Monday, 25 August 2014

Popularity of awards

Around this time of the year, I get the annual statistics for my subject area. I received the data for 2013/14 today. It always makes interesting reading. It's fascinating to see what's actually popular in centres.

It takes me a little while to do a detailed analysis of my area but a quick glance reveals that the single most popular award is (new) HNC Computing. But the entire HN family of awards is growing in popularity, particularly HND in Software Development. That's a big change from 10 years ago, when numbers were declining.

A stand-out statistic is the uptake of the NPA in Computer Games Development, which is hugely popular in Scottish schools and colleges. That's particularly pleasing since, when we devised it, it was a bit of a gamble since, some thought, that the interest in computer games was a fad. The feedback from the centres is that learners really enjoy the course and learns vital skills (including coding).You can find out more about NPA in Computer Games Development by contacting Hilary.

The entire subject area is growing in popularity mainly, I suspect, because of the great job opportunities and the increased focus on coding as a life skill. Don't forget to download the entire qualification porfolio.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Big Data HN Unit

Some time ago I explained that we were developing a new Higher National Unit on big data. The Unit isn't finished yet, but it's a long way along the road so it seems like a good time to get your feedback. Here is the current version of the Unit.



I wanted to develop this Unit is a non-standard way, through collaboration with the wider community. Using this link you can comment on, or edit, the specification. Please feel free to comment or edit as you see fit.

I hope to have the Unit published by the end of September.

Monday, 18 August 2014

Qualification Officer vacancy

Hilary is about to begin a secondment as SQA's Digital Literacy Engagement Manager, to push forward SQA digital literacy agenda. As many of you will know, she has been heavily involved in this area for the last year, particularly through her work with Digital Passport.

As a result of Hilary's secondment, we are looking for someone to replace her as Qualifications Officer for the next couple of years. The post would focus on non-advanced qualifications such as NPAs and NCs. It's an interesting job and, we like to think, we're a friendly and supportive team. You can find out more about the job here. Or contact me directly if you want to know more.

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Getting involved with SQA

One of SQA's strengths is that we work closely with the education community in Scotland (and elsewhere). That means that we involve teachers, lecturers, trainers and others in every aspect of our work including the development, maintenance and quality control of our awards. The team use this blog (and Twitter) to let you know about opportunities to get involved -- and many of you do. But we're always looking for new blood so don't be backward in coming forward.

At this time of the year I am asked to select External Verifiers (EVs) for the coming session. I will be looking at the new applications that we've received in the last year to see if I can use any of the volunteers. It's not too late to express your interest in becoming an EV. Simply send an e-mail to am@sqa.org.uk to find out more. External Verifiers are important to SQA and the role is fantastic CPD for the EVs themselves.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Welcome back

Most Scottish schools and colleges return from their summer holidays this week. Welcome back.

I updated the team diagram today to include minor changes that have occurred over the last few months. There are no significant changes but, nonetheless, you may want to download and print this diagram.


Please use this information when you contact SQA. Contacting the right person means that you will get a quick response.

We look forward to working with you again this coming academic session. Don't forget to follow us on Twitter if you don't do so already. We post job opportunities and other information on Twitter so it's a quick and simple way of keeping up-to-date with qualification changes.

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Digital Passport FAQ

Now that the component units have been published and the group award has been validated, it seems a good time to update the FAQ for Digital Passport.


This is a major update to the FAQ (for example, it includes links to the published units) but there will be on-going minor updates as the qualification evolves. I won't keep posting messages every time the FAQ is changed. It is available online, where you will always find the latest version.

As you will see from the FAQ, the units are available (now) to any centre but the group award can only be delivered by approved centres during the pilot phase (August 2014 to July 2015). It's not too late to join the pilot. Contact Hilary if you want to know more.

Monday, 4 August 2014

Updated qualification portfolio

I updated the vocational Computing qualification diagram today. This version incorporates the latest changes to the portfolio of awards.


It includes the new Digital Passport award(s), the recently revised NC qualification(s), and the new workplace qualification in Information Security. I wasn't sure whether to label HND Computer Science as a new award but since many centres will be offering it for the first time next year, in spite of it being developed last year, I decided to think of it as a new award. As you will see from the diagram, a number of qualifications are currently being reviewed, including HND Interactive Media and PC Passport.

It's a big portfolio. There are over 90 group awards available to centres, covering everything from the very basic (such as Computer Basics at SCQF Level 3) to the very advanced (such as HND Software Development at SCQF Level 8).

Please contact Hilary (for non-advanced awards) or contact Caroline (for advanced awards) if you want to know more about existing qualifications or get involved in developments.

Friday, 1 August 2014

Core skills in Digital Passport

The National Units within Digital Passport were recently published. They were published before they were audited for core skills.

