Download the latest list of vocational Computing qualifications here.

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Big data

I've received a few enquiries from centres about SQA qualifications in the area of big data. A centre proposed a new PDA in this field and I am taking that forward with the representative through SQA's normal procedures (which commences with an Ideas Capture Form).

We also plan to develop a couple of generic Higher National Units in this area. These will be called Big Data (at SCQF Level 7) and Data Science (at SCQF Level 8). The Big Data unit would be very generic and suitable for a wide range of Higher National awards, including HNC Computing, but the Data Science unit would be more specialised and suitable for STEM awards (such as HND Computer Science).

The Units will be ready for June. I'll keep you posted about the proposed PDA. Contact Caroline for more information or to see draft versions of the units as they are developed.

Monday, 14 April 2014

Curriculum for Excellence event for universities and colleges

I received an invitation this morning to attend an event for university and college staff, who teach HE awards, which seeks to explain the changes that will be introduced in schools as a result of the Curriculum for Excellence (CfE). The event will take place on 15 May and will explain the changes in learning and assessment that are taking place and how these changes will effect the students who will be coming to universities and colleges in the future. Although the event covers all STEM subjects, the afternoon workshop is specific to Computing Science.

It sounds like a good event. Your SQA Co-ordinator should have received an e-mail about it, with details of the programme, but you can find out more by contacting or book directly here.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Guide to Assessment

SQA has recently updated and republished its long-established Guide to Assessment [PDF]. The 2014 edition has revised the Guide to bring it up-to-date with the latest advice and definitions. The Guide contains information and advice about:

  • purpose of assessment
  • principles of assessment
  • ensuring validity
  • methods of assessment
  • types of questioning
  • authentication.

Although there is some theory in it (such as the principles of assessment), it also contains practical advice about such things as the stages in developing an assessment and how to authenticate students' work.

I think that it's essential reading for teachers, lecturers, External Verifiers and anyone else involved in the assessment process.

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Social Media Group

I previously mentioned that I gave a presentation at a recent internal event about my team's use of social media. After that, I was asked to lead a Short Life Working Group ("Social Media Group") to discuss how best qualification teams can use social media to be more open and transparent. The hope is that a number of qualification teams will start to use social media to engage with stakeholders.

Social media can be great for keeping you up-to-date with general developments (this blog is an example of that) or let you know how a specific development is coming along (such as the HN Review blog) or just to make sure everyone has an opportunity to see what opportunities are available (such as my recent announcement).

SQA wants to encourage openness and transparency so look out for more qualification teams using social media in the near future.

Thursday, 3 April 2014

Unit writing

I've spent a lot of time involved in the unit writing process over the last few weeks. Two developments have produced a number of new or revised units: the NC Review and the Digital Passport development.

The Digital Passport units have been particularly challenging. This is because the award is so new -and its contents reflect this. For example, the units on Network Literacy will be first national qualifications in this area from any awarding body in the world. While it's exciting to be part of any world-first project, it also takes a lot of time to try to get it right.

Unit specifications are fairly technical documents, written for professional practitioners, and they come with their own rules and etiquettes. The Guide for Writers defines the rules and provides advice:

Whenever we're looking for people to write units we'll advertise the opportunities in the usual way.

Monday, 31 March 2014

Digital Literacy Competency Framework

We've been developing a Digital Literacy Competency Framework (DLCF) for some time. This framework defines the knowledge, skills and behaviours expected from someone who is considered digitally literate.

We've used this framework to develop the new Digital Passport award, and it will be the basis of future digital literacy awards. Unlike similar frameworks, the DLCF defines not only knowledge and skills but also the attitudes and behaviours that the modern citizen needs. It's also very up-to-date, including such things as "attention literacy" - the mindfulness that is needed to overcome the distractions of the modern age.

We think that the Framework is a pretty unique mix of knowledge, skills and behaviours -- but it's still evolving so let us know, in the comment section, if you think that we've left anything out.

Contact Hilary if you want to know more about the DLCF or our digital literacy awards.

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Enhancements to HN Qualifications

The information event for this project took place today in Jury's Inn in Glasgow. There was an excellent turnout.

