A radical shake-up of school inspections is being planned, which could result in whole communities being inspected rather than individual schools, TESS can reveal.
The proposals, which some people believe could include the inspection of groups of schools rather than separate establishments, may also lead to inspectors placing greater emphasis on innovation and creativity in measuring success, it has emerged.
The plans came to light when Education Scotland's strategic director Alastair Delaney was quizzed at the annual conference of the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland (Ades) last week.
Delegates accused the inspectorate of contributing to a "climate where people are afraid" that made people shy away from change, and said that creativity and innovation should be key markers of success in inspections. In response, Mr Delaney said that Education Scotland was already moving in that direction and was going to look at how it carried out inspections.
This could include looking at whole neighbourhoods rather than individual schools, he said, and giving more prominence to innovation and creativity in the inspection process.
In an official statement after the event, Mr Delaney said: "Our inspection processes are reviewed on a regular basis to ensure we are continuously moving forward and responding to the changes in learning and teaching. We plan to consider inspection processes in more detail in the coming months.
"However, significant changes would only be implemented following a thorough consultation period."
Eileen Prior, executive director of the Scottish Parent Teacher Council, reacted cautiously to the news, warning that parents did not want a further dilution of the information they received about local schools post-inspection.
"I'd like to hear more about it and what they think the benefits would be, because as things stand there are challenges with the information that's coming to parents from inspection," she said.
"Parents tell us they barely recognise their school from the inspection report letters that they get now.
"There is still a concern that these are a bit of a cut-and-paste job and that the letters are not adequately reflecting the individual schools. The language can also be impenetrable and vague."
Representatives of primary headteachers, however, were more optimistic about the new scheme's potential.
Greg Dempster, general secretary of the Association of Headteachers and Deputes in Scotland, acknowledged that parents might dislike getting less information about individual schools but said that headteachers would not be as exposed in the event of a poor inspection if reports focused on a group of schools, as opposed to one institution.
"If there is not a positive outcome (to an inspection), the headteacher can be extremely exposed and end up being judged on that rather than the journey the school is on," Mr Dempster said.
Inspecting the services for children provided by a community as a whole would also "send out a message" about the importance of cross-sector working and school transitions, he added.
Concerns have been raised in the past about the pressures of the inspection regime on individuals. Irene Hogg, the teaching head of Glendinning Terrace Primary in Galashiels, committed suicide in 2008 after her school was inspected. A fatal accident inquiry later ruled that Ms Hogg's death had been "inextricably linked" to the outcome of the inspection.
The sheriff overseeing the inquiry made no recommendations for changes to how the council supported teachers or how inspections were carried out. Nevertheless, the emphasis in recent years has been on establishing a more proportionate, lighter-touch regime.
John Fyffe, executive director of education and children's services in Perth and Kinross and Ades' new president, said: "In Scotland, there has been a focus on the pupil, and what we are moving towards is thinking about them as a child and a family."
Ken Cunningham, general secretary of School Leaders Scotland, has been vocal in the past in his criticism of the inspectorate. But he said that inspections today were "more responsive and understanding of the reality of school life". However, if the new approach helped to reduce bureaucracy further it was to be welcomed, he added.
"We would need to see the detail and what this actually entailed. Overall, anything that helped reduce bureaucracy would be a good thing and if it did that, it would be helpful."