Thursday, 26 February 2015

PC Passport FAQ

As you may know, we are currently reviewing PC Passport. The development is making good progress. We create a FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) for new or revised awards. Here is the FAQ for PC Passport.


It can be viewed here. The FAQ will be updated from time to time so that it contains the latest information about the development.

Contact Helen for more information about PC Passport.

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

New Units in Big Data and Data Science

As you will have read in a previous blog posting, we have been busy developing two new HN units in the area of Big Data at SCQF Level 7 and Data Science at SCQF Level 8.

Both units are now complete and available for download via the SQA website.

I am currently liaising with the Qualification Support Team (QST) to establish which frameworks the units should be part of and once this has been decided, they will be added as optional units.  If you are interested in delivering the Units and would like them as part of a particular group award, please get in touch with me directly and I can feed this into the QST for discussion.

Each unit will have an Assessment Support Pack (ASP) - both ASPs are under development and will be available to centres by May 2015.

You can view the published units by clicking on the links below:

Big Data (SCQF Level 7)
Data Science (SCQF Level 8)



NPA Cyber Security development

The Qualification Development Team (QDT) for the NPA in Cyber Security met for the first time yesterday afternoon in the Grand Central Hotel in Glasgow.


There has been a lot of interest in this development since it was first announced and there was an excellent turn-out at the meeting, with representatives of schools, colleges, universities and employers in attendance.

After I explained the qualification development process, and the role of the QDT, we got down to business. We had a wide-ranging discussion about the title, nature, levels and contents of the awards. We made some important decisions. The awards will be called "Cyber Security"; they will be developed at three levels (SCQF Levels 4, 5 and 6); the introductory level will be fairly generic and the advanced level will be more specialised. We hope that the awards will attract a lot of learners, particularly young women, and we aim to make them as interesting and engaging as we can.

The next stage is to define the precise structures of the award (at each of the three levels). We made some progress on this but we need to finalise the frameworks.

We hope to have the new qualification available to centres from August. In the meantime, keep your eye on the qualification FAQ, which will be maintained throughout the qualification process.

Please contact Helen for more information about this development.

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Digital skills report

The UK government published a report yesterday on the need to improve digital skills. The House of Lords Select Committee on Digital Skills published a report entitled Make or Break: The UK's Digital Future. A BBC article summarises the main findings and recommendations, which include:

  • the need to ensure everyone leaves school with basic digital literacy
  • the need to attract more women into computing
  • the need to improve intermediate and high-end digital skills
  • more emphasis on digital skills within Modern Apprenticeships.

The report claims that the UK is at a "tipping point" with digital skills. One that will determine the shape of the future UK economy. I was particularly interested in the comment about the importance of medium and high level digital skills since this is often an area that is overlooked.

The Computing portfolio of qualifications already has a lot of awards in digital literacy but I will look at it again once I have read the report in full. I hope that schools and colleges take the opportunity to check that their programmes address the issues raised in the report.

The full report can be downloaded here [PDF]. Contact Helen for more information about digital literacy qualifications.

Monday, 16 February 2015

NPA Digital Literacy FAQ

I previously mentioned that the QDT for this award met for the first time last week. I have now created a FAQ for the revised award. You can read (and download) it here or simply scroll the embedded version below.


It's early days in this development but this FAQ will be updated as our thoughts solidify so please keep an eye on it in the coming weeks and months. By the end of the development, it will contain all the essential information that you need.

Contact Helen if there is anything you want to ask that's not answered in the FAQ.

Friday, 13 February 2015

NPA Digital Literacy

I mentioned previously that we were about to review the NPA in Digital Literacy, which was first introduced in 2007. The first meeting of the Qualification Development Team (QDT) met yesterday.

It was a good meeting. We discussed the strengths and weaknesses of the current award, the likely demographics of the revised award, and the knowledge and skills needed within the new qualification.

The QDT decided to retain the current title on the basis that there is a strong focus in digital literacy in schools and colleges. I was told that there is also a dearth of qualifications at this level (SCQF Level 3). But the current award's focus on numeracy and communications needs to be changed to make it focus more on computer skills.

The revised award would focus on computer skills, digital skills and software skills. It would be a simple, broad-based introduction to computing, which would permit learners to acquire basic knowledge and skills, and progress to further qualifications in the area. A suggested structure was:

  1. Computer Basics
  2. Digital Skills (new)
  3. Using Applications (new)

The current award has low uptake but the QDT felt that there was a real need for a qualification in this area at this level and that the revised award could prove to be popular.

