Ofsted intends to reintroduce inspections to "outstanding" schools and place thousands of extra schools into a legal category that would allow ministers to order them to become academies.
The proposal for top-rated schools could be seen as an embarrassing U-turn for Michael Gove, who originally came up with the idea of exempting them from further regular inspection.
But the education secretary is said to be supportive of the plan to legally redefine all schools receiving a grade 3 inspection - currently known as "satisfactory" - as schools that "require significant improvement", a change that could put rocket boosters on his academies revolution.
On the basis of 2010-11 figures, the reform would increase from 437 to 6,554 the number of schools like Downhills Primary in Haringey, London, with Ofsted verdicts that leave them open to ministerial intervention and academy orders.
The change was included in a package of measures announced yesterday by Sir Michael Wilshaw, Ofsted's new chief inspector, which he wants to introduce from September.
They include inspectors checking heads' decisions about performance management for teachers and their links to pay, and no-notice inspections for all schools.
The watchdog also plans to make outstanding teaching a prerequisite for an overall outstanding verdict and to deem only good and outstanding schools as providing an "acceptable standard of education".
Taken together, the measures are likely to be seen as a huge increase in pressure on schools, heads and teachers.
Sir Michael argues that the changes are needed to transform "poor performance" in schools, strengthen communities and improve economic competitiveness when 1.5 million young people are outside education and employment.
"We have got a situation in this country where the gap (in results) between the best and the worst, the rich and the poor, is not narrowing," he told TES. "Something like one in six adults doesn't have functional literacy skills to be able to cope in modern life. That is a big, big issue."
Heads' leaders were disappointed by the chief inspector's focus on poor leadership earlier this week and warned that "constant criticism and abuse" would lead to an "exodus" of headteachers from the profession.
But Sir Michael said that there had been no deliberate shift to more critical language and that it was important that there was good morale in teaching.
"Morale comes not just through better pay and conditions and so on, but through knowing that you are working in a good school that is attempting to do good things by children," he said. "It is important that we sometimes say tough things - that leadership is vital in changing the culture of a school and that, if heads can't improve things over a period of time, that issue needs to be addressed."
The chief inspector said that the idea that renaming and changing the legal status of the satisfactory inspection grade could lead to more schools becoming academies "didn't enter my head". Using academy status as a solution for schools with the new "requires improvement" grade was an issue for government and not Ofsted.
Sir Michael revealed that he was unhappy with the current policy of exempting outstanding schools from regular inspection, a policy Mr Gove has backed since he was in opposition. The chief inspector is now in talks with the education secretary about keeping these schools "on their toes" and finding extra money to inspect them. The focus is expected to be on around 1,000 outstanding schools that lack outstanding teaching.
"I am not particularly happy that we inspect outstanding schools only where a risk assessment has been conducted and things are seen to be slipping," Sir Michael told TES. Inspectors needed "to see a lot more outstanding schools so that they know what outstanding looks like", he said.
No timescale has been put on the change, which is not part of the package of measures being consulted on.
The consultation does include a plan for inspectors to ask schools for anonymised summaries of the most recent performance management results for all teachers, to help them judge leadership.
Sir Michael said that questions from inspectors needed to be "more robust" and that it was "quite legitimate" for them to ask heads and governors "How many of your staff have moved up the main (pay) scale? How many have gone through the (upper pay) threshold" and whether a school was "providing value for money". The last time Sir Michael had looked, more than 90 per cent of teachers who applied were going through the threshold, but 40 per cent of teaching was "not good enough".
He said that, in the future, new legislation might be necessary to require heads to provide reports on performance management to governors that inspectors could also examine.
"There is nothing more dispiriting for a good teacher who works very hard, who goes the extra mile for children, than to see somebody who doesn't work as hard on the same salary scale," the chief inspector said. "This is a question of equity."
On no-notice inspections, Sir Michael revealed that inspectors might rearrange a visit if it emerged that they would not be seeing a school during its normal routine.
Heads could also be given some warning through a phone call the evening before - or on the morning of - an inspection.
But when TES pointed out that some schools can reportedly draft in skilled teachers from outside at less than an hour's notice, Sir Michael said, "I am anxious that no notice should mean no notice.
"If the view (in the consultation) is even that (a call) the evening before would give heads and schools opportunities to do things they shouldn't, then we will not do that."
Asked if he would drop the plan if the consultation rejected it, the chief inspector said, "I suspect not. We have just got to go ahead and do this now."
Ofsted is proposing that from September:
- All schools will have no-notice inspections.
- Outstanding verdicts will not be given to schools without outstanding teaching.
- The "satisfactory" (grade 3) judgement will be renamed "requires improvement", a title that will also replace the current "notice to improve".
- Any school deemed as "requires improvement" for a third consecutive time will go straight into special measures.
- Schools will be fully reinspected 12-18 months after a grade 3 verdict, giving them a maximum of three years to reach a "good" standard.
- Only "good" and "outstanding" schools will be deemed as providing an "acceptable standard of education".
- Schools with "requires improvement" verdicts will be legally defined as "requiring significant improvement", meaning that they are, like schools in special measures, open to ministerial intervention and academy orders.
- Inspectors will be provided with the latest, anonymised information on the performance management of all teachers in a school.
- Ofsted is already talking to the government about introducing more inspections for outstanding schools and wants to introduce clearer, more "blunt" language in its reports.
Original headline: New chief's vision for Ofsted will ramp up pressure on schools