I am delighted to be with you this morning. Education is the government's top priority. But we can't achieve our goals without a first-class teaching profession - a profession which is capable, well-led and properly supported.
We already have very many excellent teachers and headteachers. But we need more. And we need to make a fundamental change to the status of teachers in our society - putting them where they belong, on a par with doctors and other top professionals.
For too long teachers have wrongly been regarded as second class professionals. This must change if we are to succeed in creating a world-class education service for the 21st century.
That's why we are investing an extra ??19bn in education over the next three years. And why we are devoting part of the money to supporting and improving the teaching profession.
Our proposals are set out in the Teaching Green Paper published before Christmas. There has been a huge response from schools and individual teachers. It's because I want to hear your views first-hand that I am here today for the first in a series of consultation meetings hosted by education Ministers and officials.
Before Estelle Morris makes a brief presentation and we take your questions, let me make three points.
First, what I call the big picture.
A lot of attention has focussed on our proposals for teachers' pay. This is obviously a crucial issue.
But our plans need to be seen in the context of far wider proposals:
* A doubling of investment in school buildings over the next three years.
* A revolution in the provision of IT equipment, and training to see that teachers are confident in using it.
* A big increase in funding for training and back-up in schools, including more support staff and teaching assistants, freeing teachers to teach effectively.
* A range of programmes, spearheaded by the literacy and numeracy strategies in primary schools, to give teachers better support in their jobs.
Our proposals need to be seen as a whole. Greater financial rewards for teachers are just one element. It is taken together - not in isolation
- that we believe that they will transform the status and working conditions of teachers. David Blunkett and I have never claimed that there is a single quick fix.
Secondly, even in the area of pay, we aren't only talking about rewards for individual performance. We recognise the importance of team working - and of rewards for successful team working.
That's why, as David Blunkett said, our plans include a new national fund of ??60 million a year to reward all staff at schools which demonstrate excellent performance or significant improvement. Let me stress that we aren't just talking about the top schools by raw results - but also schools which show the highest level of sustained improvement, whatever their starting point.
Third, the question of individual rewards for performance. I know there are concerns, particularly about crude judgements based on exam results, and about comparability between schools.
We take these concerns seriously. The Government will want to see appraisal recognise success in improving performance, whatever the starting point. Headteachers and line managers must play an important role in making judgements, as they already do on a host of other matters besides pay. But we will want to ensure proper national standards, with external assessors to ensure credibility and consistency.
Let's be clear why we are doing this. I want a situation where our best teachers - not just a small number at the top, but a large proportion of the profession - are better paid and better motivated. Where more of our best graduates choose teaching and rise faster through the profession. And where successful leadership is better rewarded - particularly headteachers who take on the toughest schools and turn them round.
These are urgent national imperatives. Better incentives for performance are one, though only one, way of meeting them.
Teachers have everything to gain from these proposals. So do the parents and pupils who our schools exist to serve.