Guide to Core Skills
Guide to Core Skills
What are Core Skills?
There are many skills which at one time or another have been identified as essential skills,
both for individual development and for making progress in education, training and
employment. As well as the term ‘core skills’, a range of other terms has been used such as
key skills, transferable skills, employability skills, process skills and generic skills.
It has been agreed, after much debate, that the term ‘core skills’ will be used in the new
National Qualifications framework to describe a group of these skills that are felt to be crucial
for success in learning and in the world of work.
It has also been agreed that the skills identified should be capable of being certificated in
order to give students credit for achievement in these important areas. Certification is also
important in giving prospective employers and other ‘gatekeepers’ reliable information about
a student’s abilities in these crucial skills.
A consensus was reached that the following skills were the five that should be designated as
the core skills for the new National Qualifications framework:
Problem Solving
Information Technology
Working with Others.
Within some of these core skills it was felt that a sub-division into components would be
useful in order to be clear what was included in the skill:
Core Skill
Problem Solving
Information Technology
Working with Others
Scottish Further Education Unit
Components of the skill
Written Communication
Oral Communication
Using Graphical Information
Using Number
Critical Thinking
Planning and Organising
Reviewing and Evaluating
Using Information Technology
Working with Others
Guide to Core Skills
Why are Core Skills important?
Core skills are felt to be important for several reasons:
They are regarded as essential for success in learning. Schools, further education and
higher education have all identified core skills as essential to the learning process and
are building them into their educational programmes. Core skills are an essential
element of Scottish Group Awards (see below), Scottish Vocational Qualifications, Higher
National Qualifications and Modern Apprenticeships.
Commercial and industrial bodies have, for some time, stressed the increasing
importance of these skills for current and future employees. They feel that they are
necessary for coping with the rapid changes taking place in the world of work including
the increasing use of information and communications technology
Individuals who have acquired these skills and have the certification to prove it are much
more likely to be confident in their own abilities. They are also more likely to be able to
cope with the increasing flexibility required in a rapidly changing society.
Have we not been teaching these skills for years?
Yes – core skills are not new and we have been teaching skills like these for years! However
what is new is the:
consensus about the five skills which will be part of the national framework
agreement on the definitions of these five core skills
acceptance that, where feasible, students should be given credit for achievements in
these five core skills through certification.
Why are there different levels of core skills?
When it was agreed that core skills should be certificated in order to provide real evidence of
student achievement it was recognised that the skills could be demonstrated at different
levels of attainment.
Since the new qualifications framework offers recognition of
achievement at a number of levels it was agreed that the same levels should be used for
core skills certification. At present core skills have been defined at five of these levels:
Access 2
Access 3
Intermediate 1
Intermediate 2
This means that someone could, for example, gain certification in the core skill of Numeracy
at any of these levels.
Scottish Further Education Unit
Guide to Core Skills
How do we know what is required to gain a core skill at any of these levels?
When it was agreed that the five core skills identified above could be demonstrated and
assessed at the different levels, a ‘framework of core skills’ was developed. This described
in some considerable detail exactly what was meant by each of the core skills at each of the
levels. For example, it identified exactly what kind of tasks someone who had the skill of
Information Technology at Intermediate 1 could carry out successfully.
However, this framework looked fairly complicated and it was not in a form that was easily
accessible. It was then agreed that core skills should be treated like any other qualification
and that unit specifications should be developed. These unit specifications describe, in the
same way as for any other type of unit specification, exactly what a candidate has to
demonstrate in order be given credit for achieving that particular unit.
This means that there are 25 unit specifications for core skills – five core skills at the five
different levels.
The unit specifications can be accessed directly on the Scottish
Qualifications Authority (SQA) website:
Go to
Click on ‘Centre Resources’
Click on ‘Qualifications Database’
Click on ‘find a National Unit by title or part title’
Type in the title of the unit OR type in ‘Core skills units’ in the key words window; this will
provide a list of all the units and clicking on any one of the names will allow you to view
and download the full specification for that unit.
How are core skills assessed and what is meant by ‘embedded’ core skills?
Core skills can be assessed in two main ways.
Many units and courses involve assessment which, as well as producing evidence of
achievement in a particular subject area, also produces evidence of achievement in core
skills. For example it is clear that evidence of:
achievement in mathematics courses and courses like Mechanical Engineering is likely to
provide evidence of Numeracy skills
achievement in science courses and subjects like Technological Studies is likely to
produce evidence of problem-solving
achievement in computing courses and in administration courses is likely to produce
evidence of IT skills.
