Obituary - Dave Wragg 1949-2009

17th July 2009 at 01:00
In memory of primary headteacher Dave Wragg

Dave Wragg had planned to spend his retirement writing a book on war memorials around the country. But just weeks before he was to retire, the 59-year-old primary headteacher died in his sleep.

Mr Wragg's interest in the military extended back to his youth. John David Wragg was born in Sheffield in 1949, and joined the RAF straight from school. He served for five years, reaching the rank of senior aircraftman.

While in service, Harry - as he was known then - continued to pursue his education, and on his discharge in 1972 he decided to enrol in teacher training college.

From the start of his career as a primary teacher, he always had a keen belief in the importance of children's wellbeing. While others around him obsessed over league-table positions and test scores, he simply wanted to know that his pupils were happy.

"People may feel that I'm 10 years behind the times," he would say. "But actually, I'm 20 years in front." He was convinced that politicians would catch up eventually.

His focus on the pupils led him to pursue jobs in small village schools in his local East Riding of Yorkshire. He rose to deputy head before applying for the headship of North Frodingham Primary in 1989.

It was an environment that suited him. The school had only 59 pupils and he knew all of them. His office door was always open and he encouraged passing children to drop in and show him their work. In fact, he was regularly referred to as the "pied piper of North Frodingham": a tall, well-built man, trailed around the playground by a crocodile of small children calling out "Mr Wragg! Mr Wragg!"

Another advantage of the job at North Frodingham was its proximity to the village's war memorial, directly in front of the school.

A keen photographer, Mr Wragg regularly toured the country with his wife, Susan, and two sons, taking photographs of war memorials. His family had instructions to call out whenever they spotted one so that he could stop and study it.

Not surprisingly, he took responsibility for North Frodingham's memorial. Pupils were instructed to keep it tidy and every Remembrance Day they would lay wreaths and poppy crosses at its foot.

It was not just war that fascinated him, but also heroism. Pupils were regularly regaled with stories of great adventurers, such as Scott of the Antarctic: men of resilience and perseverance. The message was one of achievement and teamwork.

This sense of individuals contributing to a greater whole was also highlighted every spring, when traditional May Day celebrations were held at the school. Mr Wragg brought in maypole dancing, with pupils working together to create ribbon patterns. He introduced the practice of crowning a May queen while simultaneously avoiding the backstabbing resentment that the process might generate: the May queen was always the oldest girl in the school.

Indeed, although he and his family lived roughly 15 miles from North Frodingham, he was an integral part of the community. This was highlighted when he succeeded in persuading the local authority to build a school hall. In the past, pupils had crammed into classrooms for school assemblies or traipsed through the village to the church hall. But Mr Wragg succeeded where locals had failed, and the school hall was completed last year.

His last year at North Frodingham was also plagued by ill-health. Last Christmas, he took the decision to retire, and would have left North Frodingham Primary at the end of August, a month after his 60th birthday. He and his wife hoped to take a coach trip around Europe. He also wanted to formalise his long-standing hobby by writing a book about war memorials.

But it was not to be. Late last month, he died in his sleep. His funeral was conducted to the theme from The Dambusters. He is survived by his wife and their two sons.

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