Experts say the rise is due in part to a growing obsession with examination performance by schools and pupils.
Traditional subjects such as French, English and history are in decline, while vocational subjects such as computing, media, and business are booming.
The pass rate increased just 0.7 per cent, the second smallest rise for a decade, suggesting that the rate of improve- ment may be slowing. The number awarded grade A is up by the same amount, so competition for university places will be as fierce as ever.
"Young people are being encouraged to squeeze every ounce of exam performance out of themselves," said Professor Alan Smithers of Liverpool University. "It is important to them because of the competition to get into university and it is important to schools because of the league tables."
But the Institute of Directors said it was not convinced that standards were rising. The increase was due to pass-as-you-go modular courses that account for half of all A-level entries, it said.
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