Ted Wragg in his own Last Words

18th November 2005 at 00:00
Catch as Kant can

From Ted's first TES column, September 5, 1980

Another part of the project was to watch teachers starting off with their new classes. We observed 100 lessons given by experienced teachers in the first few days of the school year and then 200 lessons given by students at the beginning of their teaching practice. The differences were quite staggering. Few experienced teachers realised how quickly and competently they had set up relationships, established rules, put out messages. By contrast I saw one student teacher dismantle a well-established successful laboratory class within 15 minutes of her first lesson.Pupils were wrestling with each other for Bunsen burners where previously they had worked in an interested and orderly manner.

Perhaps one day a teacher will be the guest "expert" on Larry Grayson's Generation Game instead of a meringue-basher. When he has explained Boyle's Law and asked the audience 70,000 questions, the contestants will dress up in funny costumes and explain the second law of thermodynamics. Game two could be open heart surgery.

Olympic feat

March 11, 1988

Was I really the only person who spotted it? When that heroic British Olympic ski-jumper launched himself into the affection of millions of people around the world, even though he came last , and was given more attention than the rest of the competitors put together, did the truth escape every other viewer?

I refer to the screamingly obvious fact that, no matter what he chose to call himself, this spectacular last placer was in reality none other than Kenneth "the Eagle" Baker. Anything for a bit of favourable publicity.

Just think about it. All he had to do was stick out his chin a bit, put on pink glasses, have a crew cut, and Bob's your uncle.

What gave it away for me was the commentator who said he was hurling himself optimistically into space hoping to land on his feet, the best description of the 1988 Education Bill I have yet heard.

Take Tony Zoffis' bullets away

September 22, 2000

Apparently the armed forces are so short of money they cannot afford to pay for ammunition, so somebody has to shout "bang" instead. "What do you do in the army, then?" "Er, I'm the bloke who shouts 'bang!'"

I have been baffled for some time about a man whose job it is to shout 'bang!' at those working in education. I kept hearing his name - Tony Zoffis - over and over again.

'Where's that funny idea come from?'

'Tony Zoffis.'

According to journalists this Tony Zoffis firmly believes that attacking teachers pushes you up the opinion polls, sad if true. But what was the origin of the name Zoffis? Italian, maybe? Then it dawned on me. There should be a glottal, if you'll pardon the expression, after the 'z' sound - Tonyz (glottal stop) Offis. At last it made sense. It was Tony's Office, the Prime Minister's hidden coterie.

Woodhead was my sick joke

November 17, 2000

I want to confess something. I invented Chris Woodhead. There, I've said it. I apologise if I upset anyone in the process. We satirists can sometimes get desperate, so one day I made him up. Reprehensible, I admit, but I was young and silly. He was, so to speak, my Piltdown Man.

The idea was meant to be so transparent everyone would recognise it was a spoof. The ultra-progressive teacher, teacher trainer and LEA administrator turns into a traditionalist, scourging teachers, teacher trainers and LEA administrators.

Easily bored, he went on, in my storyline, to write for a Conservative newspaper, become a consultant to a Conservative PR firm and then a Conservative peer, Screaming Lord Woodhead. Incredible, I thought, no one will fall for it.

Even the name was a clue. Unsure whether to call him Chris Smartguy or Sid Turniphead, I settled on a compromise. I thought I had overdone things sufficiently for everyone to rumble, but somehow he just grew in my fevered imagination until people assumed he was real.

Ticked off with tedious tests

July 4, 2003

In order to make children more creative we should set them a tedious and pointless task, so they have to think imaginatively to avoid dying of boredom.

My 2004 all-subject key stage 2 test paper does precisely that: Answer all the questions.

Time allowed: an eternity.

1 Write an essay on one of the following utterly pointless topics: (a) how to fill in a form (b) scratching your bum (c) a day in the life of an Ofsted inspector.

2 Make a pupil achievement tracker for your teacher out ofmilk bottle tops.

3(a) If it takes a reception teacher five minutes to observe one child and tick one box, how many minutes will it take to tick 117 of these for 30 children every term? (b) And how many people would it take to dig a hole for all the reception class teachers in the country to bury themselves and their foundation-stage profiles in?

4 Set up two committees in your school to look into the problem of duplication.

5 Design an examination that nobody wants. Go down to the bus station and sign up people to mark it.Lose half the papers. Invent some scores. Compile a league table of them. Send your league table to Margaret Hodge and ask her to say something stupid.Then write a letter to the Prime Minister asking if you can be head of his policy unit.

Retro reforms of Lord Zoffis

May 20, 2005

The good news is that Tony Zoffis, (the mysterious and invisible adviser who dreams up harebrained schemes for the Prime Minister) has finally been smoked out.

The bad news is that he has been made Lord Zoffis of Bedlam and given a job as a minister of education.

For years Andrew Adonis, or Andrew Bloody Adonis, to give him his full name, was able to generate barmy ideas for the Prime Minister without having to stand up in parliament, be quizzed by Jeremy Paxman, or defend his policies at national conferences.

When the AS and A2-levels were first introduced, there was complete mayhem, with some candidates taking five exams in a single day. A few even stayed overnight at a teacher's house for security reasons, because they had to delay taking yet another paper until the following day.

While the education system creaked and lurched along the edge of a very steep cliff, Tony Zoffis was assiduously peddling a third A-level, the Advanced Extension exam, the so-called world-class test for 17-year-olds.

If it had actually taken off, and most schools sensibly avoided it, the whole exam system would have collapsed, through timetable chaos and lack of examiners.

Now he will at least have to speak in the House of Lords, where there are some smart people to cross-question him. Whether or not King Henry VIII ever tapped a piece of beef with his sword and said "Arise Sir Loyne" is disputed, but if a monarch can knight his dinner, then a prime minister might as well ennoble his butler.

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar, Buyagift.com, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today