Business guru Sir John Harvey-Jones has launched a fierce attack on the Office for Standards in Education and called for reform of the school inspection system.
"OFSTED is an absolute pain," Sir John told a meeting of industrialists and teachers organised by the Hampshire Education Business Partnership. "It's a bureaucratic system which encourages bureaucracy."
Inspections frightened schools into piecemeal reforms, he claimed. Instead, there should be an advisory body, collating and spreading information on best practice.
While fear of being branded a failure could stimulate short-term change, schools took action in response to the needs of their pupils and not the threat of closure.
Bob Salisbury, headteacher of Garibaldi School in Nottingham, said OFSTED inspections hampered schools' long-term development. "They should be more occasional and done in an entirely different way. It is not proven that OFSTED is making any difference. Nobody has done an audit and it's about time somebody did."
The Garibaldi, a once notorious school, was recently hailed as a role model by David Blunkett and has established highly productive links with businesses. But many of its innovative schemes had to be halted in preparation for OFSTED inspection.
League tables should be redrawn to include schools in comparable circumstances, said Mr Salisbury. "We should divide the country up into schools in similar economic areas and put them together to compare notes. That would get rid of the local competitive element and the excuse that we can only do so well with the youngsters that we have got."
Former ICI boss Sir John said innovative headteachers should be helped and encouraged. "I am constantly amazed at how little practical help and support is given to headteachers."
"The characteristic that we in business need is flexibility - the ability to learn new skills," he added.