Ministers have accepted the evidence that being too specific about the curriculum was not working and did not meet the needs of individual pupils, Francesca Osowska, head of the Scottish Executive's qualifications, assessment and curriculum division, said.
It was quite deliberate that circular 32001 did not spell out what curriculum flexibility meant. To do so would have been "prescription by another route".
Flexibility should not be about narrowing the curriculum or a rush to earlier exams, although it often seemed synonymous with taking National Qualifications lower down the school. "While relaxation of age and stage restrictions can be absolutely right for some pupils, are we really confident that it is right for all of them or the majority?" Ms Osowska asked.
Schools and authorities would be trusted to use their new freedom sensibly within a national framework, monitored by HMI. "We need to be careful that flexibility in the curriculum does not lead to fragmentation," she said.
Ms Osowska repeated ministers' pledge to simplify assessment, consult on age and stage regulations, examine the relationship between Standard grade and National Qualifications, and investigate the option of a single leaving exam.