HMIE has set out its guidance in a major 122-page report, The Journey to Excellence, which is a response to the new six-point scale it uses to judge schools. "Excellent" is now the top ranking instead of "very good".
Some schools have already been awarded maximum points, the first being Netherlee primary in East Renfrewshire which received five excellents and 10 very goods (TESS, December 16).
Graham Donaldson, senior chief inspector, said the key was for school leaders to take a grip and "win hearts and minds". But, Mr Donaldson added, it was not enough to engage in "evangelising rhetoric".
"What is needed is clarity of perception, accurate and honest analysis and the will and capacity to drive forward improvements for learners," he said.
The inspectorate, it is clear from the report, will increasingly set considerable store by the extent to which headteachers lead the learning and teaching process. As Mr Donaldson puts it: "Leaders of excellent schools . . . focus on purposes and on improving the processes which are central to the success of the school - success in learning."
The guide sets out what it considers to be 10 dimensions of excellence and what constitutes excellent teaching. Apart from enthusiasm and insight, the inspectorate stresses the important role of questioning. "Great teachers ask great questions," it states. "They observe how children respond and adapt their teaching accordingly."
The excellent teacher is clearly the one whose attitude is commended in the report: "It would be easy to sit back . . . We finish a job and say 'now what?'"
The HMIE guide will be published in three further parts in the course of the coming year. The next will be entitled How Good Are We Now?, and follows on from How Good Is Our School?