Increasing numbers of fee-paying schools will switch to exams such as the International Baccalaureate or the International GCSE, which some regard as more demanding qualifications, while others are already considering developing new exams, according to members of the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference (HMC), which represents schools such as Eton, Winchester and Harrow.
In a speech yesterday to the association's annual conference at the Belfry Hotel in the West Midlands, its chairman, Priscilla Chadwick, criticised the Government's rejection of most of the recommendations made by Sir Mike Tomlinson, the former head of Ofsted, for reforming the exam system.
Dr Chadwick, principal of Berkhamsted Collegiate School in Hertfordshire and the first woman chairman of the HMC in its 136-year history, accused Ruth Kelly, the Education Secretary, of "filleting" the report and said she had set back attempts to reform the "alphabet soup" of qualifications.
She added that even on the few Tomlinson proposals accepted by ministers the pace of change was much too slow, and that private schools were becoming frustrated at the time taken to reduce the burden of exams while ensuring A-levels became harder for the brightest students.
"The Government's filleting of the Tomlinson report recommendations earlier this year was a set-back for many who had hoped that at last the alphabet soup of 14 to 19 qualifications would be rationalised and updated," Dr Chadwick said. "Even the few improvements we have been promised are much too slow in coming ... crucially those more demanding A-level questions to differentiate this country's brightest students.
"We need to be creative in ensuring our curriculum and assessment frameworks meet the future needs of our pupils and our teachers, whether or not that be through developing new courses or more appropriate external exams."