Scotland's education minister has announced a series of major reforms of the secondary school system.
The minister said he wanted to give pupils more exciting options
Peter Peacock said the plans, which include a review of Standard Grades and more emphasis on numeracy and literacy, were geared to encouraging excellence.
The minister said he wanted to give pupils more "exciting" options and answer parents' calls for more choice for their children.
He also promised new leadership training for head teachers.
The minister said he would implement a new Excellence Standard for the top performing schools.
Schools which demonstrated a determination to improve and to provide more opportunities for their pupils could apply to become Schools of Ambition and Mr Peacock said £8m would be set aside each year for the programme.
The minister said he had accepted the recommendations of the first phase of the curriculum review and announced a new three to 18 curriculum.
There would be more emphasis on literacy and numeracy and more time allocated to pupils to study Highers.
"Age and Stage" regulations on exams would be abolished, making it easier for pupils to sit exams earlier.
The minister promised more vocational training in Skills for Work courses and further devolved management, making it easier for head teachers to make decisions on spending.
Mr Peacock said that millionaire Tom Hunter's charitable foundation was backing a new Leadership Academy for head teachers.
Speaking at Gracemount High School in Edinburgh, Mr Peacock said: "This package, the most comprehensive modernisation programme in our schools for a generation, is about immediate action to deliver improvement.
"Action that will deliver a more exciting education for pupils; action for parents who want their children to have more choice; action to give teachers and headteachers more freedoms; action for the economy by giving employers and young people the skills they need."
Graham Donaldson, senior chief inspector of schools, welcomed proposals for a new inspections programme and the Excellence Standard.
Mr Peacock confirmed that the Standard Grade system was being reviewed with the aim of simplifying the exams structure and a decision on its future would be made by 2007.
'Good for employers'
New Intermediate exams could take their place.
Plans to replace the unofficial five to 14 guidelines with a new flexible course covering education from five to 18 years of age were outlined.
CBI Scotland director Iain McMillan, a member of the curriculum review group, said the new three to 18 curriculum would benefit children.
He said: "Implementing the new curriculum will mean that young people are far more stimulated by what and how they learn, their interest will be retained and they will get much more from their education.
"This is good for young people but also for employers, particularly as some time in the new curriculum will be freed up to learn about the world of work and enterprise."