I got notification yesterday of the results of the audit. I'm pleased to report that the Units within Digital Passport carry the ICT and Problem Solving core skills (at each level). The unit specifications will be updated accordingly in the next few weeks (but the unit codes will not change). Digital Passport develops all five core skills but these two will be automatically certificated for anyone who completes the award.

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Digital Passport in the news

The day I stopped for annual leave, the Times Educational Supplement (Scotland) carried a prominent article about Digital Passport. I was pleased with Julia's article, which seemed to be a fair summary of the strengths and (potential) weaknesses of the new award.

Overall, it was positive and emphasised the originality of the new qualification. The team behind it worked hard to ensure that it captured up-to-date digital literacy skills, and I do think that it is unique in what is covers. One of the criticisms of the qualification in the article is that it mustn't be "too closely linked to a narrow set of skills". That was a major objective of the development team -- to ensure that the qualification embraced high order knowledge and skills that could be transferred to new technologies as they come along.

The units are available now. The group award is available to pilot centres. Contact Hilary for more information about Digital Passport.

Friday, 18 July 2014

National Units in Digital Passport now available

The National Units that are included in the forthcoming Digital Passport award have now been published on the SQA website. They can be downloaded from the usual place by searching on their titles or they can be directly downloaded from these links (all PDFs).
These Units are available to all Scottish schools and colleges from 1 August. Other types of centre may require approval to offer them. It's great to see them published at last. It's taken a long time to produce them because they cover such new territory but, I hope, that they are worth the wait.

Contact Hilary for more information about the units or the award.

Thursday, 10 July 2014

National Occupational Standards for Big Data

I attended a focus group meeting yesterday afternoon, at Ibrox Stadium, which was organised by E-Skills UK to discuss new National Occupational Standards relating to big data.

The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the job roles and skills that are involved in this new area. Representatives of JP Morgan, RBS, NHS and other Scottish employers attended.

One of the key questions was: are there intermediate level jobs in this area? It's well known that there is a demand for data scientists. What is less clear is if there is a requirement for mid-level data analysts. The consensus was that there is. We discussed the skill sets involved in these roles. E-Skills hopes to have the new NOS available by October.

SQA is developing new HN Units in this area. Our focus is broader than workplace skills, and includes a high educational component (such as the social implications of big data). These new Units will be available to centres from September. Contact Caroline for further information. You can preview the units now.

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Regional college contacts

I recently mentioned that I planned to create a list of regional college contacts for Computing. With all the changes to colleges over the last few years, the team's contact list is now out of date and doesn't reflect the changed college structures.

So I plan to identify a person from each regional college to be the "contact person" for the college. We would use this list of names to disseminate information to centres. The designated person would cascade the information within his/her regional college to their colleagues involved in delivering Computing qualifications.

This list would not replace the existing forms of communication. So, for example, update letters would continue to be sent to SQA Co-ordinators, and this blog would continue to provide information to anyone who reads it. But the list would be helpful to ensure that information can be disseminated quickly, perhaps in advance of a letter to centres.

We'll use our existing mailing list to ask you to identify one person from your regional college to serve as the lead contact. It's entirely up to each college to decide who this person should be. I've created a form to capture this information.


Once you've decided who you want to represent your regional college, I would appreciate if that information was added to the sheet.

Contact Caroline if you have any queries about the list.

Monday, 30 June 2014

Summer holidays

I had planned to post this message before the schools and colleges stopped for the Summer. I still miss my long Summer holidays (I enjoyed 22 years of them) but, on the plus side, it's a good time for me to catch up with things since the office is relatively quiet for the next few weeks. And it's nice to take my own holidays when it's cheaper and quieter.

Me and my team will be busy over the Summer. We are organising the pilot of Digital Passport (and developing support materials for that award), commencing the review of PC Passport, producing assessents for the revised NC Computing with Digital Media award, finalising a new CBQ in Information Security, getting the review of HNC/D Interactive Media off the ground, deciding what to do with HNC/D Information Technology, finalising new HN Units on big data, and considering some new qualifications in the area of cyber security.

Don't forget to follow us on Twitter. Even if you're enjoying the beach, it won't take long to check the team's tweets. And we'll be sure to advertise opportunities to work with us on Twitter.

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

National Certificate launch event

We held the launch event for the updated National Certificate in Computing with Digital Media yesterday at the Stirling Management Centre in Stirling University. There was an excellent attendance with 46 people there, including many from schools.


The purpose of the event was to explain the changes to the current award (NC Digital Media Computing) and to outline how we will support centres when they move over to the new award. The contents of the new qualification appeared to be well received. We've added units on social media, academic skills and introduced a project in each of the three levels. We've also tried to introduce greater variety from level to level, which was a criticism of the old qualification.

