Details of the new-style inspections will be unveiled today (Friday) by Graham Donaldson, the new senior chief inspector of education, when he addresses the annual conference of the Association of Directors of Education.
Mr Donaldson will also signal a new beginning in the inspectorate's relationship with teachers based on the improvement agenda. He wants HMI to support their profess-ional growth, spending more time with teachers during an inspection and "demystifying" the process.
In his first in-depth interview, Mr Donaldson told The TES Scotland:
"Accountability remains important in what we do, but accountability is not enough."
The new senior chief has been spending the months since his appointment conducting a wide-ranging review of the work of HMI, talking to a range of interests, from parents and ministers to teachers and his own colleagues.
He has concluded that a "core inspection" should concentrate on achievement, teaching and learning and "the capacity to sustain improvement". This capacity will depend on whether HMI believes a school has robust systems for self-evaluation, knows where strengths and weaknesses lie and has leadership committed to the pursuit of quality and school improvement.
Mr Donaldson intends that the best schools should have no further involvement with HMI during the "generational" cycle in which schools are inspected every six to seven years. It will be for authorities to act on any recommendations rather than for HMI to follow them up, as it does at present.
This will allow HMI to concentrate at the other end of the spectrum on engaging directly with the struggling schools which Jack McConnell, the First Minister, identified as a priority in his recent breakfast meeting with heads. Mr Donaldson prefers to say of these schools that there is "significant headroom for improvement".
He made clear that schools in more favoured circumstances which could be doing better will also be targeted.
"This is not a negative agenda," Mr Donaldson said. "It's about using evidence from inspection to spread good practice and putting that into the system."
The new core inspections will be piloted in primary and special schools early next year ready to be introduced from August. Secondary schools will be tested next year and brought into the programme at the beginning of 2004.
The reports that these inspections generate will be substantially shorter - only half of the 33 quality indicators from the How Good Is Our School? self-evaluation bible will be used - and will be aimed mainly at parents.