Obituary - Mike Baker - 1957-2012

28th September 2012 at 01:00

For nearly two decades, Mike Baker was the authoritative messenger who brought news of education's many triumphs and disasters, and explained them cogently - and with beguiling simplicity - to millions on national television and radio.

As the BBC's senior education correspondent between 1989 and 2007, he became a familiar face to parents and teachers. His reports brought news of the gathering pace of school reforms in a manner that was unassuming, warm and always highly informative.

If many of those reforms were unwelcome to a profession that found itself increasingly accountable - and frequently blamed - for failures in the school system, Mike was a reassuring presence who brought balance and perspective.

A consummate broadcaster, his obvious passion for his subject and deep knowledge of the way in which schools and teachers worked earned him huge respect in the profession. Those who came across him professionally remember him for his unfailing courtesy and interest in what they had to say.

Mike was also highly regarded in political circles for his intelligence and knowledge of education, and is one of few journalists to have had a restraining impact on ill-considered policies. Education secretary Michael Gove has spoken of policymakers having to pass "the Baker test".

In another tribute, Labour's former schools minister David Miliband said: "I always felt he wanted the policies to work - even when he thought they were half-baked - because he believed in the potential of children."

Mike was an instinctive journalist who was never happier than when fighting to get a good slot for his latest story on the evening news. BBC colleagues speak fondly of him as an inspiring role model for other journalists, a consummate professional and delightful company. In the late 1990s, Mike wrote regular features and think-pieces for TES. Although his articles frequently appeared on the comment pages, they scrupulously avoided taking sides in political debate.

While still at the BBC, Mike became a visiting professor at the Institute of Education, University of London. After leaving the broadcaster in 2007, he carved out a successful niche as a columnist and also became a highly sought-after chair at education conferences.

One of his greatest legacies, however, came after he was diagnosed with lung cancer - despite never having smoked a cigarette - in April 2011. His response was to write a regular blog about his battle against the disease. As a journalist, he said, it seemed the best way to deal with it.

The blog remains as a moving testament to his talent, his courage and desire to inform people about living with cancer. In the end he lost his battle, but was a committed journalist to the last. He is survived by his wife, Chrissy, and daughters Louise and Rachel.

Jeremy Sutcliffe is a former associate editor of TES.

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