Mr Donaldson this week moved to try and dispel some of the grievances and caricatures. He did so in uncharacteristically blunt style, dismissing some criticisms of his regime as "urban myths" and saying he had "little sympathy" for those who claimed schools were over-scrutinised. But it is not just HMIE which inspects: schools also face quality checks of varying kinds by local authorities.
Of course, there will always be tensions between external inspection and school evaluation, even if HMIE hopes to ease that slightly by what Mr Donaldson calls "maximum impact with minimum intrusion". Nonetheless, he hopes the measures announced today will go some distance to reassure schools that the inspectorate is offering them more support than ever before. His charm offensive with the leaders of the profession seems to have worked so far, and the task now is to convince their followers.
The truth is that schools will come alongside the inspectorate only when they feel they have co-ownership of the whole accountability regime - or co-responsibility perhaps. For Mr Donaldson to say that inspection should be seen as a constructive process and an opportunity to work with schools is a major step in that direction. "Support and challenge" will always be a difficult balancing act, and it often has all the comfort of a high-wire act.
If, however, this "de-cluttering" of the audit system reinforces the much-vaunted decluttering of the curriculum, it might lead schools at last to the promised land of creative and innovative teaching.