RISING A-Level pass rates mean the bar for access to a good career has been raised to a C-grade at least, head teachers warned today.
As expected, passes in England, Wales and Northern Ireland rose for the 22nd consecutive year - with an even greater increase in A-grades - amid the annual chorus of criticism that the gold standard exam has been dumbed down.
After years of losing ground to girls, boys fought back in 2004.
But their achievement was overshadowed by further falls in entries in some so-called `hard' subjects, including physics, French and German. But maths showed an increase.
There was another rise in the popularity of subjects that are often dismissed as `soft', including media, film and TV studies, sociology and psychology.
And religious studies saw a surge in entries. It has become increasingly popular at GCSE level too in recent years. The National Association of Head Teachers said it could be down to the clash between the West and Islamist terrorists.
Provisional figures from the Joint Council for General Qualifications, representing all the main exam boards, showed the A to E-grade pass rate rose 0.6% to 96%.
The proportion of entries awarded grade A climbed 0.8% to 22.4%, after a 0.9% rise in 2003.
The growth rates slowed in comparison with 2003, when the A-E pass rate increased by 1.1%.
But if the upward trends were to continue, the figures indicated that one in four entries would gain the top grade by the end of the decade.
School standards minister David Miliband acknowledged that major reform was needed to enable universities and employers to identify the best candidates.
It would be for a Government's working party on reform of 14 to 19 education to put forward the options for change, he added.
NAHT general secretary David Hart said A-Levels were not easier than they were a generation ago. Schools now achieved higher standards.
But he added that A-Levels were going the way of GCSEs, in the sense that universities and companies were increasingly unlikely to look at candidates with less than a C.