Are ACE schools using misleading advertising?

The world has learned that ACE schools teach that evolution is a lie, wives must submit to their husbands, being gay is a sin, and abortion is murder. But for some ACE graduates, that might not be the most damaging thing.

During the Newsnight investigation into Accelerated Christian Education, Anjana Ahuja noticed that many ACE schools were claiming that you could get into university with their (unaccredited) qualification, the ICCE (International Certificate of Christian Education). So she contacted some of the universities alleged to have accepted the ICCE for university entrance, and of those who replied, none of them said they accepted the ICCE.

Imperial College London: Does not recognise the ICCE. (Image credit: Man Vyi, via Wikimedia Commons.)

So can you get into university with an ACE education? Despite claims that more than 50 UK universities have accepted ICCE graduates, this is obviously still a controversial question among parents at ACE schools. The ICCE board is at pains to insist you can, and many ACE schools’ websites describe it as a “university entrance qualification”. Actually, it’s not as easy as they make out. If students have been accepted, often it’s because the universities made an exception to their usual policy, or because the students had additional, recognised qualifications, and it was these that gave them access to higher education.

The reality of the situation is that UK students leave ACE school with no officially recognised qualification whatsoever.

Here’s Anjana with the full story:

“During the course of the Newsnight investigation into the ACE curriculum, I saw that Christian Education Europe’s website contained a long list of UK universities said to have accepted ICCE graduates on to undergraduate courses. I was particularly interested that Imperial College in London was cited as having accepted a student in engineering. This is my alma mater – a highly competitive, world-renowned institution ranked internationally alongside places like Oxford, Princeton and Caltech. It’s hard to get in, even if you have three A’s at A-level.I contacted Imperial admissions, plus several universities who were said to have ICCE graduates on science courses (such as mathematics, biology, engineering). Six replied. The responses are listed below.

Before we get on to that list, I should also note that I rang UCAS, who told me that the ICCE does NOT earn tariff points for university admission, unlike the impression given on some ACE school websites. UCAS said this was because the ICCE was not accredited by OfQual, the exams regulator. I checked with OfQual, who confirmed this to be the case but said that the ICCE might be certified by another body. I read somewhere that the ICCE is certified by the Board of the ICCE.

It is important to be fair about this, so I must add that, according to UCAS, many universities don’t use tariff points to determine admissions. UCAS said they had heard of Durham University accepting the ICCE (Durham, incidentally, has a noted theology department)*. John Lewis, the CEE representative who appeared on Newsnight, went to York University, and there are apparently instances of other ICCE graduates going to UCL and Cambridge. What I can’t verify is whether those individuals went up to those universities through the normal process, with the ICCE as their sole qualification. None of the six universities I contacted said they routinely accepted the ICCE.

* It is true that the Christian ethos of St John’s College, Durham, has probably helped some ICCE students to gain entrance, but I doubt many ACE graduates study theology, since mainstream theology is a dirty word to them. — Jonny

Back to the list.

Here is what Imperial said:

The International Certificate of Christian Education (ICCE) is not accepted by Imperial for entry onto any of its undergraduate courses. Details of entry requirements and qualifications accepted by the College can be found here.

It is possible that some students at Imperial hold the ICCE in addition to other qualifications accepted by the College, however this would not have formed part of their admission.

University of Hertfordshire

ICCE is not one of our listed equivalences and therefore any applicant applying with this qualification would never receive an automatic offer from us.  However, when making an offer to an applicant with this qualification to study mathematics, each application would be assessed on its individual merits depending on which programme the applicant was applying to study.

University of Manchester

We are not aware of accepting anyone with an ICCE qualification on the two courses mentioned on the website you sent. We don’t actually run a Criminology and Forensic Science degree (although Manchester Metropolitan University does) and admissions staff for Criminology and Japanese had not come across the ICCE qualification.

NARIC did a comparability study of ICCE and A-level qualification in 2012 (see here), so it is feasible that an ICCE Advanced Certificate could be accepted in place of a third A Level without any enquiries going to our central admissions team, but it’s very unlikely.

In place of a third A level, and even then “very unlikely”—contrast this with the ICCE Board’s claim that the qualification is equal to three A levels all on its own—Jonny.

Brunel University

While we may have accepted students who hold the ICCE alongside other qualifications, the ICCE by itself is not recognised as an alternative to A levels or the International Bacclaureate (IB).

University of East Anglia

UEA does not have any record of any students admitted with ICCE qualifications. We don’t have an institutional policy for acceptance of ICCE qualifications, and the decision on whether to accept them would depend on the course applied for and an assessment of the ICCE curriculum, teaching and assessment methods on a case-by-case basis.

University of Huddersfield

The University of Huddersfield does not accept the ICCE as a standard qualification and should an admissions tutor feel that a student who puts this award forward on application is worthy of an offer, the admissions tutor has to make a ‘special case’ to our Admissions and Records Office for their approval to proceed.  The University has had very few applicants putting forward this award, but we do have two students currently studying with us where a special case was made by the admissions tutor and subsequently accepted by the University.

