Ofsted's former chief inspector is calling for the watchdog to spend fewer resources on highly rated schools by cutting the length of their inspections by up to three-quarters.
Christine Gilbert wants the inspectorate, which she left last year, to spend as little as half a day checking the self-evaluations of schools that have previously been rated "good" or "outstanding", if the institutions are confident that standards are being maintained.
If a school's procedures are up to scratch, the inspectors could endorse the judgement and leave. If not, they could then conduct a full inspection, Ms Gilbert says. Under the current regime, inspectors typically spend two days in a school previously rated "good".
For "outstanding" schools, which have been spared routine inspections since last May, it would mean a return to visits from inspectors - albeit potentially very brief ones - every five years.
Ms Gilbert believes her idea would allow Ofsted to divert more of its attention to schools that are not doing so well.
"The chief inspector has signalled his intention to increase the frequency of inspection for satisfactory and inadequate schools," she writes in a National College for School Leadership paper published this week. "This frees up resources to enable him to do this more rapidly."
Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said that the change would be a "very welcome step". "Inspectors can't check every aspect of a school's work anyway," he said. "But they can look at the quality of a school's self-evaluation and if they find it's effective, they shouldn't need to look further. I think this would be a very big step towards intelligent accountability."
Ms Gilbert said that, to pass muster, schools would need to show that their self-assessment included some external scrutiny by making use of the opinions of staff from other schools. Her paper gives the example of Challenge Partners, a collaborative network of more than 70 schools that are already conducting Ofsted-style reviews of each other's progress.
Both Ms Gilbert and current chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw have expressed concerns about "outstanding" schools being exempt from routine inspections. Ofsted figures published last year show that two-fifths of the top-rated schools were downgraded on re-inspection.
Ms Gilbert argues that her plan addresses these concerns while retaining a light touch, allowing inspectors to see "what the very best practice looks like" and reassuring parents that judgements of "outstanding" remained current.
An Ofsted spokesman said: "Outstanding schools are exempt from routine inspection but Ofsted assesses the performance of outstanding schools regularly, using attainment and progress data for different groups of pupils, the results of subject inspections and the views of parents and carers."
"Towards a self-improving system: the role of school accountability" by Christine Gilbert is available at www.nationalcollege.org.uk.