Jack Wright Centenary
Healthy organisations with a positive culture recognise and celebrate their heroes. The AEP has a number of former members who have contributed to its success as a professional association, but none more so than Jack Wright who was born 100 years ago on 25th April 1915. Jack died in 2005 at the age of 90, and a full obituary was published in Educational Psychology in Practice at the time, describing his work as a founder member of the AEP, its first president and an executive member for 20 years. He was elected President for a second time in 1975, and his contribution then reached a further peak when he was elected President again in 1982. His ‘Presidential Encyclical’ at the AGM of 1982, titled Looking back in amazement and forward in confidence, provides an extraordinary overview of his own professional development and that of the Association. He was a prolific contributor to the AEP journal co-wrote the first text-book on EP practice, and was a frequent conference speaker, so we have plenty of material available to review his influence on the profession. While some of his views are set in the times, his overall optimism for the EP role, based squarely on what he had achieved, demands contemporary acknowledgement and discussion.
Jack’s early study of psychology took place at UCL whilst teaching full time, a situation which influenced his strongly held view that psychology would always be of critical value to teaching effectiveness. He also encountered Cyril Burt at this time and retained a strong faith in psychometrics and differentiation, seeing this as a major part of what psychology brought to the education field. Though seemingly at odds with today’s more holistic approaches, Jack’s position was entirely based on a belief that identifying differences in children would ensure better outcomes for children. He reported that when he started teaching in the 1930s, the notion of ‘payment by results’ for teachers was in vogue, rather discounting ‘individual differences’ in pupils, and he saw the Psychologist’s role as helping to reduce inappropriate pressure on both pupils and teachers by recognising and accepting children’s learning difficulties. He also saw a role for EPs in the more general area of assessment - as experts advising schools and local authorities on the technology of testing. Thus he valued his advice to East Ham in his first post helping to standardise the 11+ examination – in order to ensure that all able pupils had a chance of grammar school education (and ‘not just those from affluent homes’). Years later in both Portsmouth and Hampshire he instituted a Test and Records Panel, providing what he saw as Educational Guidance to schools on relevant tests, and ensuring the panel gave a prominent role to an EP. It would be easy to take a superficial view that Jack was overly imbued with the deficit model which is so unpopular in our current work, but in his day he was a champion of any and all vulnerable children, and if some of the labels applied are no longer apt, did ensure their needs for ‘special’ education were recognised. He was after all awarded an OBE for services to SEN in 1971, for his LEA work, and also his contribution to the charity National Association for Mental Health. When discussing this essential need for identification during an interview in 1995, some 15 years after his retirement, in relation to the advent of ‘league tables’ he said:
“We are in danger of seeing all of the problems of the 30s and 40s beginning to resurface. Once again, psychologists will have an important role in modifying some of the problems which may result, particularly if pupils with special needs are going to suffer both overt and covert discrimination in education”
- (extract from EPIP article An interview with Jack Wright in his 80th Year)
It would be good to report that the new Children and Families Act, with the reforms to SEN legislation, has overcome this, though current developments suggest an accompanying rise in demand for EPs to underline the individual differences when the intention appeared to be to ensure ‘Quality First’ teaching as the correct starting point. Of course early identification of developmental delay or anomaly and full collaboration between primary services could be a major plus of the new arrangement, but not if more pupils are simply labelled and expectations lowered.
Local Authority roles
After spells as an EP in East Ham and Southend, Jack came to Portsmouth as Senior, later Chief, EP in 1958 with a view that EPs could offer so much more than being merely adjuncts to a medically- led Child Guidance clinic.
He was particularly proud of his time as an EP in Portsmouth
“Portsmouth in the 1960s and early 70s was a very exciting place to work in.
What my team and myself succeeded in doing was encouraging the development of multi-agency teamwork on behalf of children, parents and teachers, and also carrying psychology to teachers, health visitors, medical officers, probation officers and many other related disciplines. In Portsmouth, we also had a wide variety of pre-school units where children who had difficulties could be admitted early for help and become part of a system where they were carefully tracked and monitored throughout their educational career.”
