I recognise the enormous amount of hard work taking place in our classrooms, often against the odds. This week's Green Paper on the future of the teaching profession gives us the opportunity, for the first time in a generation, to provide the rewards, the training, the support and the working environment which we need for a new century. We want to create a profession that is held in high esteem. A profession that attracts our best graduates with the flair and dedication to make the best teachers. And a profession that rewards people who make a real difference to the life chances of our children.
The reform programme you have been helping to put in place with such dedication and commitment since the election is about creating the classroom and the school of the future to ensure the highest possible standards. We want to make the best practice of some schools available to all - hence the literacy and numeracy strategies. We want teachers whose training prepares them for the challenges ahead - hence the information communications technology training for every teacher. And we want teachers to have the support they need - hence our efforts to tackle social exclusion.
But schools also need to be equipped for the next century - that is why we plan to link every school to the superhighway and last week announced one of the biggest investments ever in modernising our neglected school buildings.
If we are to take forward the modernisation of the school system to ensure the world-class standards our young people will need in a global job market, then the task of modernising the profession cannot wait.
Few people, least of all teachers, think the current state of affairs is acceptable. It reflects a different era. We need a new vision for the profession. This Green Paper is not just about teachers' pay. Its proposals are far-reaching. They provide a new career structure with improved school leadership.
To strengthen school leadership we propose more systematic training for those who want to become heads and a new leadership level, with higher rewards and greater responsibilities, to include Advanced Skills Teachers as well as senior managers. A new fast-track scheme will offer extra training and support to the most talented new recruits and teachers, giving them faster access to AST and headship levels.
I want a system which is geared to recruiting, retaining and rewarding teachers in a manner which reflects the challenge of the future, rather than accepting the legacy of the past. Modernising for a new century, and rewarding high performance in the classroom, as well as in management and leadership.
We propose that every school should have a performance management policy ensuring rigorous appraisal for every teacher every year. We are proposing a new performance threshold, at which teachers' performance would be assessed by heads with external validation - against national standards. Those who succeeded would gain a substantial increase in pay and access to further rewards for good performance. Over time we would expect a majority of teachers to cross the threshold. We are also proposing to provide additional financial rewards to those schools which display excellent performance or make the most progress.
We believe that it is vital that every teacher keeps up to date with best practice. To make it a reality, we intend to increase funding for professional development to meet national, school and individual needs. Individual Learning Accounts for staff in schools will encourage them to invest in their own development. We will also extend international exchange opportunities for teachers and heads.
We also want to provide teachers with much better support. Investment in ICT will revolutionise resources for teachers and cut bureaucracy. Every teacher will get the training they need, with a new ICT skills test for new teachers. It will give teachers rapid access to information and best practice.
The new deal we envisage for support staff will open up new career opportunities for a crucial group of staff who have been neglected for too long. There will be a substantial increase in the numbers of teaching assistants, more opportunities for them to be trained and career ladders to enable those with the ambition and potential to join the teaching profession. We will encourage both graduates and undergraduates to act as part-time teaching associates. We also propose that schools should use other professionals with appropriate skills - such as ICT technicians or bursars - where this makes sense. Nursery nurses will also see an improved career structure with a new qualifications framework for early years.
It is crucial that these proposals are not seen in isolation from each other. They form a coherent new package. Teachers will have more time to concentrate on improving their teaching skills. A teacher will become a manager of learning resources, harnessing and directing the new support available in and outside the classroom: better trained teachers, additional adults and improved technology.
I recognise that we are proposing a major change for teachers but I believe passionately that the time is right. This Green Paper is about the future of the children you teach, the profession that you are committed to and the community which values you.
The Government will be consulting on "Teachers: Meeting the challenge of change" throughout the spring of 1999. A summary is enclosed in today's TES. Send your views to: the DFEE, Sanctuary Buildings, Great Smith Street, London SW1P 3BT. Additional copies of the summary can be obtained by ringing 0845 601 2518.