The General Teaching Council for Scotland

Making things possible

SQA’s courses and qualifications encourage wider achievement

Look at the Oxford Dictionary’s definition of the word “enable”: To give (someone) the authority or means to do something; make it possible for. These are the principle ideas behind the development and provision of the Scottish Qualifications Authority’s (SQA) portfolio of courses and qualifications that promote and encourage wider achievement.

Dr Gill Stewart, Director of Qualifications Development at SQA, says these qualifications – in line with the Scottish Government’s Developing the Young Workforce (DYW) strategy – give schools and colleges the means to offer their learners a broader opportunity to achieve, widen access to further avenues of employment, training or study, and give young people a greater chance to develop useful transferable skills and knowledge to support their next steps in life and work.

“The diversification of the curriculum in the senior phase is one of the key ways that will enable young people to achieve their potential. Our qualifications are flexible, and are available at a variety of SCQF levels, covering a wide range of sectors – from business skills to computing, and early years to engineering, or land-based and environmental to generic skills for life and work. This depth of coverage allows the schools and colleges delivering them to tailor their approach to suit learners at various stages of their learning and to take account of local employment opportunities. Importantly, we need to provide all young people with a variety of learning options that are equally valued and respected. We need to offer pathways that include high-quality work-based learning alongside more traditional school routes,” adds Dr Stewart.

As learners’ needs have evolved, long-standing awards – such as Enterprise and Business, Modern Languages for Life and Work, and Leadership – are joined by new qualifications such as SQA’s award in Mental Health and Wellbeing, or the National Progression Award (NPA) in Cyber Security. Both are excellent examples of how SQA has collaborated with industry specialists, who have helped us to develop new qualifications that will prepare young people to thrive in the future, as well as reflecting the needs of Scotland’s evolving economy and our society.

Scott Hunter, Principal Teacher of Computing at Kyle Academy in Ayr, has seen first-hand the enthusiasm his pupils have for our NPA in Cyber Security. Kyle Academy has been delivering the course since 2017, and Scott was part of the qualifications development team where he worked closely with SQA and representatives from Police Scotland, leading digital employers, and higher and further education institutions. He says pupils’ interest in the qualification was sparked by real-world examples of cybercrime, which are widely reported in the media.

Scott adds: “The NPA has given us the chance to switch pupils on to the issues central to the topic; things like Data Security, Digital Forensics, and Ethical Hacking.”


The Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF) is supporting the DYW strategy through its School Ambassador programme that offers secondary schools the opportunity to learn more about the benefits of the SCQF and the wider ways in which it supports learners to have recognition of their attainment, and equality between vocational and academic qualifications. More than 60 schools have now signed up to be SCQF School Ambassadors with another 10 ready to get involved, before the end of term.

Find out how your school can get involved on the SCQF website.

Pupils from Kyle Academy are taking their skills out into the community, where they deliver workshops to local start-up businesses, providing advice and helping them identify potential weaknesses in their IT systems.

And that’s a real tangible benefit, adds Scott: “What the award allows us to do is give candidates skills and confidence, and introduce them to this important aspect of the digital and computing sector, and get a sense of the avenues that could be open to them. The award has widened access to a topic that in the past was restricted to those who had undertaken computing qualifications up to degree level.”

In a similar vein, SQA’s Mental Health and Wellbeing award, at SCQF levels 4 and 5, has introduced young people to a range of topics, normally not accessible within the scope of the senior phase at high school. It also gives teachers a vehicle through which to deliver a programme with touch-points across the curriculum.

Whitehill Secondary School in Glasgow is leading the way in the delivery of this award. Leigh Anderson, their Faculty Head of Social Subjects, RMPS and Wider Achievement, says: “We already have a comprehensive programme of personal, social, health, and economic education which is available to all pupils. The SQA Mental Health and Wellbeing Award has complemented that.”

“The award has also given us the chance to work closely with colleagues across departments, and provide a course to our young people that engages them and gives them the opportunity to receive recognition for learning that they are already doing.”

SQA also sees work-based learning as an increasingly important approach. Work-based learning is positive, not only for pupils but also employers, with businesses able to benefit from new ideas and a fresh pair of eyes from young people.

Apprenticeship schemes are mutually beneficial for young people and employers alike, and this is why collaboration between educators and industry should be encouraged. Gill Stewart continues: “SQA works with Skills Development Scotland to provide the qualifications that make up Foundation, Modern and Graduate apprenticeships.

“We have been building the apprenticeship pathways that start in the senior phase of school and are available right through to degree level. Foundation Apprenticeships allow young people in the senior phase of school to combine work-based learning with the development of technical and generic skills and knowledge. We are also developing work-based learning courses at SCQF levels 4 and 5, which will enable young people to build their confidence by undertaking qualifications related to a sector, thereby increasing their experience and understanding.”

Ensuring that SQA qualifications will have the skills needed for the future – self-management, social intelligence, innovation, literacy, digital and numeracy – embedded in them, is also a focus.

Gill adds: “At SQA, we continue to work with partners across Scotland, and through our teams of Regional Managers to facilitate and support the relationships necessary between schools, industry and employers in our communities that enable them to provide high-quality work-based and vocational learning programmes to young people, and increase their exposure to experiences and opportunities that in the past, may not have been available to them.

“If we can build the skills and confidence of young people through learning today, we can be more confident they’ll be ready for the jobs of tomorrow.”


Find out more about SQA qualifications at