Career choicesOptions at 16+

Scottish qualifications

The Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) award three main groups of qualification:

  • National Qualifications
  • Higher National Qualifications
  • Scottish Vocational Qualifications

National Qualifications (NQs): These are taken by students in secondary schools and colleges and are available in an enormous range of subjects. There are different types of NQ:

  • Standard grades: generally taken over the third and fourth year at secondary school. You will usually take seven or eight subjects, including maths and English. There are three levels of study and you take exams at just two of these levels - Credit and General, or General and Foundation.
  • National Units: National Units are the building blocks of National Courses and Group Awards (see below). They also count as qualifications in their own right.
  • National Courses: usually made up of three National Units and an external assessment. You can take National Courses at various levels:
    • Access 1, 2 and 3
    • Intermediate 1 and 2
    • Higher
    • Advanced Higher
    • Skills for Work Courses
  • Group Awards: built up from National Units:
    • National Progression Awards (NPAs) - designed to develop and assess specific skills and knowledge in specialist vocational areas.
    • National Certificates - aimed at 16-18 year olds and adults in full-time education. They prepare you for study at a higher level or for employment.

Higher National Qualifications (HNQs): These are taken by students at college. Similarly to NQs, they are split into:

  • Higher National Units - the building blocks of Higher National Certificates and Higher National Diplomas. They also count as qualifications in their own right. They are designed to cover the skills and knowledge you need for jobs at middle management and technician level, as well as to prepare you for higher education.
  • Higher National Certificates (HNCs) and Higher National Diplomas (HNDs) - made up from Higher National Units, they cover a huge range of occupations. Many HNDs allow entry to the second or third year of degree courses.

Scottish Vocational Qualifications (SVQs): These assess your skills, knowledge and ability to do a particular job. They can be gained in most occupations and for all types and level of job.

All of your achievements are recorded on a Scottish Qualifications Certificate (SQC). This provides a complete list of all units and qualifications awarded by the SQA - National Qualifications, Higher National Qualifications and/or SVQs.

Before you decide what you are going to do next, ask your school or college for advice and more detail about the options open to you.