The starting point for the Scottish Executive's proposed changes is that Scotland's education system compares relatively well internationally, and performance has improved - but not among the lowest-attaining 20%.
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In particular, many boys are said to be "underachieving". And 15% of those aged 16 to 19 are not in education, training or work.
Parents and teachers worry that there are too many exams and the curriculum is "cluttered".
So the entire curriculum for Scotland's children, aged three to 18, is under review.
The first report from the review group, also published on Monday, identifies the values on which the curriculum should be based, its purpose and the "outcomes" young people should achieve, and the design principles for a process of reform.
It says a significant proportion of young people are not achieving all they are capable of.
"We need a curriculum which will enable all young people to understand the world they are living in, reach the highest possible levels of achievement, and equip them for work and learning throughout their lives."
In response, the executive has said it will systematically review the curriculum.
Science for all age groups will be redesigned first and "unnecessary content" will be removed from the primary school curriculum.
The early secondary years will also be overhauled to give pupils more choice, with a greater focus on literacy and numeracy and "greater pace, relevance and challenge".
Guidance will replace rules on when children should sit exams - so they could be taken early.
Standard Grade and its links with other national qualifications will be reviewed by 2007.
By the same time there will be standardised ways of recognising achievement in such things as sport and community activities.
Schools will develop partnerships with further education colleges to give youngsters "skills-for-work" qualifications.
There will be more teachers specialising in PE, music, art and drama.
Primary school teachers will be able to teach in secondary schools as part of an effort to ease children's transition between the two phases.
More teachers and support staff will be recruited.
School boards will be reviewed to give parents a greater say.
A new programme for secondary schools will invite "philanthropic donors" to get involved in running failing schools - those subject to intensive post-inspection support.
The executive expects to see at least 20 of these "schools of ambition" by 2007.
Currently, HM Inspectorate of Education (HMIE) selects a range of schools for inspection each year across all 32 local authorities in Scotland. This includes independent (non-state) schools.
It is moving towards a "generational cycle" - inspecting each primary school every seven years and each secondary school every six years.
It hopes to have inspected every primary school by 2009 and every secondary by 2008.
After an inspection, aspects of the school are reported under the headings very good, good, fair and unsatisfactory, with recommendations for action where necessary.
Under the executive's plans, HMIE will establish a new six-point "quality indicator" scale with a new excellence standard from August 2005. A definition of what this means is to be produced beforehand.
Local authorities are going to be challenged "to deliver continuous improvement" with a renewed focus on "outcomes".
From August 2005, anyone wanting to be a school head teacher has to attain the Standard for Headship - the only route currently being to take the Scottish Qualification for Headship.
Now the standard is going to be revised and there will be other ways to achieve it.
From the end of 2005 there will be "new and more rigorous procedures" for selecting head teachers.
Initial teacher training is to be reviewed "to develop new teachers able to meet the demands of the 21st century".
This will include far more part-time training places and distance learning.
There will be a new code of practice and statutory support plans for those with special educational needs.
Parents will get access to independent tribunals.