SCHOOLS could face spot checks by inspectors under proposals being considered by the Office for Standards in Education.
Chris Woodhead, the chief inspector, says OFSTED teams could turn up unannounced at the more successful schools as an alternative to the current inspection system.
OFSTED wants to focus more resources on inspecting teacher training and local authorities, having completed its first cycle of school visits. It has already moved from a four to six-yearly cycle but teachers now being inspected for a second time complain it is too soon for such a disruptive process - particularly if their first report revealed no major problems.
The spot-checks suggested by Mr Woodhead at a London conference would be low-key affairs to determine whether a full inspection was needed.
David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: "Heads will be extremely hostile to the idea of spot-check inspections. The current system raises enough worries in the minds of headteachers to make the idea of spot checks absolutely out of the question."
Mr Woodhead admitted to heads and governors at the Education Horizons conference last week that the current system was not necessary to raise standards in all schools.
He said he would consult in autumn or spring on changes to inspections of successful schools, such as less frequent inspections or even an entirely "different methodology".
"One possibility would be to have perhaps in small primary schools only one or two inspectors, or half-a-dozen in secondary schools, who would go in unannounced and decide whether a full inspection was needed," he said.
Mr Woodhead later told The TES that inspections of schools would continue "but increasingly they will be a matter of routine".
John Bangs, head of education at the National Union of Teachers, said Mr Woodhead was "tinkering with a system with unpredicted consequences which could terrify teachers". The current inspection system was expensive, wasteful and did not help schools improve, he added.
The NAHT and NUT have both called for shorter notice periods for inspections so schools do not work themselves into a frenzy of preparation. But giving no notice at all is too extreme, they say.