Five weeks ago, this blog asked “Are ACE schools using misleading advertising?” Now, according to the Advertising Standards Agency, the answer—in at least one case—is yes. To explain why this ruling is so important, though, we need to travel back in time to when I was at school.
When the National Christian Schools Certificate (NCSC) was included in the UCAS UK Qualifications Handbook for the first time, my school erupted with joy. Until then, getting into university with an NCSC had been a fearsome task. No one in university admissions had ever heard of it. The NCSC was officially unrecognised and might as well not exist.
But now it was in the UCAS Handbook! Praise the Lord, this was a miracle. After all the ways the devil had tried to oppose the Lord’s work, finally the secular authorities were recognising the NCSC. God had made a way where there seemed to be no way. My mum remembers going in to school for a special parents’ evening, where not one but two of the supervisors gave a presentation on what an excellent recognition of the curriculum this was. Now the NCSC was officially on the books. Now Christian kids could go to university.
In 2004, the NCSC changed its name to the International Certificate of Christian Education (ICCE).
Ten years later I was earning part of my living interviewing students who were applying to Higher Education courses. At that time, I found out about UK NARIC’s approval of the ICCE, which led to this on the front page of the TES. Little did I know then that this would turn into a five-year campaign.
When I started trying to gather evidence that NARIC had made the wrong decision, I called a friend in university admissions and got them to send me the text of the UCAS handbook entries on the ICCE and NCSC. And I discovered something.
These entries were pointless. They didn’t endorse the ‘qualifications’ at all. They were purely for information purposes. The text explained what the ICCE and NCSC were, and that was it. Now the UCAS handbook is online, so you can see for yourself. The preface says:
The inclusion of any qualification does not imply recognition or endorsement of that qualification on the part of UCAS or HEIs, for the purposes of entry to HE in the UK. Similarly, absence of any qualification in the guide does not imply intended lack of recognition.
It’s irritated me ever since that ACE schools were getting away with claiming the UCAS handbook as a feather in their cap. In fact, bragging about being in the UCAS handbook is like bragging about having your business listed in the Yellow Pages. It’s not an achievement. It just confirms that you exist.
I thought about asking UCAS to remove the entries, for much the same reason as people were unhappy about the creationist exhibit at Giant’s Causeway (it technically isn’t an endorsement, but creationists use it as a way to try to seem more credible). But why should UCAS do that? The ICCE exists, and the UCAS book is a list of qualifications that exist. The problem wasn’t with UCAS; it was with the schools’ marketing.
And then, because I am not always the world’s quickest thinker, I realised what I could do.
I don’t suppose there’s any point in hiding the fact that I was the complainant in the recent ASA case—everyone would assume it was me anyway. After I wrote the misleading advertising blog post, I noticed this on Emmanuel Christian School’s website (see this archived version of the site):
The International Certificate of Christian Education is comparable to International ‘O’levels at General and International ‘A’ level at advanced; the ICCE Intermediate and Advanced both attract UCAS points (Universities and Colleges Admissions Service) and are published in the International Qualifications Handbook providing formal recognition of the work completed by children on the ACE curriculum.
The first clause (about comparability to International O- and A-levels) obviously refers to NARIC’s stupid ruling, so I couldn’t do anything about that. The second claim, that the ICCE attracts UCAS points for university entry, is untrue and has never been true, so I knew that part of my complaint would be upheld. The last part I was quite confident about, but these things are never 100%—NARIC’s approval of the ICCE was and remains ludicrous, but it hasn’t budged.
When the ASA adjudication came back, they upheld both parts of my complaint.
We considered that any claim referring only to the inclusion of the ICCE qualifications in either UCAS handbook, without making clear that that inclusion was intended for information only and did not confer any form of recognition or endorsement by UCAS, was likely to mislead if made in a promotional context for an educational establishment offering those qualifications.
The claim by Emmanuel School referred to the inclusion of the qualifications in the International Handbook as “providing formal recognition of the work completed by children on the ACE curriculum”. In view of the clear statement in the preface of that publication, we considered that the claim was misleading and breached the Code.
So now the Emmanuel website instead says:
The International Certificate of Christian Education has been approved by NARIC as comparable to International ‘O’levels at General and International ‘A’ level at advanced. Students from across the UK with ICCE have gone on to further education including university.
Of course, according to Anjana Ahuja’s research, in a number of cases, the fact that these students held an ICCE was incidental—it wasn’t the ICCE that gained them their university places. The current UCAS handbook entry on the ICCE, doubtless using information provided by the ICCE themselves, says: “ICCE Advanced Certificate is accepted by many universities for undergraduate entry”. I’m not sure how true that is; I’m currently in the process of finding out.
Anyway, the ASA has ruled that schools cannot use the UCAS Handbook entry to imply that the ICCE has official endorsement. If any school does, they will be found in breach of the Code, and hear from the ASA’s compliance team.
Changes are already happening. When I complained to the ASA, Redemption Academy in Stevenage had the same wording on its website as Emmanuel Christian School. As of this morning, that’s gone.
At the Vine Christian School in Reading, however, they’re still claiming:
The International Certificate of Christian Education is a similar standard to GCSE through to A level and is recognised by the majority of employers and universities in the UK and elsewhere. The ICCE is included in the UCAS (Universities and Colleges Admissions Service) International Qualifications Handbook providing formal recognition of the work completed by children on the ACE curriculum.
The prospectus for King of Kings School in Manchester says “The ICCE Advanced Certificate is a
matriculation certificate quoted by UCAS for university entrance.”
The King’s House School in Windsor, meanwhile says:
“The ACE programme qualification (ICCE) is listed in the UCAS International Qualifications Handbook along with A-Levels and the International Baccalaurate”, implying that these qualifications are of equal standing. The ASA says this is misleading advertising.
At Maranatha Christian School near Swindon, they’re saying “The International Certificate of Christian Education is recognised by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS)”.
Clever play on the two meanings of the word “recognise” there Maranatha, but the ASA says you’re being misleading.
These are far from the only misleading claims I’ve seen made in regard to the ICCE; these are just the ones about UCAS. The ASA says it will be following up all claims like these as instances of non-compliance.
Presumably the schools will all write to their parents, apologising for misrepresenting the level of recognition (ie none) that the ICCE officially enjoys.