'One of the most important features of the independent sector in Scottish education is the flexibility to focus on and provide for the special needs of gifted children,' he said.
'For these particularly gifted children a different approach can be appropriate, in which accelerated learning and academic excellence can flourish.
'Under this government, the future of the Assisted Places Scheme is secure. Each year, it helps over 3,000 children whose parents would otherwise be unable to send their children to an independent school. That means real choice for parents and real opportunity for their children.
'Most Scottish independent schools already participate in the scheme, and there is a continuing demand from those schools for additional places.
'As we announced last Friday, we intend to double the number of pupils assisted in Scotland under the Scheme, giving even more choice and opportunity to parents and children.We are consulting the Scottish Council of Independent Schools about how best to meet this target.
'About half of those currently benefiting from the Scheme have their fees paid in full. This means that a family with an income below £9,545 pay nothing towards the fees, whatever they might be.
'We will ensure that particular priority is given to extending such choice and opportunity for the poorest families under this expansion of the Scheme.'