Thank God it's Ted Wragg

25th July 2003 at 01:00
The professor is retiring from Exeter university, but he'll still be on the back page of The TES. Diane Hofkins reports

When TES journalists visit schools, a frequent eager question from teachers is: "Do you know Ted Wragg?" For more than 20 years, his satirical columns have brought comfort and cheer to beleaguered staff on Friday mornings, cutting straight to teachers' concerns and through ministerial pomp and woolly thinking.

At a TES party in his honour last week, to mark his retirement from his post at Exeter university, editor Bob Doe said: "The irony is that Ted, the mocker of all institutions, has become a venerable institution in the pages of The TES. Ted the iconoclast is himself an icon."

But The TES columns are a small part of the inexhaustible professor's output. He has written more than 50 books, carried out highly influential educational research, chaired committees such as the Educational Broadcasting Council, written sketches for Rory Bremner (with whom he shares "a common interest in sending up the ludicrous"), hobnobbed with ministers and coached football (he is a professional referee).

He also became the youngest-ever education professor at that time, at age 34, at Nottingham university. But he has always continued to teach in schools. And Ted Wragg, 65, will not really be retiring. He will carry on teaching, writing (including TES columns), publishing and speaking.

London schools commissioner Tim Brighouse speaks of his "amazing capacity to be able to talk in different languages directly and persuasively to different people".

So he shares staffroom gossip in his columns, talks more seriously to teachers about their practice through other TES articles, and addresses the general public in other newspapers and magazines.

He talks directly to researchers in a scholarly but accessible way, and also communicates comfortably with ministers and officials. All this is helped by his extraordinary energy. He wakes up, fully alert, at 4.30 or 5am every day, and writes for an hour-and-a-half. Then it's out for a run, and on with the rest of the day's work.

"Sadly, I would have to say that satire is more influential than academic work," says Ted. "You can say things in satire that you couldn't possibly put in any other form."

His most significant research projects, he believes, were two enormous studies of teaching in primary and secondary schools, analysing more than 2,000 lessons, and examining class management, group work, questioning and explaining.

"Heads are very important," he says, "but they don't teach kids."

The only way ahead, he believes, is to concentrate on what teachers do to improve children's learning. In his first humorous TES column, on September 5, 1980, we read about cutbacks - "Swineshire has announced there will be only one primary post available next year. So far 16,749 applications have been received" - but also there is a plea for teachers to be less modest, and to talk more about their professional skills: "You should have heard this divergent thinking question I just asked 3B, George."

And he calls upon teachers to make 1980 the year that such conversations actually take place.

If this wish is beginning to become a reality, Ted Wragg has had a lot to do with it.


"Ted Wragg will be remembered for three things. First, for beinga first-rate thinker and teacher, second, for being a Sheffield Wednesday supporter andthird, for being a damngood guy."

David Blunkett, Home Secretary and former educationsecretary "Ted Wragg doesn't retire. I think we can expect more of the same from him - heavens be praised."

David Hargreaves, former chief executive of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority

"When I was a teacher, Ted'scolumn in 'The TES' brightened our Fridays. He made me laugh at the end of a long week but there was always a serious education message for me to think about over the weekend." Estelle Morris, junior artsminister and former educationsecretary

"He's muchbetter-lookingin real-life than he is in hisby-linephotograph."

Jilly Cooper, novelist

"He is the voice of sanity incommon rooms across thecountry. He is what teachers read under their desk when the kids aren't looking.

Rory Bremner, comedian

Chris Woodhead, former chief inspector and sparring partner of Professor Wragg, did not comment

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