Experienced head teachers are to offer mentoring advice to struggling schools, in a shake-up of England's inspections.
David Bell says inspections need to be more "sophisticated"
Inspections will be twice as frequent, but less disruptive, with schools getting much less advance warning of the arrival of inspectors.
There will also be less stick and more carrot, with the "serious weakness" status being replaced with the serving of "improvement notices".
Parents are also promised clearer information from school inspections.
The use of experienced heads as advisers for schools with difficulties is to be tested in eight areas in England, announced the education watchdog, Ofsted, and the Department for Education and Skills.
Bigger role for heads
These advisers, expected to be serving or retired heads, will act as a "critical friend", offering the benefit of their own experience to schools which are in need of improvement.
"I am keen to give head teachers a bigger lead in the national drive for school reform," said the School Standards Minister, David Miliband.
The advisers - to be known as "school improvement partners" - will help schools which have been served with improvement notices.
This "improvement" category replaces the previous label of "serious weakness" given to schools which had not reached the lower category of being in "special measures", which will be retained.
Head teachers offered broad support for the changes to the inspection regime.
John Dunford, leader of the Secondary Heads Association "strongly welcomed the government's adoption of the notion of intelligent accountability".
But David Hart, the leader of the National Association of Head Teachers, warned that providing very little warning of inspections could "smack of an attempt to catch the school unawares".
Short, sharp inspections
The shake-up of inspections is intended to make the visits by inspectors a less bureaucratic and more constructive experience.
The emphasis will be on short, sharp inspections, at least every three years, delivering more up-to-date information for parents.
Instead of receiving up to 10 weeks' notice of an inspection, this will be reduced to a matter of days, addressing the concern that schools can waste anxious weeks preparing for the inspectors.
Where necessary, inspectors will be able to arrive without any warning.
Mr Miliband said the proposals would "open up a new chapter in school accountability" and would help to create a "more professional relationship" between inspectors and schools.
The Chief Inspector of Schools in England, David Bell, said the changes were a move towards a "lighter touch, but equally rigorous inspection regime".
"Information about schools has become more sophisticated over recent years. It is time that the school inspection system evolves to reflect this."