National Occupational Standards

National Occupational Standards (NOS) specify the standards of performance that people are expected to achieve in their work, and the knowledge and skills they need to perform effectively. They have been agreed by employers and employee representatives and approved by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) and the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA).

This web page provides a lot of information on Many units of National Occupational Standards can be downloaded from the NOS Directory.

For information about specific sets of NOS contact the relevant Standards Setting Body.

Units of National Occupational Standards

National Occupational Standards are divided into units. Each unit describes a key part of someone's job, as shown in these examples;
  • Assure your organisation delivers quality services
  • Develop teams and individuals to enhance performance
  • Support and record business meetings
  • Contribute to maintaining security and protecting individuals' rights in the custodial environment
  • Recognise indications of substance misuse and refer individuals to specialists
Units are often introduced with a summary or commentary, saying what the unit is about, who it is for, how it links to other units and how it fits into the NVQ/SVQ framework.

The full range of performance, knowledge and skills needed for a particular job can be specified by grouping together units of occupational standards.

National Occupational Standards form the basis of National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs) and Scottish Vocational Qualifications (SVQs). Awarding Bodies, such as Chartered Management Institute, the Institute of Leadership and Management, City and Guilds, Edexcel, Oxford and Cambridge and Royal Society of Arts (OCR) and the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA), offer NVQs/SVQs through Approved Centres which may be within employing organisations or in colleges, or private training providers. The Awarding Bodies also provide quality control systems to make sure that assessment takes place properly.


Units are usually divided into two or more elements that describe the activities the person has to carry out. For example, in the Drugs and Alcohol National Occupational Standards, Unit AA1 Recognise indications of substance misuse and refer individuals to specialists is divided into two elements:

AA1.1 Recognise indications of substance misuse

AA1.2 Refer individuals with indications of substance misuse to specialists

Performance criteria

Each element contains clear performance criteria that describe what effective workers do and the standards of quality they achieve. For example, in Element AA1.1 there are ten performance criteria:


National Occupational Standards often specify the range of circumstances or situations that might have an important impact on the activity. These can help individuals prepare for the different contexts or contingencies that they could face. For example, the range for Element AA1.1 covers six types of substances:

Knowledge, understanding and skills

Occupational standards also specify the knowledge, understanding and skills that people need to do their jobs effectively. Examples from Unit, Unit AA1 Recognise indications of substance misuse and refer individuals to specialists include the following:

Evidence requirements for NVQ and SVQ assessment

Each unit in the National Occupational Standards is usually accompanied by a statement of the evidence that candidates need to submit in order to be assessed as competent for National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs) and Scottish Vocational Qualifications (SVQs).

NVQs and SVQs show that the holder can carry out the job to the required standard. Candidates need to provide evidence that they

  • consistently meet all the performance criteria
  • have the necessary knowledge, understanding and skills to work competently with all types of range

Candidates usually have to provide evidence from their work that they cover specific aspects of the range. For other aspects of the range it is sufficient to show they could deal with them competently, if the situation were to arise.

A wide range of assessment methods are available, such as direct observation of the candidate at work, specially-designed simulated activities, inspection of documentary evidence, reports from others who have witnessed the candidate at work, and questioning of the candidate about the way they went about their work. The evidence requirements provide guidance on what type of assessment would be appropriate for the particular unit.

National Vocational Qualifications and Scottish Vocational Qualifications

National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs) and Scottish Vocational Qualifications (SVQs) show that those who have achieved these awards actually can do the job to the recognised national standard.

Each NVQ and SVQ consists of a number of units taken from the national occupational standards. Someone taking the NVQ or SVQ has to show they can carry out all the activities covered by the units to the standard described.

NVQs and SVQs are not training courses. Staff may need training, development and practice before they can show they are competent.

Candidates for NVQs/SVQs have to demonstrate to their assessors that their work consistently meets the national occupational standards, and that they possess the knowledge, understanding and skills that underpin competent performance in each unit

This can be done using the following methods:

  • assessors observing candidates at work (or, in some cases, under realistic simulated conditions).
  • candidates supplying examples of records and documents that show they work to the standard.
  • line managers and supervisors providing statements about the candidate's work.
  • candidates answering questions from their assessors.
  • evidence of the candidate's performance, knowledge, understanding and skills needs to be recorded and examined for quality control purposes. This is often presented in a folder known as a portfolio of evidence.

There are five levels of NVQs and SVQs from Level 1 for those carrying out simple, routine activities, to Level 5 for those with substantial professional or managerial responsibility.

For more information about NVQs consult

For more information about SVQs consult

Standards Setting Bodies

Administration - Council for Administration

Custodial Care - Skills for Justice

Customer Service - Institute of Customer Service

Drugs and Alcohol - Skills for Health

E-learning - European Institute for e-Learning

Executive Coaching - School of Coaching

Information and Learning Technologies - Lifelong Learning UK

Local Land Charges - SkillsPlus

Management and Leadership - Management Standards Centre

Volunteer Managers - UK Workforce Hub


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