At the time Portsmouth was still recovering from World War II damage, and had major inner-city disadvantage – both affecting educational need. The local council was fulsome in support of Jack’s ideas, and as a city made provision for special needs education far beyond most LAs of the time.
He based the Child Guidance Service (CGS) in Portsmouth on Government Circular 347 which advised (in 1958) that all LEAs should set up such a service, with three elements: Child Guidance Clinic, School Psychological Service (SPS) and School Health Service. While Jack spoke and wrote frequently on the essential benefits of teamwork and collaboration he managed to establish a key role for EPs in this Service, with himself as head. The Portsmouth CGS, which at one time numbered some 58 people (including 7 EPs for a school population of only 30,000) is written up in some detail as an appendix to the text book he co-wrote in 1974 (see Chazan et al, 1974). Jack’s thinking was that the traditional route to Special School provision had only been through the School Medical Officer, and even where an EP assessment was made, actual ‘control’ of any Special placement was in the hands of medical practitioners. The advent of a CGS allowed the EPs to develop their own teaching arm, as Jack saw it, to provide the remedial teaching or tutorial work which EP assessment had indicated as necessary. Thus the CGS in Portsmouth had a workforce of specialist teachers providing ‘Special Educational Treatment’ within the SPS. This workforce was largely centralised in one building – itself a monument to Jack’s influence – newly constructed in 1968, with specialist (and carefully delineated) accommodation for EPs, SWs and the visiting Child Psychiatrists, also described in the appendix to the text book.
This appendix also lists 14 special schools or units provided by the city which were ‘serviced’ by EPs, and at the time there were also around 100+ pupils in boarding schools. Clearly this hugely generous provision was deemed necessary to meet the needs identified within the city, but in time perhaps flew in the face of increasing trends towards Integration, and later inclusive practice (see Wright 1978b)
As well as this wealth of local authority support, the Portsmouth SPS also contributed to national developments as a major training placement, being something of a mecca for trainee EPs on placement. A new post of Senior EP (Training) was established in 1973, and there were recorded visits by a total of 22 trainees during 1973-4. Jack saw the investment value of supporting training, and through the overtures he made to the Psychology Department at the University of Southampton, was a prime mover in establishing the four year integrated training course there in 1972, now a doctoral programme. The position of joint LEA/University Associate Tutor, and an establishment for a trainee EP to attend the course were concurrent innovations.
Having always seen EP research as an important aspect of the work of an SPS, and as necessary for service development, Jack was able to obtain funding from the DfE for ‘The Evaluation of a School Psychological Service’ and with the able support of Tom Payne collected data on all ‘referrals’ to the SPS in one year – 1973 - with a view to establishing the effectiveness of the EP role. He later admitted this task was well beyond simple analysis of outcome related to EP input, such was the complexity of the cases sampled, especially with the range of number of professionals involved, and would have needed a more subtle process analysis . Nevertheless the search for evidence to inform practice was inherent in his approach to service delivery and the report illustrated the potential benefits of a number of models for practice (see Wright and Payne, 1975). Always concerned that EPs’ ‘on the job’ empiricism was not valued as academic – he would be thrilled by the advent of doctoral-level training and the contemporary research contribution to LAs, as well as the criteria for research funding to universities now incorporating an impact factor.
This study year 1973 was in fact Jack’s last in Portsmouth as, with LEA reorganisation, he was appointed Senior, later Principal EP, in the new county of Hampshire. While he had already written about ‘the EP as Administrator’ (Wright 1973) that year, this transition – which he ultimately mastered - required a quite different skill set from his earlier work, as the ambient reputation of the SPS across the new county was not strong, and the potentiaL role of EPs limited. ‘New’ Hampshire became a vast LEA at that time, taking on the two cities of Portsmouth and Southampton. The PEP post was at a much lower level of the authority hierarchy than in Portsmouth, and the Winchester base many miles from the eight EP bases. Jack’s willingness to work in the new advisory service was partially successful (see his account in Wright, 1978), and in his positive view meant “there were many opportunities to make sure that psychology had a major impact throughout the largest English county.…” (Wright 1995). Overall, Jack’s affability and well developed negotiation skills ensured the SPS grew in influence, with a strong recruitment in the year after his retirement following the 1981 Education Act. He was even welcomed back to the service as acting PEP three years after retiring when his successor was forced to resign at short notice. Rather neatly this allowed him to take part in the selection process for a new joint tutor post aimed at promoting ‘post-experience training’ locally and nationally.
