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Ted Wragg

John Simkin

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Donald MacLeod,

The Guardian

Thursday November 10, 2005

Professor Ted Wragg, who has died aged 67.

Ted Wragg, one of the best known figures in English education, has died suddenly at the age of 67.

He retired formally as head of Exeter University's school of education in 2003 after 32 years but an energetic flow of articles and activities - including regular columns in the Guardian - continued to make his genial presence robustly felt in debates about education.

Constantly defending the classroom teacher against bureaucracy and misguided political initiatives, Wragg was hero worshipped in staff rooms, if not in Whitehall or the offices of the schools inspectorate, Ofsted.

Today he was hailed by teachers as a "champion" as tributes began to pour in - including one from Ruth Kelly, the education secretary he had frequently criticised.

His family issued a message today saying: "On Sunday morning while out running Ted suffered a cardiac arrest. He died at 1.10am today (November 10), at the Royal Devon and Exeter hospital.

"His family are deeply distressed and hope that you will understand their need for privacy at this time. He will have a family funeral. A memorial service for friends and colleagues will be held shortly.

"We know that Ted had many admirers throughout the UK and the rest of the world and we are enormously proud of his contribution to education.

"He is survived by his wife, Judith, his three children, Josie, Caroline and Chris, his mother, Maria, and his three grandchildren, Oliver, Harry and Harriet."

An email address has been set up for messages of condolence at education@exeter.ac.uk

Wragg remained a prolific writer, lecturer, broadcaster and adviser and had been due at an awards ceremony this evening. The public saw the knockabout polemicist and the television natural - like all good teachers he was an accomplished actor - but he was also influential in educational policy, for instance chairing an inquiry into Birmingham's schools, which had far-reaching consequences for education across the city. The Birmingham blueprint was used at first by the incoming Labour government after 1997, although Wragg swiftly fell out with ministers - Stephen Byers and Ms Kelly ("The Duchess of Drivel" or "Ruth Dalek") becoming particular targets of his satire, along with Lord (Andrew) Adonis, lampooned as "Tony Zoffis", the mouthpiece of the prime minister.

In his most recent column in Education Guardian, for instance, he wrote about the government's white paper: "To call these proposals 'a dog's breakfast' would be to insult Britain's pet owners, who take care to feed Bowser a balanced diet. They are the ultimate disaster from the No 10 wheeze factory. Leave Tony Zoffis free all summer to dream up a barrel of monumental bollocks, and this is what ensues.

"The market is a useful servant, but a very cruel master. It doesn't take care of quality, for a start. ........Nor does it work in the best interests of the least powerful in our society. It often grinds them into a paste."

But Ms Kelly paid handsome tribute to the combative educationalist. "His tremendous passion, knowledge and wit drawn from a working life dedicated to teaching meant his contribution to the profession was immense and his views could never be ignored," she said.

The education secretary added: "He taught at all levels from primary and secondary schools right through to university and held important educational board and advisory roles that gave him considerable insight. He will be greatly missed by everyone involved in education and beyond."

The general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, Steve Sinnott, said: "Ted Wragg will be sorely missed. He was a champion of teachers, a champion of children and a champion of the education service.

"He towered over education for the last 30 years, seeking always to promote the interests of every single child and to support teachers in their efforts to provide the best education possible.

"He was never cowed by any politician, always keeping his sense of humour and perspective. He is a tremendous loss."

When the Guardian hosted a series of education debates it was the encounters between Wragg and Chris Woodhead, then chief inspector of schools and a bogeyman for many teachers, that drew packed houses at London's Institute of Education. Both men were eloquent in their different ways, but it was Wragg the audience was cheering on in the clash of verbal bruisers.

He recently took part in Channel 4's The Unteachables, in which a squad of "super teachers" confronted children excluded from their schools. Asked as part the Channel 4 series to name the worst thing a teacher ever said to him, he replied: "That it was working class to play football in the playground - he was an idiot and a snob."

Wragg also interviewed education figures for Teachers TV, launched this year. Andrew Bethell, director of programmes, said: "As everyone knows he was a TV natural, but his work on the channel was outstanding.

"Brilliant interviews with some of the biggest names in education who gave so much more because they not only respected him, but they liked him, even when he put them on the spot. He was a voice that all teachers could identify with as they recognised his deep knowledge of the craft of teaching and his fierce independence of spirit."

The vice-chancellor of the University of Exeter, Steve Smith, said: "This is a huge shock. Ted was not only a world-class academic, but he was also the life and soul of the university. He had the respect of teachers, of academics, of policymakers and the media.

"He cared passionately about children and it angered him when people tried to write them off at an early age. Ted was very much against pomp and circumstance and was a prolific commentator on education matters in newspapers, radio and television. I cannot think of a more influential or more popular figure in the field of education. He is irreplaceable."

The general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, John Dunford, said Wragg's death was "a great loss".

"He was unique in his ability to cut through all the nonsense that teachers have had to put up with for many years.

"He is irreplaceable in the depth of his knowledge about teaching and about education."

The general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, Mary Bousted, said: "Ted Wragg delighted teachers by his supreme ability to dissect the inconsistencies and incoherencies of politicians and public servants. "His experience and knowledge, and his devastating wit will be missed by everyone, apart from those whose pomposities he so ably exposed."


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This is very sad news. Ted Wragg was an inspiration. His great sense of humour, combined with his unique ability to be a throbbing thorn in the flesh of bureaucrats in education, will be sadly missed. I met him on several occasions when I was a teacher in Devon. He was a really nice guy.

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I never actually met Ted Wragg but we did have several email communications. We agreed on virtually every issue. He was one of the first to identify Tony Blair as a Thatcherite when it came to education.

In 1998 I received some national publicity for some educational research I had carried out with my “A” level group on underachievement at GCSE. He was kind enough to read the research and send the students some very positive emails. His response was interesting to compare with that of David Blunkett. His leading adviser, Michael Barber, phoned me up and asked for me to arrange for five of my students to have lunch with him in London. However, he did not turn up (had to go and see Blair instead). Nor did he keep his promise to show them round the House of Commons.

Ted Wragg was a very funny writer. Did you know he was one of Rory Bremner’s scriptwriters?

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