Today this years A level results arrive. Again, there is going to be a record amount of passes, which the government will laud as improvement in education standards and the press will assault with comments about grade inflation and "dumbing down". The same charade will happen next week when the GCSE results, including mine, arrive.
The cause of all this is simple. The exam boards are competing, and should one exam board produce a significant decrease in passes compared to its competitors, all the schools will stop using that board like a shot. So, they are forced to toe the line year on year, regardless of the quality of the results. I personally think that some years are full of brighter pupils, others less bright, but the exams don't differentiate between years. They can't, or they'll go out of business. Also, they are heavily regulated by the government to make sure that they are all totally equal.
I can think of three possible solutions to this problem. You could have one independent body that made sure that grade inflation didn't happen, so exams were never significantly easier or harder between the years, and keep the exam boards. Or you could have exam boards like universities - you display the board with the grades, and have a separate body which rates how hard the exams were for the boards, so some boards would be easier and more highly rated by employers, and others less so. Or, instead of having grades, have percentile compared to the rest of the population. So then grade inflation can't happen.
Overall, however, I feel people need to socially think that NVQs are worthwhile, and so those who are more practical can get those, and not be looked down upon. Then GCSEs should be more intense, or split like O levels and GCEs were, so that a serious level of work may be done earlier. People who would fail the GCSEs shouldn't be looking at them.