A Midland school yesterday said it would be "looking seriously" at scrapping A levels in favour of a more intellectually demanding exam.
Phillip Griffiths, head of Solihull School, said A levels had become "jump-through-the-hoop" qualifications that did not always give the most academically able a chance to shine. His comments followed a threat by top public school Harrow yesterday to stop teaching A levels if Ministers failed to reform them.
It said it might switch to the new "Pre-U" qualification being developed at Cambridge’s exam board for roll out in 2008.
Mr Griffiths, who became head of Solihull School a year ago, said: "The problem with A levels is that they have become jump-through-the-hoop qualifications.
"If you know the marking scheme and what the examiner is looking for, then you get the marks. The really good pupil who does not answer the mark scheme gets penalised because the questions are no longer open-ended.
"It doesn't allow the intellectual academic thinker to shine. That is what the Cambridge Pre-U is trying to restore."
Mr Griffiths added: "What I am doing is looking seriously at it. I am interested in it but I haven't committed to them. I need to discover what each subject demands."
He said one of the key factors to consider in a potential switch would be the standing of the new exam in the market place.
The new Pre-U will have a longer essay element than the A level and no coursework. Barnaby Lenon, head of Harrow School in north west London, yesterday claimed some A-level subjects had been dumbed down while coursework made cheating easier in others.
Writing in the school’s magazine, the Harrow Record, he said: "If the A-level system is weakened rather than strengthened in the next few years, we will move to the Cambridge board Pre-University exams which start in 2008 as an alternative to A levels.
"They will combine the flexibility of A level with the promise of harder questions and reliable examining."
Ministers have promised to reform A levels with more difficult questions to stretch the brightest pupils, and a reduction in coursework where possible.
But growing numbers of leading schools are searching for alternatives to the traditional GCSE and A-level qualifications.
Critics of the system believe GCSEs are too easy while so many sixth-formers get straight As at A level that top universities struggle to identify the best students.
One of the reasons for improved grades is the introduction of AS levels in the first year which go towards final grades and the ability of pupils to drop weak subjects in the second year.
Mr Lenon said: "The main reason for the improved A-level grades is not that questions have got easier but that pupils are allowed to sit parts of the A level (modules) at different stages of the course and they are allowed to re-sit modules in order to improve grades."
However, he also claimed that in some subjects, questions are less challenging than in the past as exam boards attempt to make courses like maths and French more popular.
The Cambridge Pre-U will see a return to pupils sitting final exams after two years.
Both Solihull School and Harrow have rejected the broader International Baccalaureate (IB) course favoured by some schools.