New guidelines for school inspections to be published this month will make it easier to pinpoint individual teachers for poor performance, inspectors believe.
The new, slimmed-down Framework for Inspection which takes effect next summer term is expected to place greater emphasis on teaching quality.
Last month John Major told grant-maintained heads that inspectors should focus on the performance of individual teachers and discuss impressions with the head.
Writing in this week's TES, independent registered inspector Bill Laar says, "Contrary to suggestions by the Prime Minister, there will be no question of direct identification of failing or unsatisfactory teachers. But such a detailed inventory of teaching competences and skills seems likely to make it inevitable that shortcomings in teaching performance will be highlighted. "
Mr Laar, who has studied public documents from the Office for Standards in Education and draft guidance leaked to The TES, believes the demands for analysing teaching quality will make identification of individual teachers "almost impossible to avoid".
Other inspectors believe that although not designed for that purpose, they could be used that way by those motivated to do so.
One HMI warned that inspection is not a good basis for disciplining or taking action against incompetent teachers. A decent teacher can fall to pieces during an inspection while an incompetent one can pull out all the stops, he said.
According to drafts, teachers will be judged on: subject expertise; the match of their approaches, methods and materials to teaching objectives; the motivation of pupils; the communication of raised expectations, and effective assessment.
John Dunford, president of the Secondary Heads Association and a member of the advisory group which worked with OFSTED on the new framework, emphasised that it had not been drawn up with a view to identifying individuals.
"There was a feeling that what inspection should really be about largely is the essentials of teaching and learning . . . Another issue is how you deal with the results of inspections and it's important to deal separately with those two."
He continued: "If the system changed in the way that Major described, people would have to realise the extent of that change . . . Teachers already regard the OFSTED framework as an externally imposed model of quality control and this would make that feeling much greater."
However, he felt the new framework, developed because schools and inspectors thought the original version was too complicated and time-consuming, is better. The new version, due out on October 16, will allow schools' histories and plans to play more of a part. OFSTED aims to make reports more helpful to schools in their own strategies for improvement. Self-evaluation by schools will play a greater part, but many will think not great enough.
Equal opportunities and special needs will no longer comprise separate sections, but will permeate the framework, but some teachers will not be happy with this. A section on quality of learning, is also set to be absorbed into the general framework. Instead there will be sections on attainment and progress, and on pupil attitudes to learning, personal development and behaviour.
It is understood that pupils' achievements will continue to be judged against national norms, but while the "value added" by schools will be an important factor, children will no longer be judged against their own capabilities. This controversial criterion was criticised on the grounds that inspectors from outside could not know the pupils' capabilities, but schools with pupils from deprived backgrounds may not be happy with the change.