The updated qualification (at SCQF Levels 4, 5 and 6) will be available to all centres from 1 August 2014. Many centres expressed an interest in running a hybrid qualification next year, comprising the old award with some of the new units added. The existing qualification will go into lapsing from 1 August 2015.

Contact Hilary for more information.

Digital Passport information event

We held an information event yesterday for the new Digital Passport qualification. The event was held in Stirling. Nineteen centres attended.


It's taken a long time to get to this stage so it was a pleasure to move on from qualification development to explaining what's in the qualification. My presentation covered the contents of the new award in some detail.


Digital Passport is a digital literacy award and, we think, its contents are pretty innovative, covering such diverse topics as big data, e-safety, social presence, network neutrality and critical thinking. It has a particular focus on "digital citizenship" and the role of digital technology in modern societies. Many of the audience were from schools and I pointed out the "good fit" between Digital Passport and the recent report on vocational education in schools.

We are piloting Digital Passport next year so that we can trial support materials, and give centres an opportunity to deliver some of the challenging material inside the qualification. Please contact Hilary if you want to know more about the pilot or get involved.

Digital Passport will be officially launched (to all centres) in Spring 2015 and available for delivery (by all centres) from August 2015. In the meantime, you can download the FAQ here.

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Annual Computing Conference

The College Development Network held their Annual Computing Conference yesterday in Stirling, organised by Gerry Dougan. There was an excellent turn-out, on a beautiful day in a lovely location. The focus of this year's event was teaching and learning.

It commenced, appropriately, with HMIe Sheila Page giving feedback on the forthcoming Aspect report on Computing in colleges (due September).


Sheila's comments were generally positive, and made it clear that improvements had been made since the previous report (in 2009) that was "hard hitting" as she put it. Sheila reported that the sector was "buoyant", with excellent job prospects, and a shortage of skills in many areas (particularly programming). She also emphasised that Computing was also becoming a "social enabler", needed by everyone to participate in contemporary society.

More specifically, she reported on improvements in teaching and learning, team working, and learner interaction. Less positively, colleges needed to work more closely with employers and some learning was "too passive". But the overall picture was good. Sheila made a particular point about the role of mathematics within Computing qualifications and suggested that this needed to be looked at.

A number of colleges gave presentations on best practice. The case studies were excellent. I was pleased to see Computing qualifications at the heart of many of the examples, such as New College Lanarkshire's innovative MA programme with The Royal Bank of Scotland that involved an HND.


I gave a presentation on SQA qualifications in Computing, particularly the new ones such as Digital Passport and NC Computing.



It seemed to be well received. I reminded the audience about the forthcoming launch events for Digital Passport and NC Computing, which will be held (in Stirlng) next Tuesday.

I was pleased the see the focus of the event return to teaching and learning, and thought that it was an excellent day.

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Regional college contact

The last few years has seen huge changes in the college sector, with many merging into "regional colleges". From my subject's perspective, this has meant that Computing Departments have combined across several centres, often into a faculty structure along with other subjects.

I like to think that me and my team are pretty well known in centres but I am less familiar with these new combined course teams. So, during the new session, commencing August, I hope to work my way around each of the regional colleges.

I also intend to identify a regional college contact (for Computing), a single person who I can communicate with when I want to liaise with a regional college about a Computing-related issue. This won't replace my normal channels of communication (which include this blog, Twitter, QSTs, Sector Panel, and regular update letters) but gives me a named person for each new college. I'll progress this in the coming months.

Central verification of Graded Units

Central verification of the Graded Units for HNC Computing and HNC Interactive Media is taking place today (and yesterday). Half a dozen verifiers, led by the Senior External Verifier, are in the Glasgow office to look over 29 question papers (and scripts) submitted by 24 centres.


It's going well. The team has made good progress and, although they've come across one or two issues, their general view is that centres have done a good job.

They pointed out to me that we have only published two exemplars and that it would be a good idea to have more -- ideally four more but at least two more. I've asked the Senior EV to formally request this so that I can seek funding for it. I'll keep you posted.

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

SQA leaflet

SQA has produced a new leaflet on vocational Computing qualifications. It can be downloaded here [PDF]. Alternatively, you can use my portfolio diagram.


Digital Passport information event

I've previously written about the pilot of Digital Passport next year. So far, we've had a great response, with almost 30 centres expressing an interest in getting involved.

Hilary is currently organising an information event for these centres, when we will explain in more detail what's in the qualification and how the pilot will work. The event will take place on Tuesday, 24 June in Stirling.

I recently updated the qualification FAQ, which now includes a link to the draft units. The FAQ should answer most of your questions about this new award.


The units will be finalised in the next few days (the current versions are almost final versions) and will be published on the SQA website on 1 August. The qualification itself will be available to centres from the same date. Only pilot centres will be able to offer the award next year.

It's not too late to get involved in the pilot (or at least find out more). Contact Hilary if you want more information about the award or join us at the information event.