Education minister Cathy Jamieson, contributing to the National Education Debate at a conference of the Educational Institute of Scotland in Edinburgh, said comprehensive education was about ensuring that every young person got the right opportunities to develop their full potential - not about every pupil in Scotland learning in exactly the same way.
'The critics of comprehensive education have often derided what they see as a rigid system that promotes uniformity and rejects innovation. That has never been the case but it is a criticism that often surfaces. But comprehensive education should never be about putting all young people through a single learning process.
'I want therefore to make absolutely clear that I believe our education service can only flourish if schools make use of the flexibility that allows them to organise learning in the ways that best meet the needs of their pupils - all their pupils.
'We have provided extra funding to schools and extra staff to schools. These extra resources, when combined with existing curriculum flexibility, can provide schools with the space to make their own decisions on curriculum delivery - always in consultation with pupils and parents.
'If flexibility is to mean anything, it must mean that innovation comes from within schools. I want the staff in every school in Scotland to be thinking radically, during this Debate and beyond, about the ways in which they could better meet the needs of their pupils.
'What works in one school may not work in another. But as long as the organisational changes that schools make can be shown to improve the learning opportunities and attainment of all pupils - not only closing the opportunity gap but raising standards overall - then the litmus test will have been passed. I make no apology for saying that the outcome is far more important than the process.
'Clearly we need to consider what the balance should be between national arrangements and local flexibility. But we have put a national framework for improvement in place through our National Priorities for Education - priorities which apply in all schools. That gives us a firm base on which to encourage schools to be flexible in their approach to delivering positive outcomes for young people.'
Ms Jamieson added that, in listening to the views of pupils in the course of the National Debate, she has been impressed by the range of issues and positive contributions made.
'It is interesting to note that the issues raised by young people are often quite different to what many adults might expect them to be. In particular I have been struck by the number of young people who think we need to make fundamental changes to the length of the school day. Perhaps surprisingly, many want it to be longer.
'I think it unlikely that the way that schools provide learning today - and the timetables they follow - will be the way that they operate in 10, 20 years time. We need to consider what schools can offer.
'Schools are not only places for formal learning - many of the best schools are genuine valuable community resources. I am very interested in exploring further the idea that young people should be able to drop into the school building earlier in the morning and later in the evening, using this safe environment and strengthening their connection with the school.
'But I want to be clear that extending the opening hours of a school does not mean that teachers work longer hours. However there are opportunities to think about more flexibility here too. We could organise time for formal learning differently. We could look more widely at who else can work with teachers to support young people and to help meet individual needs.'
Encouraging everyone with an interest in education to contribute to the debate, Ms Jamieson concluded:
'This is our chance to look to the future - informed by the past and the present. Our experiences as children, as parents, as teachers, as managers and as leaders can all contribute to our shared vision of education for the 21st century.'
The National Debate on Education was launched on March 20 and is running until the end of June.