The purpose of today's event was to let centres know about the project, and also to ask for volunteers to get involved in the pilot.

I've mentioned this initiative several times before. Computing is one of four subject areas chosen to "enhance" our HN qualifications to make them better suited for articulation with university. We did this by devising alternative assessments that try to look more like university assessments. We devised four alternative assessments: one project for HNC Computing and three exams for various HNDs. This document lists the alternative assessments.

These assessments combine the individual unit assessments into one large assessment. For example, the Networking exam covers two entire units. I was pleased to see that Computing has managed to combine more outcomes into our assessments than any other subject area.

We're currently looking for pilot centres to get involved in this project. These centres would deliver the new assessments either in place of, or alongside, the current assessments. We would ask pilot centres to provide us with some feedback on their experience of using these assessments (via an online survey). The pilot will run from 2014 to 2016. Only centres that sign-up for the pilot will be permitted to use these alternative assessments, so it's vital that your centres does so if you want to be involved.

I was delighted that eight centres expressed their interest in being involved in the pilot at today's meeting. But anyone can still volunteer. Please e-mail to express your interest or ask any questions about this project.

Monday, 17 March 2014


We met with the SOLAR team this afternoon. SOLAR is SQA's online assessment system. The purpose of today's meeting was to discuss the the current and future support of Computing qualifications by SOLAR.

SOLAR has been been providing e-assessments for Computing awards for almost ten years now (2005). In fact, Computing has more SOLAR assessments than any other subject. The assessments mostly take the form of online objective tests but more recently it has included other forms of on-screen testing. Most colleges, and many schools, now use SOLAR on a regular basis.

The purpose of today's meeting was to review the current use of SOLAR and think about what new awards need to be added. The use of SOLAR (for Computing) by centres is mixed. Some awards are heavily used, such as the HN Computing qualifications (old and new), and some awards are not so popular, such as the NC awards. We also discussed the new awards that are coming down the pipeline -- particularly Digital Passport, which we intend to support in various ways - including SOLAR.

Please contact if you want to know more about this service or find out what qualifications are supported. There are dozens of Computing units covered by hundreds of assessments.

Working with us

One of the less positive results from our annual satisfaction survey relates to opportunities to work with SQA. A lot of respondents reported that they were unaware of how they can participate in SQA work, such as membership of committees, writing units or developing support materials.

Working with SQA is not only great CPD but many of the jobs attract a fee. We have tried to make these opportunities as transparent as possible (through this blog, e-mail lists, etc.) but the survey's results would appear to show that we need to try harder. We also try to "cast the net wide" and get a lot of people involved (rather than using the same people all of the time). Of course, we need people to volunteer before we can do that.

To address both of these issues (improve transparency and increase the number of volunteers) we will "advertise" every opportunity on Twitter. So, if you don't already do so, please follow the team on Twitter. We chose this platform because, we think, it's the one that you are most likely to use since it comes pre-installed on most smartphones and can be accessed on all sorts of devices. So, if you want to know what opportunities are available, please follow the team.

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

NC Computing FAQ

I mentioned previously that we intended to create a FAQ for all new or revised qualifications. Our first FAQ was for the new Digital Passport award.

We have just completed the FAQ for the revised NC Digital Media Computing awards.

Please remember that these FAQs are temporary - to cover the period between the validation event and the award(s) becoming available to centres. Thereafter, this information (and more) will be provided via the SQA website.

If your question about the revised NCs isn't answered by the FAQ, please contact Hilary.

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Information event for "PIloting Enhancements to HN Qualifications" pilot

I've written about the HN Alternative Assessent project many times. We're now at the stage of the project when we want to publicise it and invite centres to get involved.

There will be an information event on Tuesday, 18 March in Glasgow (venue to be decided). The purpose of the event will be to describe the "enhancements" we've made to each qualification and invite centres to become involved in a pilot programme, which will run from 2014 to 2016. These pilot centres would be asked to deliver the alternative assessments.

