IT'S very difficult these days to get an accurate picture of just how valuable A-level passes are.

There is always the question of how can results improve every year? Is it because teaching methods are improving, that access to information to so much simpler, or is it because, as critics would say, the exams are getting easier?

Whatever the reasons, you can't argue with the facts - more people are passing in more subjects with better grades.

But that then throws up a range of other issues. For universities, how hard is it to distinguish between thousands of applicants who have all got top grades?

Do entrance criteria have to get tougher all the time to match the increase in grades?

Also, and in common with the GCSEs, what are employers to make of hordes of students who have

seemingly all passed a dozen or more exams in total with grades in the upper bracket?

Are there too many 'soft' subjects just to allow more candidates into the exam process?

Do schools have too much of an eye on how they fare alongside their peers rather than on securing the best possible education for the greatest number?

I recently had to help four older teenagers complete fairly straightforward forms because none of them was able to follow what they were being asked or to write in the answers themselves.

After 11 years of schooling, was this really how they were prepared for the outside world, by being hardly able to read or write?

Maybe this was an isolated example, but while that situation still exists, all the A-level passes in the world will not compensate.