What do I conclude from these inquiries? None of the institutions I contacted (remember, these were on CEE’s own website) said that the ICCE was a recognised entry qualification. Any institutions that had accepted ICCE students on to science courses had done so on a ‘Special case’ basis. For this reason, my journalistic opinion is that it is misleading to portray the ICCE as equivalent to A-levels or the IB. It is clear that any student wanting to head to university armed with only an ICCE is very likely to find it more of a struggle than if they had A-levels or the IB. I readily accept that my sample of universities is a small one but, even with this sample, featuring universities on CEE’s own website, it is painfully evident that the ICCE is simply not as widely recognised or accepted as A-levels or the IB as a measure of academic achievement.”


Thanks Anj! This is a very important story. My inbox is regularly filled with stories of ex-students who are struggling to find work, since no employer recognises their ACE high school diploma. When parents send their children to ACE schools, they’re not just giving them a second-rate education now; they’re putting their future at risk.

It’s a shame Newsnight didn’t have time to include this important information. Please make up for it by sharing this article. If you’ve struggled since leaving an ACE school with having an unrecognised qualification, tell your story in the comments.

Post by students who struggle with unrecognised qualifications:

About jonnyscaramanga

I grew up as a Christian fundamentalist in the UK. Now I am writing a book and blog about what that's like, and what fundamentalists believe.

Posted on June 30, 2014, in Accelerated Christian Education, Creationism, Education, Faith Schools, Fundamentalism, School of Tomorrow and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 23 Comments.

  1. Interesting. I have known ACE students in the US to get into high schools and universities just fine. What if a ACE student applies as a homeschool student. Is that different than applying as a ACE church schooled person?

    • It’s not about that. In the UK, there is a thing called UCAS (Universities and Colleges Admissions Service). Students take exams at school, and recognised exams carry points. Most universities require you to have a certain number of points to get on to courses. ACE qualifications are not recognised, so they have no points.

      Universities can of course do what they want, so sometimes they make an exception and let in a student with no points (or not enough points), if the student impresses them in some other way. So an ACE student might potentially get in that way, if they show the admissions tutor that they are exceptional.

      But it’s one thing to say “a university has accepted a student who happened to have an ICCE”. That’s categorically not the same thing as “universities recognise the ICCE as an entrance qualification”. They don’t.

  2. Might I also add that studying A levels after a previous school life of ACE is likely to prove difficult. You can’t necessarily go to year 11 on ACE and then expect to pick up three A levels.

    To tell unsuspecting parents that your child’s going to get into University just fine on ICCE alone is a blatant lie. Parents also need to be aware that ACE isn’t necessarily going to prepare children to take the qualifications that would get them a university place.

    To quote Jonny’s Mum “It’s the crapness!”

  3. ACE’s information is, at best, misleading! But many students from other high schools also don’t have the credentials to enter the universities you mentioned.

    • True, Carolyn, but almost all schools prepare students for qualifications that are accepted by universities. It’s one thing to take a recognised exam and not get the required grades. It’s another thing entirely to succeed at your school’s exams, only to discover they are meaningless to most universities.

  4. Abortion is murder. But the rest I agree with. What kind of alternate universe are they living in?

    • I thought twice about approving your comment, not because I don’t have free expression in these comments (I do), because I don’t want this to get derailed into a conversation about whether abortion is murder.

      So I’m just going to request that people don’t debate abortion in this thread, even though I realise how important this issue is.

      For the record, I strongly affirm women’s right to have an abortion.

  5. Joshua Dharma

    Hey Jonny, I thought I’d let you know that I got into Brunel University to study Electronic Engineering MEng in 2011, straight from ICCE Advanced Level.

    My brother has been accepted into City University to do accounting this year also straight from ICCE Advanced Level. In fact, he recieved offers from all the Universities he applied to, including Reading, Westminster and Brunel.

    I’d also like to point out that the ICCE is listed in the UCAS ‘UK Qualifications’..

    • Very interesting. Thanks for commenting, Joshua.

      Could you tell us a bit more about the admissions process? After all, Brunel has categorically stated above that they do not recognise the ICCE as an alternative to A levels. Presumably they interviewed you?

      I’ve read the UCAS handbook entry. It isn’t an endorsement or recommendation (and where the schools make out that it is, that is misleading). It simply provides information to admissions tutors about what the ICCE is.

    • matthewpocock

      @josh I’d also be interested to know what process these universities went through to accept you and your brother. To my knowledge, universities don’t recognise ICCE, but they are encouraged to look at applicants who don’t meet the qualification standard but which they have reason to believe for other reasons are suitable for a course on a per-applicant basis. This would usually involve an interview, and at the very least, paperwork within the university to document why an otherwise unqualified student was accepted for a course.

