SQA National Certificate

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  • Scotland

National Certificates are not the standard entry requirement for Scottish applicants to Scottish universities, but are used for entry to short-cycle higher education (HE), such as Higher National Certificates (HNCs) and Higher National Diplomas (HNDs), offered in some Scottish HEPs. Some universities also consider them – usually alongside some achievement at Higher – for entry to certain HE programmes.

National Certificates also provide access to employment, further education, and training.

National Certificates are aligned to National Occupational Standards (NOS).

National Certificates are aimed at developing learners’ knowledge, understanding, and where appropriate, practical experience of a given area of vocational education.

The aim is to provide a solid basis for progression into further education and training, as well as higher education, while developing a more mature approach to study that will help sustain success in modern apprenticeships and HNC/HND study and beyond.

Education context

In Scotland, secondary school is organised into six school years, S1–S6 (first year to sixth year). In Scotland, sixth year covers only one academic year.

Many state secondary schools work in school-college partnerships with tertiary colleges in different areas of provision, particularly in vocational areas.

National Certificates are taken in all Scottish tertiary colleges and in many state schools, or in school-college partnerships.

National Certificates support the aims and principles of Curriculum for Excellence (CfE), and also Developing Scotland’s Young Workforce agenda. See ‘What is Curriculum for Excellence? and also Developing Scotland’s Young Workforce for more information.

The Scottish qualifications system, designed to support CfE, and provides an opportunity for greater variety and diversity in curriculum planning, which may lead to different patterns of presentation for qualifications, including increased exposure for learners to different types of qualification. The aim is to ensure an appropriate curriculum for each learner. This means that learners in schools may take National Certificates in any of the three years of the Senior Phase of secondary school – S4-S6, or across more than one academic year. In tertiary colleges, where National Certificates are more likely to be taken, learners will generally study them over one academic year. In schools, National Certificates are most commonly taken in S4 or S5, and often concurrently with other National Qualifications, such as National 5 or Higher. In colleges, National Certificates are usually taken as part of a full-time programme of learning. This involves candidates taking a range of credit points from SQA units either directly related to the subject studied, or which are designed to develop a wider range of core and transferable skills.

Awarding organisation
  • SQA

SQA allocates a unique qualification number to each subject as a 4 + 2 code: •   Gxxx (‘G’ refers to Group Award and ‘46’ refers to both Group Award (the ‘4’) and level (the ‘6’) – National Certificate at SCQF Level 6).

National Certificates are available at SCQF Levels 2-6. At SCQF Level 6, they are made up of National units totalling 72 SCQF credit points (720 notional learning hours).

National Certificates may be made up of mandatory units only, or a combination of mandatory and optional units. At least half of the SCQF credit points (i.e. more than 36) must be at the level of the National Certificate, and these can come from either the mandatory or optional sections of the qualification, or both.

While they are usually made up of National units, they may also include Scottish Vocational Qualification (SVQ) units, though these units should ideally be SCQF credit-rated.

All National Certificates incorporate opportunities to develop core skills, particularly to meet employment and progression needs.

There is no minimum (or maximum) limit to the number of units a National Certificate may contain, and component units may be of different credit values, though normally six or 12 SCQF credit points, depending on the fitness for purpose of the unit. The units must not make up any more than 72 SCQF credit points in total.

Units at SCQF Levels 5 and 7 may be included in a National Certificate at SCQF Level 6, though at least 36 SCQF credit points must be at the level of the qualification – SCQF Level 6 – or higher.

All National Certificates are developed according to SQA’s Design Principles for the qualification, as well as the SCQF level descriptors, to ensure the consistency of standards, validity, and reliability across subjects.

Subject areas

National Certificates at SCQF Level 6 are currently available in 53 subjects. These are:

  • Acting and Theatre Performance
  • Activity Tourism
  • Advertising and Public Relations
  • Aeronautical Engineering
  • Agriculture
  • Applied Sciences
  • Architecture and Art
  • Architecture and Interior Design
  • Art and Design
  • Beauty Care
  • Building Services Engineering
  • Built Environment
  • Celtic Studies
  • Civil Engineering
  • Computer Aided Design and Technology
  • Computer Arts and Animation
  • Computer Games: Creative Development
  • Computer Games: Software Development
  • Computing: Technical Support
  • Computing with Digital Media
  • Creative Industries
  • Creative Printmaking with Photography
  • Dance
  • Digital Media Computing (end date July 2019)
  • Early Education and Childcare
  • Electrical Engineering
  • Electronic Engineering
  • Engineering Systems
  • Fabrication and Welding Engineering
  • Fashion Design and Manufacture
  • Hairdressing
  • Health and Social Care
  • Jewellery
  • Land-based Engineering
  • Legal Services
  • Make-Up Artistry
  • Manufacturing Engineering
  • Measurement and Control Engineering
  • Mechanical Engineering
  • Media
  • Model Making: TV and Film
  • Music
  • Pharmacy Services
  • Photography
  • Professional Cookery
  • Shipping and Maritime Operations
  • Social Sciences
  • Sound Production
  • Stringed Musical Instrument Making and Repair
  • Technical Theatre
  • Travel and Tourism
  • Wellness Therapies
  • Working with Communities

SCQF Level 6 qualification.

