HMI's report, Moving On, concentrates on promoting good practice in the transition from school to college, and follows the 1999 Beattie report on the education of young people at risk.
Douglas Osler, senior chief inspector of schools, delivered his usual judgment in the report that, while much good work has been uncovered by HMI, much remains to be done.
Mr Osler said: "More action is needed by schools and colleges nationally to develop effective ways of working together and with others to make sure the very specific needs of individual young people are addressed in a way which allows them to develop their potential."
The report, published on Tuesday, cites a range of case studies from colleges that have become expert at providing additional support. It reflects the new emphasis on disseminating good practice that will be a stronger feature of forthcoming HMI reports.
HMI says that an effective college not only works closely with schools but responds to general and individual needs. "General needs might include providing a range of introductory programmes, a good induction and settling-in process and a comprehensive learning support extended learning support service. Individual needs might include individualised programmes, arrangements for a student in poor health to combine college attendance with flexible or distance learning, behaviour modification support and the use of scribes."
Schools should work with pupils in need of support to plan their next steps. This will mean coming to terms with a less sheltered environment, making arrangements for their personal care and building up self-confidence.
The inspectorate says that arrangements between schools and colleges which work well involve a gradual transition and curriculum continuity. There should also be "a named, available and approachable staff member" to help and advise.
The aspects of good transition work which provide the biggest challenges, a spokesperson said, were a lack of time for school and college staff to meet and curricular continuity from school into college studies (although the development of access courses in the new National Qualifications is designed to address that).
Special schools tend to find it easier to provide for the transition to college. "Mainstream schools find it more difficult, especially for those pupils lacking in motivation who may have dropped out before they reach the point of transition. But we believe new community schools could help here."
Tom Kelly, chief officer of the Association of Scottish Colleges, welcomed the evidence of successful college-school partnerships. "These offer much more to those who want to continue their education but were left out in the past," Mr Kelly said.
The Beattie report found that young people were not always given the information they needed about options beyond school, support available in school was not readily available in college, some young people and their parents did not realise what colleges could offer and students who went to college did not receive the support they needed and dropped out.
The Scottish Executive has provided pound;22.6 million in the three years to 2004 to implement the Beattie report's recommendations, including pound;15 million for "key worker" support.