SQA wrote to college principals last week to invite nominations to the event so your Principal should have this information if you are interested in getting involved. I should add that only pilot centres will be permitted to offer the alternative assessments so you have to come forward if you want to be involved. I hope that several colleges want to offer the alternative assessments for the HN Computing awards.

Please e-mail for more information.

Heads of Computing event feedback

We asked you to complete an event evaluation survey for the recent Heads of Computing event. We closed the survey this morning and we now have the results.

The overall satisfaction rating for the event was 93%. The organisation of the event was very positively evaluated, and the agenda, format and duration of the day were liked. On a less positive note, the location was less well liked and the directions to the room were criticised. But, overall, the event appears to have been a success.

We added a couple of questions about next year's event and, as a result of this feedback, we propose to run the event in January (your most popular choice) in Stirling (a suggestion from a respondent). We also asked what you wanted us to discuss, and the overwhelming majority want qualification development, e-assessment and support materials to figure prominently. We introduced a "keynote" talk last year and this, too, is a popular part of the agenda, which we will continue next year.

Contact Caroline if you have any queries about this event (either the one past or next year's).

Monday, 24 February 2014

Digital Passport FAQ

We often get enquiries about new awards (such as "When will it be available?" and "Can my centre offer it?") so we decided to create a FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) for all new (or significantly changed) awards. Our first FAQ is about Digital Passport.

You can download a PDF version of it here. I hope that it's of some use to you.

We will produce a FAQ for all future developments so look out for them in future. The next one will be for the revised NC awards. Let me know (via the comment facility) if there are any questions omitted from the FAQ that you would like answered.

Updated subject definitions

As readers will know, we recently made changes to the External Verification Groups. This was done in response to a Royal Society report that made recommendations about naming the subject area. The new Verification Groups are:
  • 288 Information Technology
  • 357 Computer Science
  • 358 Digital Literacy
While the overall subject area remains "Computing", it is now sub-divided into these sub-groups. We recently updated the definitions that SQA uses for the cognate groups.

This is more than a cosmetic change. For one thing, it will effect External Verification but, perhaps more importantly, it helps us to view the subject area differently from an academic perspective. It also highlights the growing importance of digital literacy and computer science.

These definitions will be maintained here so that you can check the most up-to-date version. Contact me if you have any comments or suggestions about this document or contact Allison Paterson if you have any questions about External Verification.

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Vocational qualifications in schools

Computing is one of the subject areas with a significant number of vocational qualifications in Scottish schools, which have traditionally offered National Units and some vocational group awards. For example, during the present session, over 1000 pupils are currently undertaking the NPA in Computer Games Development.

I was invited to talk to a group of Aberdeenshire teachers in Kemnay Academy yesterday, who wanted to know more about the vocational qualications available to schools. They particularly wanted to know more about the suite of NPAs available to schools and colleges.

So I gave a presentation on vocational qualifications in general and the Computing ones in particular. I highlighted some specific awards, such as the new National Units called Computer Basics and the forthcoming award entitled NPA Digital Passport. I pointed out some of the advantages of vocational qualifications: the large choice, the range of subjects covered, the more flexible assessment, and the materials available to support them.

Around 20 teachers were present and, I think, they were genuinely interested in how their schools could compliment the "standard" provision with some vocational awards. If you want to know more about why your centre might want to consider offering vocational awards, look through the presentation or contact Hilary directly.

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Computing Aspect report

I attended the College Development Network, in Stirling, yesterday to get early feedback on the findings of the Computing Aspect Report. Sheila Page, HMIE, spoke at the recent Heads of Computing event to give informal feedback on her findings during the recent inspection of Computing in colleges. Representatives of several colleges attended yesterday's event.

The college inspections were carried out by two HMIEs, including Sheila, and five Associate Assessors, and consisted of two visits to six colleges. It involved classroom observations, discussions with college managers, and analysis of Performance Indicators (PIs).

Although Sheila emphasised that this was interim, not final, feedback, it sounded positive, and certainly more positive than the previous report, in 2009, which was critical of teaching and learning in colleges. So it looks like some significant improvements have taken place since then. She was particularly complimentary about resources, the balance between theory and practical learning, and the commitment of learners. However, some things, such as the way teaching was presented "had headroom for improvement", using active learning and project work. But much progress seems to have been made since 2009.