Another legacy of Jack’s time as PEP is the Portage Service, which grew out of a collaboration with the Wessex Health Authority in 1976. The first UK trial of the approach was based in Winchester with three home teachers, supervised by an EP from Jack’s team. Despite his wariness about ‘behaviourism’ as he referred to it, with its apparent non-acceptance of individual differences, he did see the potential for behavioural approaches to learning – with Portage methods as a good exemplar.
Hampshire EP provision remains one of the most respected in England, well supported within the Children’s Services. The research and evaluation skills of educational psychologists in particular are given a high profile, and the Children’s Service Research Ethics Committee is located within Educational Psychology remit.
Hampshire also continues to make a very large contribution to EP training, and was pre-eminent in developing the current provision of support for trainees through bursary funding.
Jack remained a member of the AEP executive for twenty years, and continued to contribute by becoming President again in 1982. His obituary tribute praised his “wise insightful leadership and unstinting work on behalf of the Association”. He was closely involved in its initial development out of a wider group of professional psychologists, and considered the main driver for this development to be (in his view) the need for greater representation of EPs on the Soulbury Committee concerned with salary and employment conditions. Clearly this particular aspect of trade union status was of high importance for the profession and is yet another example of Jack’s contribution. He may not have altogether welcomed other trappings of the new union Union-style association perhaps in the way of ‘founders’ whose time to move on has come. While impressed by the amazing growth of the association and its organisational development, he comments rather wryly on the clear signs of growing maturity in his Presidential Encyclical:
“We use rules of debate at our meetings – gone are the informal approaches of early days. Yet we must not forget that ‘rules are for the guidance of wise men and the obedience of fools’. Hopefully we will not get bogged down by rules of procedure and lose sight of our real purpose.…….”
He also gave a very strong endorsement of the voluntary effort on which the Association as a whole relies, including of course his own, and in a wistful concluding statement, having been prepared to accept nomination for another term as President two years after retiring states:
“I think I appreciated being asked to put what experience I had at the service of an Association that encapsulated the professional aims with which I have been so closely identified: that is with Education and its contribution to mentally healthy child development, and with Psychology as its basic science.”
The last published words we have of Jack were provided in the 1995 interview, when he was asked what he would wish for the profession in the next decade:
“As a society we need to find a way of cutting through the present competition for resources between different sections of the Local Authority and work to get adequate financial support for people who need it.
I would like to see psychologists encouraging the development of a brand new organisation for meeting the needs of children to involve co-operation between health, social services, education and voluntary societies.”
While there is something of this vision in the current special needs legislation and the new Code of Practice, funding for public services is so much at the mercy of political change that there is not currently a sufficient workforce of local authority EPs to enact the necessary collaboration, and too much incentive for EPs (and schools) to break away from the kind of cooperative Jack would value. His was essentially a career directed at universal improvement in children’s learning and development, initially by targeting the most vulnerable. He was able to achieve a remarkable position for EPs in Local Authority practice. He remains a hero in the development of the EP profession and that of its professional association.
Chazan M, Moore T, Williams P and Wright H J (1974) The Profession and Practice of Educational Psychology London: Longman
Wright H J (1973) The Educational Psychologist as administrator AEP Journal 3, 5 21-31
Wright H J (1978a) Management in the county of Hampshire AEP Journal 4, 6 24-29
Wright H J (1978b) Comment on Warnock AEP Journal 4, 9 41-44
Wright H J and Payne T A N (1979) The evaluation of a School Psychological Service: The Portsmouth Pattern Winchester: Hampshire Education Authority
Wright H J (1982) Looking back in amazement and forward in confidence AEP Journal 5, 9 1-7
Wright HJ (1995) An interview with Jack Wright in his 80th year Educational Psychology in Practice 11, 1 53-55
An obituary: Hubert John (Jack) Wright (1915-2005) appeared as AEP Circular AEP/073/05