Please contact Helen if you want to know more about this development.

Thursday, 12 February 2015

Cyber Security awards are in the news

Following the announcement by the Deputy First Minister last week about the new qualifications in Cyber Security, Holyrood Magazine ran an article on the project yesterday.

Friday, 6 February 2015

Cyber Security qualifications

The Deputy First Minister, John Swinney, announced the development of a new suite of qualifications in cyber security at yesterday's Cyber Security 2015 event, held in Edinburgh. SQA will be developing a number of National Progression Awards in this area at SCQF Levels 4, 5 and 6.

It's an exciting development. It will be the first qualification of its kind (aimed at school pupils) in Europe. The hope is that it will engender an interest in computer science among young people that will lead to more of them choosing this as a career. There is a particular skills gap in information security with many unfilled posts and this problem will get much worse in the coming years. We hope that the qualification will attract both boys and girls. It will be suitable for anyone, even those without a background in computing.

We have already formed a Qualification Development Team, comprised of representatives of schools, colleges, universities, industry and professional bodies. We aim to have the qualification available to schools and colleges for August (this year). Please contact Helen for more information.

Monday, 2 February 2015

Heads of Computing event

The Heads of Computing event took place on Friday at the Stirling Highland Hotel. This annual event has taken place for over 20 years now and is an important date in the team's calendar.

It went well. The agenda this year, I thought, was a particularly good mix of stuff-you-need-to-know and interesting presentations about such things as the future of assessment and cyber security.


My own presentation provided an update on qualifications (a standing item on the agenda) plus a short presentation on the new NPA in Digital Passport.


The one disappointing thing about the day was the attendance. The event normally attracts 50-70 people and we got just over half of that on Friday. I think that there were many reasons for that, the main one being the new regionalised college structures means that there are far fewer Heads of Computing.

I took the opportunity to promote the new Lead Person Network for Computing, which I hope will become a useful communication channel in the coming year.

Please contact Caroline if you want to know more about Firday's event or get a copy of the presentations.

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Gender problem persists

The Times ran an article last week about the continued problems attracting women to STEM subjects at university. The figures for Computer Science were particularly bleak, with 87% of entrants last year being male, a rise of 2% since 2008. The good news is that the total number of people doing Computer Science at university has risen dramatically, up almost 50% in the last seven years. But the gender problem appears to be getting worse. There has been numerous initiatives to address this problem over the last decade but the figures appear to show that none have worked.

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

PC Passport QDT meeting

The first meeting of the Qualification Development Team (QDT) for PC Passport met on Saturday in Stirling. It was a good meeting. There were representatives of the college and school sectors.

We made a lot of progress in a short time. There was a consensus among the group that we wanted to go back to basics with the award, which would mean simplifying the structure and refocusing on application packages. Application packages have changed a lot since PC Passport was first introduced in 2004 and the new award would reflect this, with an emphasis on web apps, cloud storage and group collaboration. Products like Microsoft's Office 365 and Google's Apps for Work illustrate the type of software that the new award will focus on. This back-to-basics approach will mean that there will be separate National Units on word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, and databases. Topics such as file structures, Internet skills and cyber security will be embedded within the application units rather than separated out, which means that they will be taught in context. We will also reduce the amount of assessment so that it takes up much less time.

The QDT will meet again, in the near future, to brainstorm the contents of the revised qualification. It's not too late to join the Team. We're particularly looking for school, employer and training representatives. Contact Helen if you want to know more.

We hope to have the revised qualification available to centres from January 2016.

Friday, 23 January 2015

Review of HNC/D Interactive Media

I announced the review of HNC/D Interactive Media some time ago. Since then, we've created a Qualification Development Team (QDT), which has now met on three occasions. One of those meetings was held today in the SQA offices in Glasgow. Fiona Murnin (of New College Lanarkshire) is leading the development.

The development is progressing well. Fiona has created  frameworks for three new awards;
  1. HNC Digital Design & Web Development
  2. HND Web Development
  3. HND Digital Design.
Today's meeting was to discuss the draft frameworks. It went well. There was general agreement about her proposals. One of the (many) things that I liked about the proposed stuctures was their flexibility. Fiona has given centres lots of choice with her options.

The frameworks will be revised in the light of today's meeting and Fiona will continue to consult with stakeholders, which include college representatives, university faculty and employers. But I am hoping to have a complete (draft) version of the Group Award Specification available soon so that we can progress to unit writing.

