It has been said that, at one time, Wales's second largest export after coal was teachers. I am not sure how true this is but it is recognition that education has been as much at the centre of Welsh national life as our past industrial heritage.
Since the establishment of the National Assembly too, education has been a high priority. In taking up my post as minister for children, education, lifelong learning and skills, it is my firm intention that education should remain at the top of the agenda and that we build steadily on what has already been achieved.
I am not in favour of change for change's sake. Too often, new initiatives are not really given time to settle down before they are overtaken by newer ones. I aim to ensure that those programmes and policies to which the Assembly government is already committed are properly implemented, supported and given time to prove their worth.
This does not mean that we will not be able to innovate or to improve the educational opportunities available to the people of Wales. There are some exciting developments already in the pipeline across the whole age range.
Wales was one of the first countries in the world to develop a national play policy and I recently announced the establishment of the National Centre for Playwork Training and Education in Wales to consolidate the delivery of this important policy.
Wales is set to lead also in the provision of early years education through the roll-out of the foundation phase, an imaginative and strongly evidenced curriculum for three to seven-year-olds, and the Flying Start initiative, a targeted programme of help and support to some of the country's most disadvantaged under-threes.
To ensure the effective delivery of these programmes, I recently launched the Early Years, Play and Childcare Workforce Recruitment Campaign a further major investment in the children's workforce.
The flexible routes and additional support given to young people provided by the 14-19 Learning Pathways programme, which will shortly include 10 new work based pathways, and the continued success of the Welsh Baccalaureate, will reinforce my commitment to preparing young people for further and higher education and for entry into employment.
I anticipate using the new powers available to the Assembly to give effect to the recommendations made by the Review of the Mission and Purpose of Further Education in Wales that is currently underway.
There are some difficult issues to tackle on the way. Increasingly, it is recognised that we need to improve our planning for school places in the light of changing demographic patterns and levels of local demand. This will mean local authorities making some difficult choices about how to invest their resources.
I am considering how capital funding could help them with planning. I am concerned at the number of young people in Wales who are not in employment or education and at the gender gap that seems to affect attainment levels at GCSE and A-level. As well as having responsibility for education, I am the children's minister and I intend to ensure that the rights and entitlements of vulnerable groups are fully recognised alongside those of our high achievers.
Both as a minister and as a parent, I am mindful of the importance we all attach to education. We have a great deal to be proud of in Wales, particularly the dedicated, skilled and talented teachers and others who provide the opportunities for our young people
But we can be proud also of our young people, who repeatedly show themselves to be among the most creative, enthusiastic and talented members of our community.
is Wales's minister for children, education, lifelong learning and skills