Tributes to Ted Wragg

3rd February 2006 at 00:00
Claire Davidson, deputy head of English, Ridgeway school, Plymouth

As a twenty-something embarking on a PGCE at Exeter University, I remember being utterly captivated by Ted. His was a voice of authority but one that I knew was on my side. His easy manner belied a mind like a steel trap and he wielded enviable oratory skills. When I encountered Ted again after I'd been presented with a National Teaching Award, he made a point of finding me to offer his congratulations. His bear hug made me feel 10ft tall. I have sought Ted's opinions on many occasions since. His passionate words to me at this year's Teaching Awards on how 21st-century classrooms must change were music to my ears. He made me realise the importance of being innovative and bold in the learning experiences we offer our children.

Estelle Morris, former education secretary

I was first aware of him as a very witty columnist; someone who understood schools and education and had the knack of focusing on the things that really mattered. There's many a time when Ted has described something in a way that is exactly how you felt as well. I then got to know him better as a serious academic researcher and began to understand the impact his work was having on what was going on in schools. But it is as a friend that I best remember him. He was always there and showed remarkable empathy in knowing when you might need a wise voice. Ted never let you down. He practised the principles that he preached and I will miss him.

Professor Richard Pring, lead director, Nuffield 14-19 review

I first met Ted at his interview for the directorship of the new Exeter school of education in 1980-81. Two people were shortlisted, and after the interview, the vice-chancellor said to John Dancy, the principal of St Luke's, and me how it was as well the other candidate had withdrawn because "no one could have measured up to Ted Wragg's performance". It was indeed a scintillating display in which he set out his vision for the new school of education, one which would integrate the best in St Luke's tradition of professional development with the best in a university tradition of research. To the end, Ted embodied that integration of theory and practice, the fearless champion of teachers as the real experts in educational practice.

Geoff Williams, head of St Leonard's primary school, Exeter

Ted was able to engage across the community, and was readily understood by parents as well as professionals. He was an advocate for those who were disadvantaged in any way. His death is a huge loss for this city. He was universally admired, and a man of great compassion. He put in a huge number of hours that he wasn't paid for, simply because he cared. His presence made things happen; he was a real human being, able to touch and engage with people.

Professor Tim Brighouse, chief adviser for London schools

I was once on the receiving end of one of Ted's devastating back-page lampoons for the self-evaluation scheme I'd introduced in Oxfordshire. I read, laughed - and winced a little - and I learned. Soon after that we met and started a friendship that lasted an all-too-brief quarter of a century.

Ted was a humorist, satirist, broadcaster, writer, researcher, speaker and, above all else, a teacher. Those who have spent a lifetime working solely in any one of these fields would see Ted as a talent to be emulated. And now, to my shocked, stunned and continuing disbelief, he's gone. I shall miss him every day for the rest of my life, buoyed by his writings and memories of his wit, wisdom and generosity. Above all I shall remember his peerless example of what personal and professional integrity mean.

John Prescott, Deputy Prime Minister

Ted was an inspiration for so many people. He was respected and liked by scholars and teachers, and for the Labour party he was a beacon for the best ideas in education. Ted was amazingly energetic and dedicated to his work and he drove everyone he met towards excellence. From the moment you met him, you could not help but be inspired by his enthusiasm, his vision and his great humour. He believed passionately that people deserve the best possible start in life and must always be encouraged to unlock their full talent. His words and good counsel were an inspiration to me and to the Labour party and I owe Ted an enormous debt for his support over the years.

We have lost an outstanding teacher. We have all lost a great friend.

Dennis Richards, head of St Aidan's CE High School, Harrogate

On paper you were merely my German teacher for two years in the sixth form at Queen Elizabeth Grammar School, Wakefield. Your first teaching job.

Nobody will be surprised to read that you were a brilliant teacher in your own right. Even Woodentop would have been forced to give you grade 1s.

Quirky, inventive, passionate and scholarly but, above all, blisteringly funny. I didn't think I was that good. I subsequently found out that you didn't think so either. You waited until I was nearly 50 to tell me that, actually, I was a total prat at school. Through you I served on the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority and with you, in the summer, I had the joy of judging the TES Make The Link awards. We also had a deal that we would get some Inset and a speech day from you in 2006. You can't do it now.

John Howson, director, Education Data Surveys

One of the characteristics of greatness, as Rudyard Kipling said in "If", is if you can walk with kings, but keep the common touch. Ted could relate to the most powerful people in education, who direct public policy, but also work with someone just starting out on their educational odyssey, whether a student teacher or a child in a classroom. He was a man who was passionate about what he believed in, and would go anywhere and speak to anyone about it.

Lord Puttnam, chair of the Teaching Awards Trust

I wouldn't have known what to do at the national Teaching Awards without Ted. If he hadn't been a supporter, life would have been very, very different for us. It's an over-used expression, but he was a genuinely big man. He was a fanatical worker: just the books he's written would have been a lifetime's work for me. He was always right; he was always coming from the right place. Even if you could argue with the detail of some of his ideas, his heart was always spot-on. It was like a magnet that always takes you back to true north.

