Julia Hagedorn: a life of conviction

Hilary Wilce

The world of educational journalism is poorer, following the death of one of its most committed and diligent writers, Julia Hagedorn.

Julia, 52, wrote about schools and education for more than 20 years, and her work appeared in a wide range of national newspapers and magazines. Her particular interest was primary education and the needs and concerns of primary teachers, and it was these issues that shaped her career.

An Oxford graduate, she started in journalism as an assistant editor on the group of educational magazines which included Junior Education and Art and Craft, and it was there that her interest in the education of younger children was first roused.

Later she wrote for other publications, until she had built up a successful freelance career, writing regularly for the Guardian, the Independent, the Observer, Education, and The Times Educational Supplement. She also edited the magazine of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, Report.

For Julia, probably more than many journalists, the subjects she wrote about were matters of intense personal concern, and she always worked from a sense of deep conviction. She believed passionately in the importance of primary education, and felt that primary teachers never received the respect and acknowledgement they deserved.

She always retained the belief that schools could and should help all children, and that the best way they could do this was by teaching the basics with rigour and care. She had a strong moral conscience and an instinctive empathy for those who were abused or disadvantaged.

Much of her work centred on social concerns relating to school life, and she often identified issues ahead of the crowd. She wrote about child sexual abuse years before it became a widely-accepted problem, and later highlighted other social issues, such as how the debilitating disease ME was affecting the educational professions, and the problem of voice loss among class teachers.

She put in long hours at her desk, sitting up through the night to meet a deadline if need be, even though she knew freelancers were rarely adequately rewarded for such labours. For her, the compensations were the freedom to pursue subjects that interested her and to shape her working hours around her family - always her prime concern.

Even in her private life education was a central issue. She was, for a time, a governor of her local primary school in north London and always took a detailed interest in the education of her children.

Always strong and outspoken, she could make waves when she chose, but everyone who knew her well appreciated that this forthrightness stemmed only from a deep honesty and strong convictions about what was right.

She was a supremely generous friend and colleague, always lively and engaged, full of fun, and endlessly willing to give time and attention to others.

She was married to David Coates, chief economic adviser at the Department of Trade and Industry, and was a devoted mother to their two young children. Though she lived in London, she was always happiest to be with her children in the country or on holiday.

Her enormous strength of character stayed with her to the end. Diagnosed with brain cancer last summer, and given only months to live, she faced her future bravely and fought a stubborn year-long battle to wrest more precious time to be with her children.

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