Education journalist Mike Baker dies

Mike Baker, 2001 Mike Baker: A widely-respected education writer who later reported on his own struggle with cancer

The award-winning education journalist Mike Baker has died.

The 55-year-old former BBC education correspondent had written about his struggle with cancer in a widely-read and candid blog.

Baroness Estelle Morris, the former education secretary, paid tribute to his "perceptive and wise" coverage of changes in education.

"There are fewer better examples of all that is good in public service broadcasting and journalism," she said.

Head teachers' leader Brian Lightman said he would be "sorely missed by school and college leaders".

"His informed commentary and incisive analysis of educational issues were a 'must read' for the profession."

'Admired'

Universities Minister David Willetts described Mike Baker as "knowledgeable, independent, fair-minded and a master at conveying complicated details to a mass audience. Most of all, he never lost sight of how education can liberate individuals to realise their full potential."

"He approached his recent illness with the same inquiring spirit evident in his journalism, and he provided searingly honest accounts of his experiences in his award-winning blog. The whole education world will miss him terribly."

Mike Baker was one of the most respected education correspondents. He retired from the BBC five years ago after 27 years.

In that time he became one of the most familiar voices in the education field, recognised as a well-informed and insightful commentator.

Start Quote

I recall on one occasion, reading Mike's analysis about one of our policies which we were getting a bit confused and commenting that he had made sense of it all for me”

End Quote Estelle Morris Former education secretary

Twice winner of the education journalist of the year award, Mike Baker had covered the upheavals in schools and universities for the BBC from 1989 to 2007 - from the days of Margaret Thatcher through to Tony Blair.

For the BBC's audiences on television and radio news, he guided a path through the complexities of successive waves of education reform. For his colleagues, Mike Baker was known for his generosity and his deep knowledge of his subject.

Whether it was reporting from teachers' conferences on rainy Easter bank holidays or on policy announcements from Downing Street, he could be relied on to translate the jargon and interpret the implications.

He was also tenacious. When the Six O'Clock News once dropped one of his stories, he went into the gallery while the programme was on air and persuaded them to reinstate it.

Education ministers were ready to admit that sometimes Mike Baker knew more about their policies than they did.

"I recall on one occasion, reading Mike's analysis about one of our policies which we were getting a bit confused and commenting that he had made sense of if all for me!" says Baroness Morris, education secretary in the Blair years.

"His brand of professionalism sought to explain and probe not merely to score points or to sensationalise. That's why he had a reputation of being trusted, respected and admired.

"More than that he was a decent human being and a thoughtful and generous colleague. He was such an honest journalist and when I was an education minister, I always took any policy criticism from him seriously because I knew it would be based on sound knowledge and good judgement."

David Blunkett, another former education secretary, said: "Mike Baker was not only one of the nicest journalists I ever met, but one of the most thorough and reliable."

"He mixed a total commitment to his love of education with a journalistic eye for detail but complemented this with his academic ability and therefore knowledge in depth. This enabled him to be able to distinguish between trendy clap trap, and genuine educational innovation and newsworthy development. He will be sorely missed."

Expertise

His expertise was acknowledged in honorary degrees and visiting fellowships in the UK and the US - and he was also the author of books about education.

Mike Baker has been one of the first television correspondents to write a regular column for the emerging BBC News website - long before anyone had coined the word "blog".

After leaving the BBC he had been part of the Teachers' TV team, developing niche broadcasting and online video packages when it was still relatively unexplored territory.

His website became his own news channel, sending out his own analysis of the permanent revolution in education, and his online column for the Guardian won him the Best Online Education Commentary award at a ceremony in the House of Commons last December.

His diagnosis with lung cancer in April 2011 then became the start for his last and least expected journalistic assignment.

"It was a difficult decision whether or not to write this cancer blog. I am not used to writing publicly about anything so intensely personal," he wrote at the outset.

The blog followed his progress through different types of conventional and unconventional treatment, his reluctant hospital visits and the way that it had focused his perspective on what mattered in life.

It also ranged across a number of his other interests - from cycling to woodwork, to the vagaries of supporting Ipswich Town.

And it became a gathering place for people who had known him over decades - from teachers, union leaders, vice chancellors to those who had been students with him at Cambridge in the 1970s.

A constant theme in his unselfish accounts of his illness was the importance of his family - his wife Chrissy and daughters Louise and Rachel.

The BBC News education team said: "Mike was a wonderful and much-loved colleague whose kindness and good-humour did not disappear under pressure.

"Mike's expertise, judgement, knowledge and journalistic skills earned him enormous respect in and outside of the BBC. He made many friends here who will sorely miss him."

Fran Unsworth, head of BBC Newsgathering, said: "Mike's thoughtfulness, his intelligence, his commitment to the highest standards of journalism and his gentlemanly good manners made him a distinguished correspondent and a much loved colleague throughout his long BBC career."

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