* England is the only country in the world in which annual rises in exam pass rates are widely called into question, the Government's qualifications regulator said this week.
Ken Boston told The TES: "The notion that educational achievement cannot improve year on year is peculiar to this country.
"I know of nowhere else in the world where a similar annual debate would even be conceivable."
Dr Boston, chief executive of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, was speaking on the eve of this year's A-level results. The pass rate has increased annually for the past 21 years.
Dr Boston refused to say whether 2004 would follow this trend. However, he said: "Whether pass rates go up or down, we will hear people once again talking about dumbing down, decrying progress rather than praising it."
Across the western world, the numbers passing school-leaving exams and reaching university were rising, he said.