Colleges and what used to be called community education receive the usual balanced scorecard from the inspectorate - but its report acknowledges that, increasingly, their success is dependent on what happens in schools.
The HMIE report notes that more than 20 per cent of adults say they have difficulties with literacy and numeracy, while too many 16 to 19-year-olds are not in education, employment or training.
The report adds: "Ultimately, the success of our young people will depend on their readiness for learning and on the ability of our teachers to encourage high aspirations and to stimulate, sustain and support an interest in learning which will endure beyond the passing of an examination."
It acknowledges that "many colleges have stimulated a greater degree of learners' engagement, through seeking and acting on their views of their learning experiences".
In 2005, almost one in 10 Scots participated in activities offered by Scottish colleges, and their strengths include the range of programmes and learning opportunities offered. The inspectors also praised the links between colleges and schools, higher education, community groups, employers and the enterprise networks.
However, HMIE argues that colleges should improve approaches to self-evaluation so that these become "rigorously systematic procedures, with the particular aims of improving retention and achievement".
The report notes that "attendance, retention and completion rates are still poor in many programmes" contributing to low attainment in many courses.
This is now a major focus of the Scottish Funding Council and the Scottish Further Education Unit.
The inspectorate suggests that students might get a better deal if lecturers did not occasionally adopt "minimalist approaches such as teaching almost exclu-sively to assessment demands". The inspectors add:
"Where excessive or inappropriate assessment practices are applied, these often serve to obstruct rather than aid learning. They also burden students and demotivate staff. In a few cases, learners are not fully engaged in the learning process and teaching staff do not take the opportunity to deploy an appropriate range of teaching methods."
Colleges are also encouraged to do more to share good practice and to make more imaginative use of information communications technology. The report highlights the lack of expertise among staff in the uses of ICT, as well as insufficiently varied approaches and limited access to equipment. They say such factors have held back students' learning.
The report acknowledges that there has been much sector-leading and innovative practice in learning and teaching over the four years to 2004.
It also praises the leadership of most colleges, and concludes: "In recent years, most colleges have demonstrated increased maturity in developing and implementing systems and procedures to help deliver effective learning experiences for a wide and expanding range of learners, and to meet the needs of society and the economy."