ALL pupils taking Higher English will have to learn at least one Scottish text under a landmark new requirement by the Holyrood Government.

Every candidate sitting the exam paper from 2014/15 "will answer at least one question" on a Scottish novel, play or poem as part of the radical shake-up.

The hugely significant move aims to ensure future generations of Scottish young people grow up with an understanding of their culture and literary heritage.

It came as First Minister Alex Salmond formally prepares today – ahead of Burns Night celebrations – to launch the SNP's consultation document on its plans for a referendum on independence in 2014.

Currently, many teachers use Scottish texts alongside established classics such as Shakespeare to prepare for the Higher exam, but it is at their discretion, rather than being compulsory.

That situation has arisen because Scotland has never had a compulsory national curriculum, as is the case in England. It was also thought important for school staff to be able to follow the interests of pupils, rather than teaching prescribed texts.

However, the counter view is this has led to many pupils lacking exposure to some of the greatest Scottish writers.

Ministers have now decided every pupil should answer at least one question on Scottish texts in the Higher examination in future.

Michael Russell, the Education Secretary, said: "Our country has a rich and world-renowned literary tradition and it is fitting to be able to make this announcement on Burns night, when we celebrate the national bard.

"Scotland's contribution to literature is marked down the generations. Burns, Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson have provided work that has lasted the test of time, along with contemporary writers like Irvine Welsh and Liz Lochhead. We want our children and young people to have the chance to learn about our literary tradition and to inspire the future generations of Scottish writers."

The announcement follows a recommendation from the Government's Scottish Studies Working Group, which included Scotland's Makar, Lochhead.

Welcoming the announcement, she said: "In common with just about every English teacher, academic, and certainly every fellow writer that I've consulted informally for their opinion, I am delighted Scotland seeks to ensure some Scottish texts are included in the literature taught in our schools and that it will be a requirement to answer an examination question on at least one of these.

"Remembering that such texts may be in English, Scots-English, Scots, or any mixture of these, may come from any historical period, including the present, and are certainly not required to reflect a chauvinistic or uncritical view of Scottish society, it can only benefit our future citizens to so engage with their own culture. It is hard to think of any other country which doesn't seek these opportunities for its teachers and students."

Ann Ballinger, general secretary of the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association, welcomed the move.

"It is a good idea that pupils learn more Scottish literature because it gives them access to the wide culture of Scotland without limiting them to a particular text," she said.

"There are many other elements to the Higher English exam which can be completed without any reference to a Scottish text."

However, Ronnie Smith, general secretary of the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS), the country's largest teaching union, issued a warning over the changes.

"The EIS believes all pupils should have the opportunity to study good literature, no matter what its provenance," he said. "We should all remain cautious, however, regarding political direction of what is taught in our schools and the degree to which this is desirable.

"Teachers in Scotland already make very good use of the many rich and diverse literary texts available to them. We should be wary of too much prescription in any and all subject areas."

The Scottish Qualifications Authority, the country's exam body, will take forward the development of the plan.