Please contact Caroline if you want to know more about this development or contact Fiona if you want to know more about the contents of the new awards. And, of course, we're always looking for willing helpers.

Monday, 19 January 2015

Update on Lead Person Network

I've mentioned the Lead Person Network (LPN) previously. The Network now has 28 members, covering every college in Scotland. I appreciate that this is, in fact, more than the total number of (new) colleges in Scotland but, for the time being, some colleges have been permitted more than one representative. The FAQ covers the most common questions about the Lead Person Network.


In time, I'm sure that the LPN will serve a very useful service as a conduit between SQA and colleges. It won't replace the usual means of communications (which include this blog) but it would be worth finding out who your lead person is.

Contact Helen if you have any questions about the LPN for Computing.

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

PC Passport review

We are now proceeding with the review of PC Passport. This was "parked" to permit the team to focus on Digital Passport but we're now in a position to get on with this review. To that end, we've arranged a meeting on Saturday, 24 January in Stirling to discuss the nature of the changes required.


It's not too late to get involved. We're particularly looking for representatives of the school and training sectors. Please contact Helen if you want to be involved or simply find out more.

We hope to have the revised version of PC Passport available to centres from August 2016.

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Heads of Computing event

The annual event for Heads of Computing in Scottish colleges is taking place on Friday, 30 January in the Stirling Highland Hotel. The agenda has now been finalised and includes some interesting talks from a range of experts.


The event will also update you on some important developments such as the review of HNC/D Interactive Media and NPA PC Passport. It's usually an interesting and informative day so I hope that you can join me and my team. You can get can register here or contact Caroline if you want to know more.

Monday, 12 January 2015

HNC/D Information Technology

We held a meeting this afternoon to discuss the future of the HNC/D IT award. The award is (over)due a review but we had received a number of different ideas about what to do with it so today's meeting was a brain storming session. Representatives of colleges and universities attended.


We had an open discussion about the changes required and made some important decisions. The working title for the revised award is HNC/D Technologies for Business. It will include a number of strands including: computer systems, data management, business processes, data analytics, information securtity, cloud computing and programming. Soft skills will be embedded within the technical units rather than separate units.

It was a productive meeting. The next stage is to form a QDT and get on with developing the award. I expressed my hope that many of the people who came along today would volunteer for the QDT but anyone can join it so please contact Caroline if you are interested. I hope to convene the first meeting of the QDT in the next few weeks.

Digital Passport and PC Passport update

We are piloting a new qualification this year called Digital Passport. It's a National Progression Award (NPA), available at SCQF Levels 4, 5 and 6. A small number of centres (including schools, colleges and training centres) are offering the award this year to try out the contents and support materials.

We are receiving a lot of enquiries about the award from centres that plan to introduce it next year (session 2015/16). They typically want to know more about the award so that they can offer it from August. We're happy to help. We can supply Group Award information now and and final versions of the assessments will be available from SQA Secure from beginning of February. The qualification FAQ [PDF] provides more information about this or contact Helen who will be happy to help in any way that she can.

Digital Passport was created as part of the PC Passport review, which we are now turning our attention to. Please contact Helen if you want to be involved in this development.

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Product Marketing

I met with Karen MacGregor this afternoon. Karen is the new Product Marketing Manager (PMM) with special responsibility for Computing. PMMs are responsible for developing business cases for new (or revised) qualifications. They take suggestions from the ideas capture form right through the a completed business case, after which me and my team take over. Please contact Karen if you have any suggestions or ideas about new awards. I've updated my organisation chart to include Karen.

Monday, 5 January 2015

Welcome back and welcome to Helen

Welcome back after the Christmas holiday. I hope you had a good break. SQA also resumed today.

A new person joined the team today. Helen Zhang is covering Hilary's post while she is on secondment. Helen will be in position until mid-2016. This means that Helen is the person to contact for all non-advanced qualifications. I've updated the organisation chart to show who-does-what.


Helen has worked for SQA since 2010 in a variety of roles, including international work, so she is an experienced member of staff. Helen can be contacted at helen.zhang@sqa.org.uk. Those of you coming along to the Heads of Computing event will meet her then.

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Agenda for Heads of Computing event

We're currently working on the agenda for the Heads of Computing event, which is taking place at the end of January. It's shaping up well with talks about cyber security, the Wood Report, and the future of assessment, as well as the bread-and-butter stuff about qualifications and support materials.


You can sign-up for the event here.