Under the changes, colleges with a good report in the current inspection cycle will be visited by a team of four next time round. But the one in seven colleges judged inadequate will host a team of 14 inspectors. All colleges will be given just three weeks warning, instead of the current term's notice.
The new regime covers the second cycle of inspections beginning in September 2005 and ending in the summer of 2009.
Details were revealed by chief inspector David Bell at the summer conference of the Association of Colleges. He said the information will enable inspectors to compile a "Domesday book" of further education colleges.
He told delegates: "We need a new approach, which builds on what we already know and places more emphasis on colleges knowing and managing themselves."
The changes do not apply in Wales.