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The Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) is a non-departmental public body responsible for the development, accreditation, assessment and certification of qualifications, other than academic degrees, in Scotlandmarker. It is partly funded by the Education and Lifelong Learning Directorate of the Scottish Government, employing 750 staff, based in Glasgowmarker and Dalkeithmarker. Students for National Qualifications (see below) receive their results on, generally, the first Tuesday in August. Students signed up for the authority's MySQA system are able to check their record online throughout the year and get their exam results by text and/or email on the day that the results are issued.

SQA is perhaps best known for the delivery of the annual diet of public examinations within Scotland; each year the Authority organises public examinations in a wide range of subjects, at various levels, for school pupils and college students. However, a greater number of candidates of all ages participates in SQA specialist, vocational and higher education qualifications.

The SQA are also known as being one of the 'best' exam boards in the world - performing admirably in the distribution and the marking, and the content of the exams. Their qualifications carry weight all around the world. SQA Higher examinations are the general acceptable level for entry to University. Universities usually request a minimum of 3 Highers, all above C level.

The SQA's functions and responsibilities are laid out in the Education Act 1996 as amended by the Scottish Qualifications Act 2002.

Main Qualification Suites

National Qualifications

A National Qualification (NQ) can take the form of Standard Grades or National Courses.

Standard Grades have been in existence before the Higher Still reforms of 1999. There are three Standard Grade Levels: Foundation, General and Credit. They are normally set at age 14-15 (sometimes 16 if birthday is before May), usually when attending High School. For the main article, see Standard Grade.

National Courses have been introduced with the Higher Still reforms of 1999. There are seven National Courses: Access 1, Access 2, Access 3, Intermediate 1, Intermediate 2, Higher (normally at age 15-18) and Advanced Higher (normally at age 17-18). Intermediate 1 and 2 and Access 3 are either set at age 16 in place of Standard Grade in some schools or at ages 16-18 in addition to Highers and Advanced Highers. National Courses can be taken in a wide range of subjects, from the purely academic, such as English and Mathematics - to the purely vocational, such as Accounting and Mental Health Care. They combine three National Units, each lasting 40 hours with a Course Assessment, normally taken at the end of a one-year Course in the early summer.

In addition to traditional National Qualification Courses, a new suite of "pre-vocational" courses entitled "Skills for Work" was rolled out in 2006. Primarily available at Intermediate 1 and Intermediate 2 levels, these prevocational courses, aim to give students an awareness of the workplace environment, the skills required for entry to an industry as well as generic employment skills.

Each of these Courses is awarded on the Scottish Qualifications Certificate.

Many faculties that provide SQA National Courses also provide preliminary examinations, or Prelim Exams. These can be used as evidence in the event of an appeal after the formal sitting. These exams are usually given in January or February, or even in late November or December; although this is usually only the in the case of Standard Grades, many months before the diet of official examinations.

National units and programmes

Most important to the integrated Scottish system are the many qualifications often imperfectly referred to as vocational, though these are frequently stepping stones to, or second chances on, a fairly standard academic pathway. The largest group of students at Scottish Colleges of Further Education pursue one- or two- year programmes tailored from a wide ranging catalogue of National Units. The actual programme may be very rigidly prescribed by employers or be entirely freely chosen by the student to meet particular needs. The prescribed programmes may be recognised by a National Certificate or a Scottish Progression Award.

SVQs and modern apprenticeships

Scottish Vocational Qualifications (SVQ) are an award for vocational education and training awarded by the SQA in conjunction with industry bodies. Scottish National Qualifications and Scottish Progression Awards are often important in a Modern Apprenticeship scheme along with SVQs. SVQs are developed by United Kingdommarker employers in tandem with National Vocational Qualifications (NVQ) for Englandmarker, Walesmarker and Northern Irelandmarker.

SVQ are assessed in the workplace (or closely regulated training workshops) by employers, training providers or colleges approved and monitored by the SQA (or other awarding bodies) accredited by its independent Accreditation Unit.

Higher National Certificates and Diplomas

Qualifications aimed at students in their first two years of Higher Education include HNCs (Higher National Certificates)- taken as a one year full-time course or as a two year part-time course - and HNDs (Higher National Diplomas. These qualifications are extremely popular in colleges, workplaces and community education centres in Scotland, the rest of the UK and throughout the world.

Other qualifications

Students with Disabilities and/or Additional Support Needs

These include specific qualifications for those with severe to moderate difficulties (Access), the right to aid in completing assessments (for example, a scribe) and the right to challenge any unfair or artificial barrier in the rules for any qualification

English as a second language

There is a suite of National Units addressing the needs of economic migrants, asylum seekers and (the biggest group) those seeking to master English before returning to their own countries. It has also developed qualifications for those seeking to teach English to refugees.

British Sign Language

A suite on National Units answers the needs of those who prefer to communicate in British Sign Language

Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework

SQA has joined with Universities Scotland, QAA Scotland and the Scottish Government to create the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework or SCQF. Every Scottish qualification - from the Access level for those with learning difficulties to a Doctorate and including vocational as well as ESOL and BSL qualifications - is allocated a level and credit value within this framework, which all partners have agreed to recognise.


SQA has a statutory responsibility to provide public examinations for Scottish state schools, though these are also used more widely. It has a statutory responsibility to accredit vocational qualifications (that is formally scrutinise them and confirm that they conform to agreed UK criteria). None of its qualifications, still less its vocational qualifications, is protected by statute, but the Authority has a largely dominant position within all sectors of qualifications within Scotland. SQA awards are exported to a number of countries including Chinamarker, Africa, the Middle East, Russia and former Soviet republics and other countries. SQA also provides the licensing certification for many merchant navies throughout the world.


Up until their merger in 1998, the two major Scottish examination authorities were the SEB (Scottish Examination Board) and the Scottish Vocational Education Council (SCOTVEC). It is the former of the two that issued the Standard Grade and Higher Grade examinations. The year after Higher Grade was called CSYS (Certificate of Sixth Year Studies) until a reform of Scottish exams (the National Qualifications or Higher Still reforms) replaced it with a broadly equivalent qualification called Advanced Higher. Some curriculum changes were also made to the Higher, but this was not renamed.

A legacy of its two precursor bodies, the Authority's offices remain split over two sites, one in Glasgowmarker and one in Dalkeithmarker.


The introduction of the reformed examinations system in 2000 was criticised in the press and by the government after a series of administrative and computer errors led to several thousand incorrect Higher and Intermediate certificates being sent out. The crisis took several months to resolve, and several management figures including the Chief Executive Ron Tuck resigned or were fired.

See also


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