In his speech to Labour Party members which set out the need for secondary reforms, Jack McConnell described primary schools as "the most inspiring places in this country".
"Young people full of hope and talent are being nurtured, developed and stretched by increasingly professional teachers enjoying more support than at any other time," Mr McConnell said.
Primary schools were "storming ahead, innovating and raising attainment in not just our strongest communities, but in those communities facing the greatest challenges too".
Mr McConnell acknowledged that primaries were benefiting from smaller classes. But he said that schools were also raising their game. "Teachers are raising numeracy and literacy skills through early intervention.
Teachers are engaging parents more. There are more classroom assistants.
There is more music tuition. We are expanding opportunities for PE and enterprise education. And inspirational headteachers are leading inspiring schools."
The First Minister's acknowledgement of the achievements of primary schools was naturally welcomed by the Association of Head Teachers in Scotland.
Kay Hall, the association's president, said: "We are also delighted to hear his positive statements regarding the commitment of teachers and his comments recognising the leadership of headteachers."
Mrs Hall, head of West Kilbride primary in North Ayrshire, added: "Primary staff are extremely skilled in teaching and learning approaches and in catering for the needs of individual children. Headteacher colleagues generally speak highly of staff and pupil attitudes in the sector.
Classroom assistants are proving to be a great asset in all areas of school life. I think we are getting it right."
Increased investment in music tuition, PE and enterprise education was beginning to extend access for pupils, Mrs Hall believed.
She said, however, that progress still had to be made in reducing class sizes and the breadth of the curriculum, although she hoped the curriculum review would do something about that.