scotland for young people aged 3 to 18. They are taught in schools and colleges, and by some training providers.

The National Qualifications are National 1, National 2, National 3, National 4, National 5, Higher and Advanced Higher. They range from SCQF level 1 (National 1) to SCQF level 7 (Advanced Higher).

National 1 to National 5 qualifications have been available since August 2013. The new Higher was introduced in August 2014 and the new Advanced Higher was introduced in August 2015.

National Qualifications help young people to demonstrate the skills, knowledge and understanding they have developed at school or college and enable them to prepare for further learning, training and employment.

National Units

National Units are the building blocks of National Courses and Group Awards. They are also qualifications in their own right and can be done on an individual basis, such as National 1 qualifications, which are standalone units. Units are normally designed to take 40 hours of teaching to complete and each one is assessed by completing a unit assessment. Over 3500 National Units are available, including National Literacy and Numeracy Units, which assess students’ literacy and numeracy skills.

National Courses

National Courses are available at National 2, National 3, National 4, National 5, Higher and Advanced Higher levels. There are more than 60 subjects available, at various levels.

National 2, National 3 and National 4 are unit-based courses and they are assessed through internally marked unit assessments. National 4 courses also include an Added Value Unit assessment that assesses the whole course. National 2 to National 4 courses are not graded, but are assessed as pass or fail.

National 5, Higher and Advanced Higher courses are graded A to D or ‘no award’ and include a course assessment that takes place at the end of the course. For most subjects, the course assessment is a combination of exam(s) and coursework. SQA marks all exams and the majority of coursework.

The assessment of National 5, Higher and Advanced Higher courses is currently undergoing change. Units and unit assessments are being removed from the courses, and the course assessments are being extended to assess more course content. The changes have already been introduced for National 5, and will come into effect for Higher in 2019 and Advanced Higher in 2020.

Skills for Work Courses

Skills for Work courses are designed to introduce school pupils to the demands and expectations of the world of work. They are available in a variety of areas such as construction, hairdressing and hospitality. They involve a strong element of learning through involvement in practical and vocational activities and develop knowledge, skills and experience that are related to employment. They are available at SCQF levels 4 to 6 and are often delivered in partnership with schools and colleges.

Group Awards

National Certificates (NCs) and National Progression Awards (NPAs) are referred to as National Qualification Group Awards. These qualifications provide students preparing for work with opportunities to develop skills that are sought after by employers. They are available at SCQF levels 2 to 6.

NCs prepare students for employment, career development or progression to more advanced study. They are available in a range of subjects, including: Sound Production, Technical Theatre, and Child, Health and Social Care.

NPAs develop specific skills and knowledge in specialist vocational areas, including Journalism, Architecture and Interior Design, and Legal Services. They are taught in partnership between schools, colleges, employers and training providers.


SQA Awards provide students with opportunities to acquire skills, recognise achievement and promote confidence through independent thinking and positive attitudes, while motivating them to be successful and participate positively in the wider community.

A variety of different awards are offered at a number of levels and cover subjects including leadership, employability and enterprise. These awards are designed to recognise the life, learning and work skills that students gain from taking part in activities such as sports, volunteering and fundraising.

Scottish Baccalaureates

Scottish Baccalaureates consist of a coherent group of Higher and Advanced Higher qualifications and, uniquely, an interdisciplinary project selected by the student in one of four broad topics – languages, science, expressive arts or social studies. The interdisciplinary project is marked at Advanced Higher level and provides students with a platform to apply their knowledge in a realistic context. Aimed at high-achieving sixth year students, the Scottish Baccalaureate encourages personalised, in-depth study and interdisciplinary learning in their final year of secondary school.