Information from Geoff Carroll, compiled by Simon Grant

UK National Occupational Standards

UK National Occupational Standards (NOS) are documents produced by UK Sector Skills Councils, SSCs (or similar bodies, in all cases including representation from employers, and trades unions and professional bodies as appropriate) that define the standards of performance (abilities) and knowledge and understanding required as necessary in a wide variety of occupational areas. The body responsible for oversight of SSCs is the UKCES - the UK Commission for Employment and Skills.

The NOS Strategy, NOS Quality Criteria, and NOS Guide are all available through

An example NOS (as PDF) is analysed on a separate sub-page.

General Information

information details
Name / title of source/model and version if applicable UK National Occupational Standards, June 2011 versions
Stakeholder UKCES and Sector Skills Councils
Orientation Vocational qualifications, training and HR management
Explicit or implicit model Some model features are explicit in the quality criteria, but others are implicit, and even then the existing materials do not all conform to the quality criteria.
Organisational competence No
Number of people currently affected Very large
Sectors covered Essentially, all sectors, particularly EQF levels up to 5, some beyond. The boundary with established professions is unclear.
User communities Sector Skills Councils, under the UKCES are the producers; users include: employers; awarding bodies; regulatory bodies (e.g. OFQUAL); professional bodies; etc.
Significant use cases (see below)
Significant business cases It is mainly to ensure that vocational qualifications and HR development reflect the needs of the workplace.
Gather sample materials There are thousands of these available through the National Occupational Standards database
Key features influencing uptake The whole area is led by government policy. It is not clear what the limiting factors for employer use are – certainly they could be used more. It is therefore really unclear what InLOC features would influence uptake.

Features of the model

The model described can be either explicit (as in a specification) or implicit in the stakeholders data or practice. If a source covers separate more than one LOC, it might be useful to duplicate this table, and fill in once for individual LOCs, and once for frameworks or LOC structures. In the "?" column, put 1 if the feature is present, 0 if it is not.

N feature ? notes
00 More than one model 1 There is only one explicit model: the NOS (standard or – previously – "unit"), which itself belongs in a hierarchy. But there are implicit models of other layers, and a single LOC model looks like it would not be sufficient for representing NOS in InLOC. See below for more discussion.
01 Identifiers 1 Individual NOS ("units") have identifiers unique within the defining body; identifiers are not specified at lower layers.
02 Hierarchy (internal) 1 Each hierarchy corresponds to a functional map, but these are not usually published. A "suite" of NOS is often published as a single document; each NOS is mandated to contain "performance criteria" and a "specification of knowledge and understanding" (see below for further details); frequently "common" standards appear in several suites (therefore polyhierarchical)
03 Internal relationships 0 The only explicit structure is the hierarchy. It is implicit that knowledge and understanding underpins performance
04 External relationships 1 NOS that are imported from other SSCs.
05 Conditionality / optionality 0 No.
06 Text syntax 0 Every NOS title should begin with an action verb, but this is not a formal requirement.
07 Structured identifiers 1 The explicit identifier is within the SSC: usually the letters indicate a group of NOS for one area of work, but not in any uniform way. Implicitly, the other part of the identifier would identify the SSC or other responsible body.
08 Classification   NOS may be associated somehow with an occupational classification (see quality criteria).
09 Level attribution 0 Not within a NOS suite itself. Often NOS are used in qualifications that have educational levels.
10 Level definition 0  
11 Context 1 Some NOS have range and scope. Summary overview of NOS explains the context.
12 Evidence and assessment 0 Explicitly not.
13 Extensions 0 Not designed for extension.
14 Profiles 0 NOS are used in profiles, but there is no specified way of constructing them.
15 Adaptation 1 Tailoring. (see below)
16 Definition by example 0 Nothing explicit: examples may be given in the overview documentation.
17 Learning resources 0  
18 Learner records 0  
19 Multilinguality 1 Any NOS that has an implication for government must be translated to Welsh. Identifiers remain unchanged.

Further information

Users and use cases

  • Awarding bodies use NOS to develop vocational qualifications. Previously NOS were taken more or less wholesale and converted to NVQs (still done with SNVQs); now NOS in England and Wales are used mainly to develop learning outcomes within the UK QCF.
  • job profiles

Quality criteria

These criteria are vital ones set out in the Guide and the Quality Criteria document for the different parts of NOS structure, but not all NOS yet follow these criteria.