Rory Bremner, impressionist

Ted was unique, because he had such wisdom and a grasp of the issues in education, which he combined with a wonderful sense of humour. And - particularly useful in his field - he had a keen sense of the absurd. He used to say that today's satire is tomorrow's policy. He single-handedly kept up teachers' morale. His columns were what teachers read under their desks when the kids weren't looking. He had a wicked eye for satire, and a great sense of fun. He was a sane man in a mad world.

I'll miss him very much.

Anna Clarkson, publisher, Routledge

I had the pleasure of working with Ted for 10 years, the last seven as his editor at Routledge. Just last summer, Ted and I had lengthy, often hilarious, discussions about which name he should use on the cover of what, tragically, turned out to be his last book, The Art and Science of Teaching and Learning. "The trouble is," he told me, "that those who know me as Ted Wragg often think that EC Wragg is my more academic brother!" In the end we opted for both names - a fitting tribute to a man who could enthuse, entertain and educate any audience.

David Blunkett, former education secretary

Ted Wragg was not simply an outstanding academic, but a great communicator who could turn theory into practical, political change.

As a writer, he could capture the essence of relevant argument and, as a broadcaster, he could hold his own against the best. We shared, sometimes with despair, a love for Sheffield Wednesday. And, sometimes with equal despair, we shared an abiding commitment to improving standards in education, to liberate the talent and improve the life-chances of every child and adult.

Libby Purves, TES columnist

It's curiously hard to be funny inside your own profession; it's much easier for those of us catcalling from the sidelines. But Ted Wragg managed it, sometimes with lunatically florid overstatement, sometimes with a fantastical reductio ad absurdum of the latest wheeze from Downing Street. Whereas some educationists read so many earnest papers that they start to talk in jargon themselves, he took in the jargon, whirled it around in his stubborn, clever head, and spat it out.

David Hargreaves, former chief executive of the QCA

Ted was a respected academic, a humorist of high quality, and he gave lots of advice in practical ways. That's a unique combination, and it's why he'll be enormously missed. That gap isn't possible to fill.

He was always the teachers' friend. He made fun of politicians in a way that took the sting out of some of the reforms that, over 20 years, teachers have hated; many a weekend won't be the same now.

Jilly Cooper, novelist

I think Plato summed him up:

"Thou wert the Morning Star among the living 'Ere thy fair light was fled; Now, having died, thou art as Hesperus, Giving new splendour to the dead."

He was such a kind man, and he had such fierce courage. Teachers have lost their lovely alsatian, their guard dog. What was terribly important with him, with all the jargon and rubbish, "empowering" and "engaging", murdering of the English language going on today, was that he wrote such beautiful prose.

Fred Jarvis, convenor of the New Vision Group, of which Ted was a leading member

There is so much one misses about Ted but, above all, one misses, and will long miss, his unequalled contribution to the battle for educational advance. Nobody was better equipped than Ted to be the scourge of those politicians who try to dismiss their critics as members of "the educational establishment", supposedly out of touch with reality. And there was always purpose behind his wit, a belief in deep-rooted principles and a vision of a better society. As one member of our group said, as we tried to come to terms with his all too early death: "We have lost our spear."

Geoff Brookes, deputy head of Cefn Hengoed school, Swansea

Ted knew what teachers felt like. He understood. A man of principle; a believer. The man we all wanted to inspect Ofsted. But only of course after the suited ones had taught all morning, done a dinner duty and taken an abusive call from Mrs Evans. Because even though we didn't know him, we all felt he was one of us. If we had met I don't think I would have known what to say. But, now he's gone, I do. Thanks.

Andrew Bethell, director of programmes, Teachers' TV

Ted was, of course, a natural in front of the camera. He was just as comfortable hosting a complex role-play format as he was grilling the educational great and good in a series of interviews that are as good as anything you will see on the main channels. Not a day goes by when I don't catch myself saying: "Ted would be good for that."

Professor Steve Smith, vice-chancellor of the University of Exeter

My first taste of Ted's no-nonsense approach was after my job interview at Exeter. "I voted for you because you didn't use the phrase 'world-class'. Everyone says everything is world-class these days," he told me. Ted didn't like pretension and I was relieved not to find myself in his sights. Though he'd hate me to use the phrase, we have lost a world-class scholar (who helped develop a world-class school of education) and also a world-class human being.

William Atkinson, head of Phoenix high, London

The man was a beacon of reason and good sense. He had real clarity of thinking and intellect, and a moral drive informed everything he said and did. He had an intelligent, no-nonsense approach. The idea for The Unteachables came from Ted. He wanted to explore what lay outside the box.

He took risks, but very much calculated risks, not foolhardy ones. He was a man for all seasons, a very special person, a one-off. He was a national treasure.

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