Sheila wanted our feedback on her findings. There was pretty much unanimous view that CPD remains a problem in a subject area, as one attendee put it, "with a unique need for on-going CPD due to the rate of change in the subject area". I asked about assessment practice in colleges (the previous report alluded to "teaching to the test") and Sheila agreed to give this some consideration for inclusion in the final report.

There will be lessons, too, for me and my team since the final report will discuss qualifications and the curriculum. I look forward to reading it. The report will be finalised by June and published in September.

Thursday, 13 February 2014

PC Passport and Digital Passport

The team has had a few queries recently about PC Passport. As regular readers will know, we set out to revise PC Passport some time ago but decided, very early in the development, that we would fork the development and produce two awards: a new one called Digital Passport and a revised version of PC Passport. Both awards (PC Passport and Digital Passport) are part of our Passport family of awards, which we hope to develop further in the coming years.

Most of our efforts, so far, have went into creating the new Digital Passport. It was validated a couple of weeks ago (with conditions). We hope to have the award finalised and available to centres by the end of April.

We haven't forgotten about PC Passport, which remains hugely popular in schools and colleges. The current version will be refreshed to bring it fully up-to-date with current developments in the PC field. But there won't be huge changes so you can rest assured that the revised version will be familar to you. We expect the refreshed PC Passport to be available to centres later this year (but not before the start of the new session).

Contact Hilary for further information on either qualification.

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Feedback on Computing Aspect report

I mentioned the subject-based Aspect report on Computing in my summary of the recent Heads of Computing event. Sheila Page gave some initial (oral) feedback on her findings (which sounded positive). The College Development Network has organised an event (this coming Monday) when Sheila will give more extensive feedback on what will be in the latest report. It sounds like an interesting (and important) day for everyone involved in delivering Computing in Scottish colleges. You can find out more, and register, here.

Friday, 7 February 2014

Heads of Computing presentations

I promised to share the presentations from the recent Heads of Computing event. A zip file, containing them all, can be downloaded here or individual presentations can be downloaded here.

We also provided delegates with an updated portfolio diagram, which shows the range of vocational Computing awards available from SQA.

It can be downloaded here.

If you attended the event, we would be grateful if you would spend a few minutes completing the event survey so that we can gauge your satisfaction with it. The survey can be found here.

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Heads of Computing event

The Heads of Computing event was held in the Menzies Hotel in Glasgow on Friday. This annual event has taken place for the last ten years, and has proven to be popular with college staff. It's an important event for the SQA team since it gives us an opportunity to meet key stakeholders face-to-face and hear, at first hand, their views about the service that we provide. There was an excellent attendance with over 50 people attending, representing almost every college in Scotland.

The agenda was varied. Martyn Ware, Head of Assessment in SQA, gave the keynote, which was entitled: "The future is already here". It was thought provoking and well received. Martyn emphasised SQA's "commitment to modernising assessment" and our desire to "encourage digital evidence". He also highlighted the growing popularity of SOLAR.

This talk was followed by Sheila Page (HMIE) who gave preliminary feedback on the current subject-based Aspect report on Computing. Sheila had good news. She reported that there had been "improvements in teaching and learning" since the last report (2009).

There were two particulalry important presentations about two major developments taking place right now. Frank Frame updated attendees on the forthcoming Digital Passport suite of awards. Frank emphasised the importance of digital literacy skills, and described how Digital Passport aims to deliver these vital skills.

David Renton introduced the revised National Certificate awards, which have just been validated. He highlighted some of the improved features of the updated awards, such as the inclusion of projects and greater focus on academic skills at the higher levels. Both Digital Passport and the revised NC awards seemed the be genuinely well received by the audience.

The event appeared to go well. The people that I spoke to all seemed to have enjoyed it and got something from it. We formally evaluate this event (using an online survey) so all participants will be contacted in the near future to ask for the views about the event. We'll also send a link to the presentations that were used on the day. In the meantime, please contact Hilary if you have any queries about this event or contact Caroline if you want to know about next year's event.