A school that teaches a fundamentalist Christian curriculum, and where course books have claimed that the Loch Ness monster disproves evolution, has been censured by the advertising watchdog for making "misleading" claims about the value of its qualifications.
Emmanuel School in Exeter was told by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) that a statement on its website that International Certificate of Christian Education exams "attract Ucas points" was misleading.
The ruling is expected to have a wider impact on other schools that make claims about the ICCE helping students to gain places at university. The qualifications are offered in private faith schools that follow the Accelerated Christian Education programme.
Emmanuel School claimed the exams were "formal recognition of the work completed by children on the ACE curriculum" because they were listed in the Ucas International Qualifications handbook, but the ASA ruled that this could wrongly make people believe the qualifications were endorsed by the university admissions service.
In 2009, the UK government-funded National Academic Recognition Information Centre (Naric) controversially deemed the intermediate and advanced ICCE exams equivalent to qualifications offered by the Cambridge International Examinations board.
Amid revelations that some ACE curriculum materials had called evolution an "indefensible theory" and described homosexuality as a "learned behaviour", Naric launched a review of course content, but stood by its original decision.
Concerns were also raised that students used textbooks that said the existence of the Loch Ness monster could help to disprove the theory of evolution.
Despite winning approval from Naric, the ICCE exams are not endorsed by Ucas and it is unclear if any universities formally accept them - although people holding the qualifications have been admitted to undergraduate courses.
Matt Wilson, a spokesman for the ASA, said the organisation would not "proactively pursue" other schools making similar claims but would expect them to be "mindful" of the ruling.
Jonny Scaramanga, who was educated under the ACE curriculum but has campaigned against schools operating it for some years, told TES it was vital that parents were made aware of the true value of the ICCE qualifications.
"There is a risk that children could complete their education thinking that they have a university entrance qualification, but in fact they don't," he said. "I've spoken to graduates from ACE schools that have struggled to get into university and failed to find employment, because they hold qualifications that no one's heard of and had no official recognition.
"That's a position that parents should at least be informed about. I think, really, it should be a requirement for all schools to prepare students for some kind of recognised qualification."
Emmanuel School, which is one of about 34 private Christian schools offering the qualifications, insisted it had "never intended to mislead" anybody with its website's statements.
Principal Mark Neale said a "genuine mistake" and "an example of poor communications" had led to the school publishing the claim that the exams attracted Ucas points.
"We weren't trying to pull the wool over anybody's eyes," he said. "We were glad the ASA brought it up. There was no attempt on our behalf to mislead; we made a mistake and we've resolved it now."
Mr Neale added that a "proportion" of his school's pupils did go on to university each year, with institutions occasionally setting entrance tests to determine students' suitability in the absence of GCSE and A-level grades.
The website of the ICCE claims that the qualification is "a Christian alternative to secular qualifications and is recognised by a growing number of employers and universities in many countries".
The website adds: "ICCE provides an excellent standard of education that successfully equips students for higher education and the workplace, while helping to develop a Christian faith that is grounded in a confident, reasoned understanding of the teaching of the Bible as the word of God."
A spokesman for Ucas said: "The ICCE does not attract Ucas tariff points. Ucas would be unable to consider the qualification for inclusion in the current tariff owing to it not being Ofqual accredited."
About Accelerated Christian Education
- The ACE programme originated in Texas, US, in the 1970s.
- Pupils study a range of subjects including science and English, but spend half their time learning from Bible-influenced textbooks published in the US.
- About 34 schools in the UK offer the ACE curriculum and its associated International Certificate of Christian Education exams.
- Course books produced as part of the ACE curriculum have claimed that creation took place "a few thousand years ago" and that "no transitional fossils exist".