Douglas Osler was speaking at the launch of the agency's first annual report which outlines its performance in 2001-02 and its plans for the coming year.
Hiving off the inspectorate into an agency at arm's length from government was one of the first acts of Jack McConnell after he became Education Minister. Mr McConnell clearly felt he was sending a strong signal to the profession which had grown critical of HMI's conflicting roles as initiator and judge of a range of policies.
Mr Osler has now implicitly acknowledged the wisdom of that move but is making no concession to those who believe it was a slap in the face for the inspectorate following its leading role in the Higher Still saga. "Agency status is the beginning of a success story," Mr Osler said.
He added: "Our position as an agency has made clear what our role is and it clarifies relationships. It emphasises the independence of our reports - that there are no other influences on them because we are no longer an integral part of a department of the Executive."
Mr Osler paid tribute to the inspectorate's 162 staff for coping with these changes while delivering "business as usual" - and at the same time helping to achieve the Charter Mark for "excellence in public service", the first UK education inspectorate to do so.
Mr Osler, who retires in September, acknowledged that the major extension of the inspectorate's work has imposed significant strains on his staff, adding simply: "We are coping."
The agency inspected 411 schools and pre-school centres, 13 FE colleges, 10 services responsible for community learning and seven education authorities in the course of the year to the end of March. It published 20 reports on subjects ranging from early intervention to core skills in FE colleges.
HMI is sticking to what it calls its "generational cycle" of inspections. This involves inspecting each primary every seven years and secondaries every six years, equating to each generation of pupils passing through a school. This compares with the former regime of inspections every 20 years.
Mr Osler said: "Inspections have to be balanced in that they are not so frequent that schools become inspection-dependent but, on the other hand, that they do get the advice and support they need."
Schools were now much better prepared for inspection, he suggested, because they are constantly evaluating themselves.
NEXT YEAR HMI WILL...
* Undertake 252 school inspections, pay six care and welfare visits, inspect 12 FE colleges, look at community learning in 10 local areas and inspect seven education authorities.
* Publish 92 per cent of school reports within 20 weeks of the notification of the inspection and issue 85 per cent of reports on education authorities 12 weeks after the end of the inspection.
* Pilot inspections of pre-school settings along with the Care Commission.
* Issue reports on English in primary and secondary schools, business education in secondaries, standards in special schools, support for pupils in secondary schools, educational inclusion, good practice for education authorities and improving physical education.
* Introduce new support packages for inspections.
* Give advice to ministers and others on a range of areas such as the experience of deaf children in mainstream education, the effectiveness of the revised 5-14 guidelines on modern languages, implementation of the post-McCrone settlement and the McCabe report on sex education, progress with the discipline action plan and the efficiency and effectiveness of mainstreaming.
HMI SAYS IT IS NOW...
* More flexible in its response to curriculum innovation.
* More concentrated on evaluation of school improvement.
* Giving emphasis to whether schools display equality and fairness.
* Evaluating how schools measure up against the national priorities for education.
* Commenting on the quality of secondary school libraries.
* Inspecting information and communications technology as a third curriculum area in primary schools.