Govt adverts ‘misleading’

By Ian Dunt

Government adverts promoting the use of diplomas have been branded misleading by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) in a highly embarrassing development for Downing Street.

Two people complained to the ASA about radio and newspaper adverts which proclaimed: “The diploma, opening the doors to university and work.”

At one point, the adverts said the qualifications were accepted “by all universities”.

Unfortunately, a small group of universities, including Cambridge, only accepted one of the five new diplomas, which were launched in 2008.

Cambridge accepted a diploma in engineering if it is coupled with A-level physics, but does not take students who have done any other diploma.

“We considered they implied all diplomas represented a level of academic qualification that would be accepted by all universities,” the watchdog said in its ruling.

“Because that was not the case, we concluded the ads were misleading.”

Opposition parties seized on the ruling as proof that Gordon Brown’s “spin operation was out of control”.

Liberal Democrat schools spokesman David Laws said: “It is truly extraordinary that this government’s spin operation has got so out of control that even the ASA is having to rap them on the knuckles for blatantly untruthful claims.

“Gordon Brown promised on his first day as prime minister that he would end the culture of spin, but even Tony Blair and Alistair Campbell were never humiliated by the advertising watchdog like this.

“Ed Balls must apologise for misleading people about the diplomas.”

The Tories argued the judgment demonstrated how confused the government’s qualifications policy had become.

“Ed Balls boasted that his new diploma was on course to overtake the A-level and become the qualification of choice for young people,” said shadow education secretary Michael Gove.

“But universities aren’t impressed, teachers are confused and students have shunned the course. So, in desperation the government spent millions on an advertising campaign which has now been exposed as dishonest.

“Vocational education is too important to be messed up in this way, by a minister more concerned with undermining academic excellence than improving practical learning.”

A Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) spokesperson said: “We disagree with the decision taken by the ASA.

“We worked closely with the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) to ensure they were content with the accuracy of the advertising messages. The Radio Advertising Clearance Centre (RACC) also agreed that the ad was not misleading.”