      • Joshua Dharma

        Jonny and Matthew,

        As far as I know I had a similar admissions process as most other students, however, when I applied, Brunel asked to see the module syllabi for my ‘Higher Maths’ and seemed to be happy with the module content outline I gave them. They did not ask about the other subjects.

        Apart from that, I had an interview with Brunel and they didn’t ask me any questions about my qualifications but rather had a conversation about the benefits and skills I had achieved as a result of home educating such as goal setting, time management, self motivation etc. For the record I had interviews at UCL and Westminster too.

        My brother however did not even have an interview at his confirmed and backup choices of uni. When he wrote to the universities, they said they had seen the ICCE qualification before and one asked that he send a course syllabi outline for one of the subjects he took.

      • matthewpocock

        @joshua asking to see the syllabi and requesting interviews is probably what you saw of their ‘extraordinary admissions’ process. I expect that your UCAS submission contained some personal statement or other text written by you that marked you out in some way as being a good bet despite not having recognised qualifications.

        My recollection is that the math syllabus is better than any of the others. There’s a fairly stringent limit to how much you can get wrong on geometry and calculus compared to, say, biology or philosophy 😉 I’d also expect ACE students going on to study a university-level course in chemistry to be at least partially prepared for similar reasons.

        Anyway, I wish you luck in your degree. Is it the 4 year version with a substantial project?

      • Yeah, as I understand it the ACE higher maths is pretty challenging. The biggest problem with it is that most ACE schools don’t have suitably qualified staff to assist students with it, but from what I’ve gathered if a student successfully mastered the concepts inside, they’d know a lot of maths.

  6. Cheryl Russell

    I was lucky that circumstances “forced” me into mainstream public schools for my last 2 years of high school. This gave me an actual high school diploma. However, other classmates from my ACE school in Michigan (USA) were not so lucky, including my older sister. They found the only colleges that would readily accept them were ….. (drum-roll please)…. fundamentalist-thinking colleges!

    Considering that the thinking was that girls should only grow up to be pastor’s wives, then I suppose that the logical choice for college was a Bible/Baptist college anyway. Girls are expected to go to college only 1. to find a husband, or 2. to learn to be a missionary. The thought of women going to college to be an accountant or a doctor was laughable. If you harbored such notions, you were considered someone who was not “following God’s will for your life.”

    Always made me wonder, if everybody became preachers and missionaries, WHO would run schools, hospitals and groceries? Solely men, of course! Women stayed home and raised children and “obeyed their husbands”.

    Oyyyy. Any wonder I bolted the first chance I got? And what was more insulting is that I was not raised this way. These experiences happened to me while I was in a state licensed foster care. I was never told I had any rights to object to the brainwashing or the forced church attendance, forced ACE education, etc. And my foster father made good and sure that I “obeyed” by threatening me to “do as I am told and be happy about it” or he would have me “locked up” in a mental institution. Hey, I was 11…what did I know?

  7. I work in University Admissions, & we use the UCAS tariff as part of the admissions process, so the ICCE would not help a student get access here. Unless they had sufficient *real* qualifications, they would have to wait until over age 21, apply as a mature applicant and hope to persuade a course tutor they had gained sufficient academic experience to make up for the shortfall on their application. They could argue the case and we might look into an exemption, but it would definitely not be considered equivalent to A Level or IB.

    • Thanks for commenting JD. I understand this is a common situation. And I’m all in favour of students who have taken the ICCE been accepted to uni on a case-by-case basis if they can demonstrate that they have the relevant aptitudes and skills for their course.

      My beef with the ICCE is that the assessment methods are so flawed that it’s possible to pass a lot of the units without understanding the material. So while some more able students may learn a lot from the ICCE, others may know next to nothing, and you can’t tell that just from looking at their test results.

      The Bridge School Inspectorate said it very clearly when inspecting Emmanuel Christian School in Exeter:

      The oral discussion that they have
      when revising for their tests, helps to develop their understanding. Nevertheless, the
      recall that they have of the content that they have studied, for example in science,
      history and geography, varies too widely. Some pupils remember the subject matter
      in detail and show understanding and interest. Others have only partial recall, which
      is sometimes too muddled to result in understanding.

      This is the major academic problem with the ICCE. It’s almost entirely based on recall, so there’s potential for huge variation in student understanding.

      • Jonny, really sorry but please can I say hi to Matthew Pocock? Hi Matthew! Ruth Haslam nee Dillon here!!! No Facebook so thought I’d just say hi and glad to hear you are doing so well, you deserve your success xxx Sorry Jonny it won’t happen again!

      • matthewpocock

        Hi Ruth!!!!! Not seen you since school. Your brother has my contact details, so please do get in touch somehow. We’ve got several decades to catch up on. OK, normal service can now resume.

  8. Register a complaint with the ASA. Its really easy to do and only takes a few minutes. Let them decide if the advert is misleading.

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