1 Have 22 consecutive years of rises in the A-level pass rate made the exam worthless?
l David Miliband, the Minister for School Standards, insists the answer is a firm "No". He accuses critics of perpetuating a myth that "more will mean worse, that more education for more people will mean lower standards".
l Figures show that - despite the rise in A grades to 21.6 per cent - only 22,000 out of 600,000 18-year-olds obtain three A grade passes. Put another way, that means - in a primary class of thirty pupils - only one will get three A grades.
l The centre-right Bow Group, in a pamphlet published today, however, says nine out of ten academics believe A grades have been devalued over the past decade. Forty-nine per cent of 100 academics that the group interviewed also thought the quality of undergraduates had declined.
2 Even if it's not worthless, hasn't the exam become easier than it was twenty years ago?
l Two inquiries - both set up by the Government's exams watchdog (one of them with independent academic experts on it) - rejected claims there had been any "dumbing down" of A-level standards.
However, while they conclude the exam questions have not become easier, changes in examining methods almost certainly have made it easier to obtain top-grade passes.
l As a result of the exams shake-up introduced in 2000, students sit six different modules to make up an A-level during the course of their two years of study. Only 20 per cent of the marks are reserved for the end-of-term exam. This makes it easier for teachers to coach their pupils in the right answers.
l Mr Miliband said yesterday: "My contention is not that today's generation of pupils are cleverer than their parents: it is that schools and teachers are getting better at getting the best out of them."
3 So do we need to reform the A-level system?
l By comment consent, yes. Mike Tomlinson, the chief schools inspector heading the government inquiry into exam reforms, wants tougher and more open-ended questions - to test pupils' thinking skills and make it more difficult for teachers to coach them in the right answer. He also wants the A grade split into four - so that university admissions tutors can select the brightest pupils for popular courses. As a result of his proposals, which ministers are now …