Mrs Shephard said:
'I regard education as a great challenge and one of the government's most vital portfolios - not only for its economic importance but also its social and cultural significance.
'Very great progress has been made over the past decade with the development of the national curriculum and testing. These have brought great change but are vital to the improvement of standards.
'Therefore my first task after meeting staff in the department will be to meet teachers, parents and all concerned in education and I am putting this in hand at once.'