An audit has been done by the SQA of units and courses to determine which of these
provide, through the mandatory assessment, the real ‘hard’ evidence of achievement of the
core skills in this way. Where evidence of achievement of a core skill is demonstrated in this
way candidates are automatically given credit for achievement of the particular core skill. We
describe the core skill as being ‘embedded’ in the unit or course.
Scottish Further Education Unit
Guide to Core Skills
The second way of assessing core skills is by the use of ‘free-standing’ core skills units. This
is done in the same way as for any other unit and simply means:
using one of the core skills unit specifications mentioned above
teaching the skills in an appropriate context
gathering the evidence required to prove achievement of the unit through arranging
appropriate tasks.
Are there NABs (National Assessment Bank) packs for the core skills units?
Yes – NABs have been produced for each of the core skills units and these will help centres
to gather the appropriate evidence to demonstrate achievement of the units.
How can I find out which core skills are embedded in which units/courses?
SQA have published a booklet with this information – Catalogue of Core Skills in National
Qualifications. This has a list of courses and units and indicates which core skills are
‘embedded’ in each of these courses and units. This information can also be found on the
SQA website:
1. Go to
2. Click on ‘Centre Resources’
3. Click on ‘Centre Documentation and Publications’
4. Click on ‘Catalogue of Core Skills in National Qualifications’.
Can students achieve certification for core skills in subjects where the core skill is not
automatically embedded?
Support materials on the CD-ROM “Management Information CD Including Core Skills”
(further details below) include a number which show how the core skills of Using Information
Technology and Working with Others can be delivered via a number of subjects in which the
core skill is not automatically embedded.
The CD also contains examples of activities which are not subject-specific and which can be
used to deliver a number of the core skills through a single activity. For example, one pack
of materials is designed to show how the three core skills of Problem Solving (PS), Working
with Others (WwO) and Information Technology (IT) can be integrated and assessed as part
of a project where students provide a service, produce a product or organise an event.
I have heard of ‘Diagnostic Tools’ for core skills – what are they?
A project is under way which is called ‘Diagnostic Assessment for Core Skills (ICT Project)’.
This is a collaborative venture between the Scottish Further Education Unit, Plato Learning
and a group of colleges. The purpose is to develop online diagnostic tools that will enable
the identification of individual strengths and weaknesses in three of the core skills –
Communication, Numeracy, and IT. These tools are intended to be used to identify the level
of competence of students and so assist in placing them at the appropriate level of core skill
provision. The project is due to be completed before the summer of 2002, with a launch and
dissemination around that time.
Scottish Further Education Unit
Guide to Core Skills
What is the connection between core skills and Scottish Group Awards?
In order to obtain a Scottish Group Award (SGA), candidates need to complete a specified
number of courses and units, as described in the specifications for each Group award. They
must also acquire a specified core skills profile in order to gain the award. For example in an
Intermediate 2 SGA, candidates would normally be expected to achieve a minimum of two
courses at Int 2, and eight units at Int 1, plus the five core skills at a minimum level of Int 1. It
should be noted that students are always encouraged to achieve the core skills at as high a
level as possible since this could be a benefit in a future progression route.
Where can I get more information about core skills?
Apart from the sources mentioned above, there are many other sources of information about
core skills. Some of these are HSDU publications that should be in all centres:
Title of Material
Core Skills: Information for Senior Managers in Colleges*
Core Skills: Information for Senior Managers in Schools*
Core Skills: Information for Senior Managers in Special
Implementation Studies in Colleges – Core Skills
Core Skills Information for Senior Managers
Supplementary Information for Further Education*
Core Skills Information for Senior Managers
Supplementary Information for Schools
Core Skills Checklists (for FE colleges)
Core Skills: Information for Senior Managers in Special
Schools – Supplementary Information*
Core Skills: Information for Implementation*
Core Skills – Implementation Studies in Colleges*
Ref No
Additional paper copies of these are no longer available, but all of those marked with an
asterisk are on a CD that was distributed in December 2001 by Learning and Teaching
Scotland to all centres. The title of the CD is “Management Information CD Including Core
Core skills support materials have also been produced by the Open, Flexible and Distance
Learning project and again these were automatically distributed to all centres by Learning
and Teaching Scotland. Some of these materials are also in an interactive form online and
can be found at
Scottish Further Education Unit