Teachers change their pupils' lives forever. Over the past two years, I have seen first-hand the passion that drives the best teachers to make sure every child can fulfil their potential. And it has left a deep impression on me: the system will only ever be as good as the people who work in it.
The record number of good and outstanding schools is not a fluke - it's a testament to the dedication and hard work of staff.
The past decade has seen undeniable improvements - including introducing the best initial teacher training, the groundbreaking pay and conditions workforce agreement, and the new masters in teaching and learning which starts next year.
No wonder teaching is now the number one choice for graduates. To back teachers, we have a tough but fair three-year pay deal - and, unlike the opposition, this Government will not break that agreement.
But I want to take this further. Last week's schools white paper set out plans to put teachers' professional status on a footing with doctors and lawyers - introducing an entitlement to continuing professional development (CPD) alongside a renewable licence to teach.
Over the next few months we will work out the detail with the teaching profession - through the social partnership - and others, but my starting point is clear. Teachers and heads in all state schools, including all those in academies, will be required to renew their licences actively every five years - starting with newly qualified teachers and returners to the profession from September 2010 - before extending it to supply teachers and eventually the full workforce.
And it will be a watershed moment for the profession for two reasons. First, it will create a new learning culture in every school's teaching staff that puts professional development at the forefront. I want teachers to use the licence as a lever on any employer reluctant to give them the ongoing support they need to keep building their skills.
I agree with those who say there is more to do in closing the gap in the quality of CPD offered across the country, particularly for supply staff. That's why I have asked the National College for School Leadership and the Training and Development Agency for Schools to address these issues immediately to make the licence to teach a success.
Second, it will give parents a clear demonstration that high-quality teaching standards are being maintained. I have never had any truck with those who casually allege without any evidence that there are thousands of incompetent teachers who need to be forced out. But I do want every child to have the best teaching possible, and if teachers need extra support then they should get it.
It is an approach that works in other professions, and there is no reason why it should not work in teaching.
In my experience, the vast majority of teachers want to keep learning and improving and developing their skills. They have nothing to fear from the licence to teach. It should mean the onus will not just be on teachers to take responsibility for their own CPD, but for employers to invest actively in their staff and give every teacher and child what they deserve.
Ed Balls Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families.