Higher Nationals Building a programme of study
Our BTEC Higher Nationals provide you with the flexibility to build a unique programme of study that suits your students, teachers and centre.
The Higher Nationals are developed in collaboration with centres, universities, employers, professional bodies and students to ensure that the content of each qualification develops the knowledge, skills and behaviours required for students to progress to industry or further study.
|Core Units (mandatory)||Specialist Units (mandatory)||Optional Units|
|Core units provide the essential underpinning knowledge and skills associated with the subject for this level. They are required for all students on the qualification, regardless of specialisation or pathway.||Specialist units are mandatory within a given specialism or pathway. These units provide the subject-specific key knowledge and skills associated with the subject area.||Higher National qualifications allow you to develop a programme that is highly specialised or to broaden the scope to include other subjects through the inclusion of Optional Units.|
Combining Core, Specialist and Optional Units
To achieve a full qualification at each level students must achieve the required number of credits.
- Higher Nationals Certificates - 120 credits at Level 4
- Higher National Diplomas - 120 credits at Level 4 and 120 credits at Level 5
Typically, students will complete 120 credits at Level 4 before beginning Level 5. Centres may offer Level 5 units once a student has achieved a minimum of 90 credits. However, Centres must ensure that students understand that they will not have achieved the Higher National Certificate until they have completed 120 credits at Level 4.
Building a programme of study - at a glance
Having identified the specialism or pathway that your Centre will be offering, and reviewing the Core and Specialist units required, there are three ways in which you can finalise your programme offer.
At each level of a qualification there are a range of Optional Units available, and these are included within the Programme Specification.
The number of Optional Units that can be selected for your programme, will be dependent on the specific qualification and pathway. The choice of Optional Units to offer in your programme will be dependent upon whether you wish to develop a programme which provides a highly focused specialist experience for students or you wish to offer a more diverse programme; that integrates additional subjects within the curriculum.
Meeting Local Needs provides the ability to ‘import’ units from another Pearson regulated Higher National qualification. Centres traditionally use MLN units to tailor a programme to the specific needs of local students or employers, while ensuring that the curriculum remains coherent and reflects the standard and rationale defined for the qualification.
Units to be imported must be at the same level as the qualification being offered, and must not exceed the maximum credit value for imported units. The maximum credits allowed for import will depend on the specific qualification, but will not exceed:
- BTEC Level 4 Higher National Certificates: a maximum of 30 credits can be imported
- BTEC Level 5 Higher National Diplomas: a maximum of 60 credits can be imported (maximum of 30 credits at Level 4 and 30 credits at Level 5)
Please note that units can only be imported from the same qualification suite. For example, only RQF units can be imported into an RQF qualification.
If you are interested in applying to add a Meeting Local Needs unit to an existing BTEC Higher National qualification, complete this online form. Once submitted, the form will automatically be sent to the Higher Nationals (HN) team for processing. Your centre will also receive confirmation of submission via email.
The Higher Nationals (HN) team will accept requests to import Higher National MLN units between 1 September and 31 January of the academic year before they are delivered and assessed. Pearson makes no charge for handling MLN requests made during this time period in advance of the MLN unit delivery and assessment.
Requests made from the 1 February of the academic year to import BTEC Higher National MLN unit(s) into each BTEC Higher National title that has already been delivered and assessed against will be subject to an exceptional award fee of £500. Late MLN unit requests must be authorised by Pearson’s BTEC Higher National and Pearson’s regulatory teams.
There may be instances where a Centre identifies a specific local need which is not met by the existing range of Higher National units within our qualifications. In such circumstances, the Centre may contact the Higher Nationals Team to discuss the possibility of developing a new unit. In a limited number of cases, where there is a clearly demonstrated need, Pearson will work with your centre to develop bespoke units and assign a credit value. Delivery of bespoke units can only begin once the unit has been fully validated and added to the qualification.
There is no fixed time period between submission and validation of a bespoke unit; as this depends on the subject, the complexity of the unit and development requirements. We advise Centres to plan on a six month development period as a rule of thumb.
If you are interested in developing a Locally Devised Unit, please complete the form found at the link below and return to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Your local Curriculum Development Manager can also assist you with any queries you may have about the Locally Devised Unit process.
Pearson can also develop entire qualifications for highly specialised areas that are not covered by existing offers. If you are interested in finding out more about the range of bespoke services that we offer, please visit:
BTEC Higher National units are internally assessed by your Centre staff. Pearson does not require specific forms of assessment for units in a qualification; this ensures that you are able to deliver and assess the programme in a way that suits your students and your local needs.
For essential guidance on planning and implementing internal assessment, see our guide below.
Designed for the higher level BTEC programme teams, this guide covers all BTEC qualifications from Level 4 to 7, including Higher Nationals, and explains the assessment requirements for regulated BTEC qualifications.
Each Higher National qualification also includes a range of Example Assessment Briefs to provide Centres with guidance on the range of different ways to develop suitable assessment instruments.
For guidance on planning and implementing internal assessment see our assessment support videos.
English language expectations
Learners are expected to be able to demonstrate English language comprehension at a level equivalent to IELTS (International English Language Testing System) 5.5 to be able to study BTEC Higher Nationals. Detailed information is included in each Programme Specification.
Support for developing your programme
Each Higher National qualification includes a range of resources to assist Centres in developing and delivering their programme. These include:
- Example Assessment Briefs that provide you with guidance on the range of different ways to develop suitable assessment instruments.
- Example Schemes of Work that offer a model of how curriculum can be delivered using a range of classroom, studio and external activities.
- Core Textbooks that provide students with information about the content for the Core Units of a qualification.
Pearson also offers a range of different training events (both face-to-face and online) to support centres. These include:
- Getting Ready to Teach sessions provide an overview of a specific qualification, curriculum content, assessment and quality assurance.
- Assignment Writing and Assessment sessions explore, in detail, the holistic approach to assessment, developing assignments, assessment process, internal verification and student feedback.
- Internal Verification and External Examination Preparation looks, in detail, at the Internal Verification process; to ensure quality of assignments and assessment results, and reviews the process and practice of annual External Examiner visits.
- Quality Assurance Training sessions cover the key elements and requirements of the quality assurance process for Higher Nationals.
In addition, the Higher Nationals Team can develop bespoke training programmes for your centre.
If you are interested to learn more about Higher Nationals Training events, please contact email@example.com