Devolving more power to individual schools or school clusters would necessitate a tougher national inspection and scrutiny regime, HMIE's senior chief inspector told school leaders.
Bill Maxwell warned that moves towards greater self-governance would mean "more variability at the frontline" and "less capacity regionally" to provide the support-and-challenge functions that HMIE and local authorities currently deliver.
"With more devolution of power to a local level, we would need to have enhanced scrutiny at local network cluster and community levels," Dr Maxwell told the Managing Scotland's Schools conference in Edinburgh.
A move away from higher-level governance towards more local school or cluster governance would offer a mix of opportunities and risk, said Dr Maxwell.
On the credit side, it could mean stronger engagement with learners, partners and communities, which could in turn reflect on the curriculum. If done right, giving schools greater autonomy could have the effect of energising them. It could also lead to a growth of "system leaders" capable of inspiring or assisting others.
But there were also risks attached to greater autonomy, warned Dr Maxwell. Inclusion and additional support for learning strategies were likely to be less coherent. In a rural area, where there was a clear catchment area in a cluster of schools, it would be easier to ensure additional support needs did not slip through the net, but it would be harder in cities or highly populated areas where the range of difficulties was greater and there were more unusual ASL needs to deal with.
"There is the potential for fractured provision across the area and some pupils falling through the cracks," he said.
The capacity of a local governance system to carry out the scrutiny-and- challenge role as well as supporting a school was also likely to be weaker.
Even in Wales, where school governors have a scrutiny role as well as a supportive one, the scrutiny part was often done badly, said Dr Maxwell, who until recently headed the school inspectorate in Wales, Estyn.