Anyone wondering why a civilised society needs journalists need only look at the career of Mike Baker, who died last week. Baker knew more about education than most, if not all, of the education secretaries and ministers he interviewed.
Baker became a familiar figure in the late 1980s and early 1990s as the Thatcher and Major governments introduced the national curriculum, intensive testing of pupils and school league tables. Baker’s BBC reports chronicled the battle between the government, which claimed to be increasing standards, and the teaching profession, which protested against the resulting enormous bureaucracy and the pressure on young people and teachers.
After retiring from the BBC, Baker enjoyed a new career as a freelancer, in which he was able to assert his own views. One of his last blogposts, from June, condemned the foolishness of Michael Gove’s plans to revise O levels, reflecting Mike’s deep knowledge of the origins of that exam.
Estelle Morris, one of the few education secretaries who knew as much about education as Mike, paid tribute to him. “He was a specialist journalist and knew the area better than most politicians. I have more than once turned to his words in an effort to better understand what was happening.”
The tragedy is that the habit of reshuffling government ministers means that few ministers build up the expertise of specialist reporters and commentators like Mike Baker. We’d have a far better education system – not to mention health service and transport system – if ministers were allowed to stay in post for more than a year or two. And made policy based on evidence and common sense, not dogma. That would be the best tribute to a great journalist, Mike Baker.
I agree Rob. Pop-Up Ministers are not the answer. What ought to happen on a change of government is that all senior Ministerial appointments to major departments of state should be a duopoly.
1. The party MP should assume the role of “Chairman” becoming the political face of the department and the interface to the Cabinet.
2. He/she needs to have alongside and reporting directly to him a CEO who is responsible for the full day to day workings of the department and the 24/7 interface with all of the senior, departmental civil servants from the permanent secretaries downwards.
This person should be a fully experienced man /woman in terms of effective management and control of major organisations and also should have real-world experience and recognised professional/academic qualifications appropriate to the department’s work.
At present ministerial appointments into major departments are little more than lambs to the slaughter. They, rarely, have a clue as to what is happening/going on and more importantly what is not happening/not going on