Teachers and headteachers have given a cautious welcome to plans by HMIE to inspect a smaller sample of schools and give a shorter period of notice before inspection.
But the primary heads' association, AHDS, has urged the inspectorate to go even further and concentrate its fire on education authorities, while carrying out only "occasional" inspections of schools as a quality check of the information received from councils.
HM senior chief inspector Bill Maxwell this week announced a raft of proposals aimed at producing "a more proportionate, more focused, sustainable and effective programme of school inspections".
Speaking at the Scottish Learning Festival in Glasgow, Mr Maxwell said the changes proposed for school inspections should "enable us to focus more clearly on schools that need support, while still being able to monitor the health of the system and see and share good practice".
The proposals involve a move from six- and seven-year cycles of inspections for secondary and primary schools respectively to a sampling methodology. Any sample should cover all types of schools - from small island to big city-centre establishments - and include any flagged up as at "high risk" through an annual process of risk assessment carried by HMIE and education authorities.
"We will take a closer look at learning and teaching, and learners' experience of their broad general education, including literacy, numeracy and health and well-being. We propose to move away from concentrating our inspection activity on four subject departments in every secondary school inspection, instead spreading our observation of learning and teaching more widely across the school," said Mr Maxwell.
Other proposals include:
- linking inspection even more closely with school self-evaluation;
- making inspections more proportionate to the size and needs of each school or pre-school establishment;
- improving the impact of inspections while using fewer resources;
- reducing the environmental impact of inspection;
- increasing staff and parental involvement;
- shorter, clearer reports published online.
Greg Dempster, AHDS general secretary, commented: "While parental involvement is rightly seen as an important and desirable element of school life, members have regularly expressed concerns that under existing inspection procedures, disproportionate weight is given to parent perceptions, with little right of reply afforded to schools. The proposals would appear to give greater opportunity for this to happen."
He also warned that involving staff members in the inspection process more closely was potentially divisive where a report contained difficult messages.
"I would rather see inspection teams try to increase or improve communication with the headteacher and other staff throughout the inspection. This would achieve the same goal without singling out one staff member as the `inspector's pet'," he said.
Ann Ballinger, general secretary of the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association, particularly welcomed HMIE's plans to concentrate on learning and teaching, while adding: "I am vaguely concerned they feel they have not been doing that already."
She described plans to move from the current three weeks' notice of inspection to a shorter period as "hugely beneficial" and likely to reduce stress and workload, as teachers were currently being asked to "jump through hoops" to provide the paperwork to show what they were already doing.
A spokesman for the Educational Institute of Scotland said: "With teacher numbers falling and workload increasing for most teachers, any further steps that can be taken to ease the burden of inspections, without impacting on the quality assurance remit of the HMIE, will be welcomed by teachers."
The HMIE consultation will run until December 17, 2010.
- Original headline: Sampling scheme for school inspections welcomed by unions