Jack Wright

Leading educational psychologist
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The Independent Online

Jack Wright was the foremost exponent of applied professional educational psychology in Britain in the post-war years. Leading teams of educational psychologists in Essex and Hampshire, he helped shape the development of the profession, and served as the first President of the Association of Educational Psychologists.

As a member of the Council of the British Psychological Society between 1955 and 1970 (elected a Fellow in 1961), he had pressed for fellowships to be awarded not just for academic prowess but also for excellence in the applied fields. He was, first, Secretary and, later, Chairman of the BPS's Division of Educational and Child Psychology. But educational psychologists, as well as wanting membership of a learned society, needed an association with more specific emphasis on their professional development and structure. The Association of Educational Psychologists was born in 1962, with Wright as President; he served on the executive committee for over 20 years. The AEP has extended its original membership from less than 200 to over 2,000 now, due in no small part to Wright's efforts.

Born in Bath in 1915, the son of a bookbinder; Wright attended City of Bath Boys' School and trained as a teacher at St Mark and St John College of Education, in London, qualifying in 1936. In 1938 he took an honours degree in Psychology at University College London, under Professor Cyril Burt, following this with a term's course in "Problems and Methods of Teaching Backward, Dull and Difficult Children" at Goldsmiths' College, London, under Fred Schonell.

During the Second World War he served in the Royal Artillery, rising to the rank of captain and taking part in the long hard slog of the Italian campaign. He grew to love Italy and its culture, and to the end of his life he organised groups to visit the country. He was proficient in Italian; it was amusing to watch him, when shaving, whilst on educational courses, learning 10 new Italian words to add to his vocabulary.

At the end of the war he returned to teaching in East Ham, east London, where he had been before the war, to take charge of a class of primary-aged children with special educational needs. In 1948 he gained his postgraduate clinical training in Educational Psychology at the Tavistock Clinic, becoming the first educational psychologist in East Ham. Here, he was involved in the secondary selection (11 plus) procedure, providing professional oversight in selecting the most suitable children for grammar schools.

He moved in 1951 to become Principal Educational Psychologist in Southend, Essex, then in 1958 to a similar post in Portsmouth, and in 1974 to work for Hampshire County Council. In these local education authorities, Wright led teams of educational psychologists in advising teachers, parents and the authority on children with learning problems and those with emotional and behavioural difficulties, providing reports to juvenile courts, and the setting-up of classes and units for children with special educational needs.

Wright retired in 1980 but continued his active life by lecturing at Southampton University and King Alfred's College of Education, Winchester. He was able to follow his lifelong interest in sport. He swam regularly until well into his eighties and at the age of 83 swam 1,500 metres in 74 minutes, raising £600 for charity.

When the long-serving and energetic secretary of the Association of Educational Psychologists retired, Wright was one of the past presidents invited to speak at a commemorative dinner. With a twinkle in his eye, he proclaimed that the retiring secretary was a tad paranoid. The secretary took this in good humour and replied that she thought Jack Wright was the least paranoid person she had ever met. This was greeted with rapturous approval by the educational psychological glitterati present.

The last time I saw Wright, he joked about himself and fellow members of his Probus Club (for retired PROfessional and BUSiness people). When they played table tennis, there was a hiatus because nobody could remember what the score was or who was to serve. This was precursive of the future; sadly his last days were blighted by Alzheimer's disease, over which his wife Betty helped him with stoic serenity.

Conrad Graham