The former BBC education correspondent Mike Baker has died after a long, brave struggle with cancer, which, in his typical fashion, he wrote about with wit, dignity and insight in a outstanding blog.
Mike was no ordinary reporter. For education academics, journalists can be a mixed blessing: essential in getting research out to a wider audience, they also work on what appear to be crazy deadlines and convey complex ideas in ways so simplistic that the ideas become unrecognisable. Mike was different. He had an exceptional gift for not only understanding the most complex of educational ideas quickly, but also for finding language to convey them in ways which clarified and explained them succinctly – and often in ways which also made them clearer to their originator.
His commitment to education was profound. He had been a first-rate political journalist in the 1980s, before he succumbed to the lure of education. He established himself very quickly, commanding respect because he demonstrated respect, building a formidable technical expertise and knowledge. It was entirely fitting that the Institute of Education should have awarded him a visiting professorial chair: his clarity, technical knowledge and communication skills were a model for so much of what we try to do. And he was not just a commentator: a Cambridge English graduate, he returned to education himself as a mature part-time student to read for a masters degree in local history at Kingston, his local university.
Education policies are always controversial. They divide teachers, policy makers and politicians. Mike earnt the respect of all, careful with facts and passionate about what matters – the quality of what is experienced by children and young people. He was equally at ease on screen, in print and online, and was pioneering in his weekly education commentary for the BBC website. His journalistic and people skills were awesome: I was fortunate enough to see him chair a plenary session at a conference in Qatar, skilfully knitting together divergent speakers from radically different education settings and an audience from all over the world, to make a cogent and compelling session. No other journalist at that conference was able to do as well as Mike.
There was a cruel unfairness in Mike’s cancer. He was a lifelong non-smoker – he told me he had never touched a cigarette – and a keen cyclist. He fought cancer with determination, and his blog documented his commitment and determination. As he became weaker, his determination to keep going grew, and he raised money for cancer charities through his exhausting cycle marathons. He retained his professional commitment to the end: he was actively involved with education charities including the Education Endowment Fund, and his education news blog – the Mike Baker Daily was posted by him until a few days before his death – always announced on his twitter feed.
Mike Baker was a hugely impressive journalist: thorough, clear-headed, an able communicator committed to truth and understanding. He was also – in a profession not well-known for these characteristics – a thoroughly decent man. I’d known him for years and will miss him a lot. He, and the values he upheld, are a profound loss to education.