In praise of Mike Baker

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.