Just to make my position perfectly clear, I don't in any way agree that A-levels have got easier or are now worth less than they used to be. It really annoys me when smarmy reporters and older people say things like that around results day because a) they have no experience of the current system and b) it undermines all the hard work and stress thousands of young people go through every year to achieve their grades. I believe simply that teachers have got better, more resources are available like the Internet and past papers and people are working harder because education is now more valued.
I also think some people need to get out of the TSR world and into the real world. Everyone keeps talking about the vast numbers of people getting straight As, but at my school, which is an average comprehensive, only 20% of our A-level passes are at grades A and B and the average points score per student is something like 220, the equivalent of CCD or DDDc. This is despite the fact that resits are very common. We never have more than 2 or 3 people in each year getting straight As and we also have quite a few getting Es and Us. To reiterate what others have said, A-levels aren't very good at distinguishing the top from the very top, but they're not designed to do that because the ability range they have to cater for is quite wide. It would be virtually impossible to write a single exam paper that catered equally well for the top A students and the bottom E students.
Having said that, I, like most people, do have some problems with the A-level system:
1) AS and A2. In a way, it's a good idea because it allows more flexibility with subjects and people who drop out after a year to get a qualification, but at the same time, I think it's ridiculous that I can get Cs in 2 of my A2s and still get overall As. A2s are harder than ASs, so why should one person who did well at AS and well at A2 get the same grade as someone who did well at AS but screwed up A2?
2) Unlimited resits. I accept that sometimes people have a bad day and might not do as well as they're capable of, but I don't think they should be allowed to sit an exam 4 times, come out with an A and be seen as equal to someone who got an A the first time. I think a limit of 1 resit per subject and the resit mark counting whether higher or not would be a good idea.
3) Entry requirements. Schools and colleges need to be more strict about letting people onto courses they're not capable of passing. 5 Cs in GCSEs, not GNVQs, including at least Cs in the subjects proposed at A-level, should be the minimum, and although it is in most places, some are unduly lenient. Same goes for progression from AS to A2. My school has let people do A2s in subjects they got Us in at AS, and if you can't even pass the easier half of the course, how can you possibly be expected to pass the difficult part?
As for universities distinguishing between candidates, I think interviews are the way to go for the top universities, but I realise this may not be practical in terms of time and cost, so:
1) There should be no option to decline AS grades.
2) Universities should recieve the UMS mark as well as the grade.
3) Teachers should make predicted grades more accurate by only predicting students grades they honestly believe they're capable of achieving.
On a slightly unrelated note, I also think university entrance requirements need to be raised because it seems ridiculous that EE can get someone onto an academic degree course. I'd personally set CCC as the lowest offer.