The Standard or NOS

A NOS "Standard" (in older documentation referred to as a "unit") has these main components:

  • unique reference number;
  • NOS title;
  • NOS overview describing "what the NOS is about and who it is for";
  • performance criteria – "statements which together specify the standard of performance required when carrying out a function";
  • specification of knowledge and understanding – "the knowledge and understanding an individual needs in order to perform to the required standard";
  • technical data. These should include:
    1. The name of the standards-setting organisation which has developed the NOS
    2. The version number which will show how many times the NOS has been reviewed and updated
    3. The date the current version of the NOS was approved
    4. The date by which it is anticipated the NOS will be reviewed – this will only be a target date; circumstances may change and the NOS may be reviewed at an earlier or later date
    5. The validity of the NOS, ie "current" – a NOS currently in use and not in the process of being revised; "legacy" – a NOS which has been superseded, but which is still used within qualifications, for example Scottish Vocational Qualifications (SVQs)
    6. The status of the NOS, ie "original" – a new NOS; "tailored" – a NOS imported from another organisation's suite with minor amendments to make it relevant to the new context but without changing the demands of the NOS
    7. The name of the originating organisation and the Unique Reference Number of the original NOS
    8. The occupations to which the NOS applies
    9. Key words, to enable the user to search for relevant NOS on the NOS database

In some older NOS these may have substructures called "elements", which then contain the performance criteria, knowledge and understanding. That is no longer done. Other information about a NOS is optional:

  • scope/range
  • values
  • "behaviours" e.g. "make time available to support others" or "clearly agree what is expected of others and hold them to account", "take timely decisions that are realistic for the situation"
  • generic skills "transferable to a wide range of contexts"
  • links to other NOS (unspecified)
  • external links (unspecified)

Performance criteria

Taken together, the performance criteria should be capable of distinguishing between satisfactory and unsatisfactory performance in the function covered by the NOS.

Each performance criterion should start with an active verb in the second person singular and be able to follow the introductory phrase: "You must be able to...".

Each performance criterion should clearly and concisely specify what the individual carrying out the function needs to do or ensure happens and the standard of performance
that is satisfactory.

Specification of knowledge and understanding

The specification of knowledge and understanding in a NOS answers the question: "what does an individual need to know and understand in order to perform this function consistently to the required standard?".

Broader layers of structure

The quality criteria specify that

National Occupational Standards must be derived from functional analysis – an accurate and detailed separation of the functions which have to be carried out in order to achieve the key purpose of the sector, occupation or area of work.

The layers of functional analysis may not be explicitly represented in the documentation. Each NOS should have a similar granularity, but there is no fixed number or structure of layers above the NOS.

Reuse and tailoring of NOS

Reuse of unchanged NOS from (and reference to NOS in) other sectors is encouraged. However:

It is sometimes the case that a potential NOS from another suite accurately describes the standard of performance required of individuals when they carry out this function in the new context, but the wording is (a) unclear or ambiguous or (b) not meaningful to those carrying out this function in the new context. In these cases the NOS may be tailored for use in the new context as long as any changes made do not change the demands of the NOS in terms of the standard of performance or knowledge and understanding required.

This advice appears in section 3.14 of Guide to Developing National Occupational Standards:

  1. You can put the content of imported NOS into a layout and format that is used in your sector. In doing so, you should import the total NOS content – taking account of the other rules listed below.
  2. You can change the overview section of the NOS, if this helps to put the NOS into the context of your sector.
  3. You can "unpack" generic statements to make them clearer for the sector. For example, if an imported NOS refers to "relevant legal requirements" in the Knowledge and Understanding, you can expand this statement to highlight the legislation that is most relevant to your sector – for example "legislation covering health and safety, anti-discrimination, data protection and freedom of information"
  4. You can change certain terms in the Performance Criteria and Knowledge and Understanding sections to make them more acceptable to your sector. For example, "customers" can be changed to "clients", but only in these sections (and the Overview), not in the NOS Title. Change the NOS Title and you create a new NOS.
  5. Any changes that you make should not alter the demand of the NOS. The Management and Leadership example we looked at in 3.11 and 3.12 probably needed several Performance Criteria removing and possibly Knowledge and Understanding statements as well. This is changing the "demand" of the NOS and is not tailoring.
  6. You can only tailor an original NOS, not one that has already been tailored by your own or another organisation.
  7. You must obtain permission from the originating SSC or standards-setting organisation to tailor the NOS and their agreement in writing that the tailoring has not changed the demands of the NOS.

InLOC consultation with UK NOS stakeholders is through Simon Grant and Geoff Carroll.