SCQF Level 6 is the level at which Highers sit on the SCQF.

SCQF Level 6 is equivalent to RQF Level 3, which is the level at which A levels sit.


This qualification is ungraded and is awarded upon candidates achieving a Pass in each of the units required to successfully complete the qualification.

The flexibility of National Certificates enables National Courses, such as Higher or certain graded units, to be included in their structure. Graded achievement from component National Courses is not, and should not, be taken as a proxy for the overall qualification.


Unit assessment may be undertaken at the end of each unit, or through holistic or combined assessment across two or more units.

Unit assessment is marked by the teacher or lecturer, and is not graded. It is subject to internal verification in the centre, and to rigorous external quality assurance by SQA.

Units are assessed according to the Conditions of Assessment appropriate to the subject the level.

Where appropriate, some units are assessed through methods such as an assignment, practical activities, performance, or portfolio evidence.

Where a National Course – such as a Higher – is included in a specific National Certificate, course assessment arrangements are explained in the QIP for Highers.

The unit specifications stipulate the nature of unit assessment, and are available on the Unit Search, along with information on the Group Award.

Contribution of assessment components to overall grade

The qualification is ungraded.

Resit arrangements

Remediation of unit assessment allows for a second attempt, with a further attempt in exceptional circumstances.

Guided/notional learning hours notes

72 SCQF credit points.

720 notional learning hours.

UCAS Tariff points

Scottish National Certificate (Band A)

Grade Points
P 28

Scottish National Certificate (Band B)

Grade Points
P 42

Scottish National Certificate (Band C)

Grade Points
P 56
Key issues for UK HE admissions

For National Certificates at SCQF Level 6, there are three UCAS Tariff points bands – Bands A, B, and C, which are based on the minimum amount of SCQF credit points required to achieve each of the individual Group Awards. Band A includes National Certificates, where between 50-64% of credit points at SCQF Level 6 or higher are required to achieve the qualification. For Band B, it is 65-79%, and Band C 80-100%. At the development stage of each National Certificate subject, the minimum amount of credit points at SCQF Level 6 or above required to achieve the qualification is determined. Many learners may achieve their National Certificate with a higher proportion of the minimum in the band range. SQA updates UCAS annually with any additional National Certificates or changes to existing subjects, which UCAS subsequently publishes on its online Tariff tables.

Few candidates apply to undergraduate degree study directly with a National Certificate at SCQF Level 6, unless it is taken as part of a wider programme of learning, including Highers. However, for progression to short-cycle HE, such as HNC and HND, it is a well-established pathway in Scotland. Many of these learners will then enter undergraduate degree study directly into the second or third year at Scottish HEPs with their HNC or HND. A smaller number will apply with their HNC or HND from Scotland to HEPs in England, Wales, or Northern Ireland.

Some learners – particularly if taking National Certificates at school – will take them alongside Highers. Also, other learners will have taken Highers at school prior to studying for a National Certificate at a tertiary college. There is, therefore, likely to be a relatively mixed pattern of qualifications for applicants to HEPs who hold a National Certificate.

Under CfE, there is an enhanced emphasis on ensuring learners undertake their learning journey and the qualifications and assessment which support it, at a pace which best meets their needs, allowing them some personalisation and choice in the overall curriculum they engage with. As such, different patterns of provision and attainment are likely to emerge among learners.

Timing of assessments/results for learners

National Certificate assessment is internal and occurs throughout the qualification.

Qualification dates notes

This qualification is current.

Reporting and certification information

Certification of achievement in National Certificates is published on an ongoing basis.

6,497 National Certificates at SCQF Level 6 were awarded in 2015.

Entries and achievement rates for National Certificates by year are available at: www.sqa.org.uk/statistics

Progression information

This National Certificate at SCQF Level 6 provides learners with the opportunity to pursue a diversified curriculum at school, as well as an opportunity to specialise in a particular vocational subject area in school or tertiary college.

It also complements other SCQF Level 6 qualifications, and learning and can be used to support applications to higher education courses, particularly short-cycle HE in Scottish HEPs (particularly tertiary colleges).

In addition, this qualification provides candidates with the opportunity for progression into further education, employment, apprenticeships, and other forms of training.

Further information

SQA’s Group Award and Unit specifications and other supporting documentation for each Award subject are available at: www.sqa.org.uk/sqa/41280.2540.html

SQA’s website is: www.sqa.org.uk

The Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF) website is available at: www.scqf.org.uk