Passed/Failed: An education in the life of Wilfred Emmanuel-Jones, farmer and Conservative candidate

'Life was always a struggle'

Wilfred Emmanuel-Jones, 49, runs the Black Farmer range of meat products and is the Tory candidate for the new seat of Chippenham. He farms cattle on the Devon/Cornwall border and is an "Ambassador" for the current Enterprise Week.

I was brought up by relatives in Jamaica and came to Britain when I was four. The first school I can remember was in Northampton. After Christmas you were all asked to bring in your gifts but we were very, very poor and we didn't have presents so I just sat there. There were nine of us, so a pair of shoes or clothes had to last a year. Life was always a struggle.

When I was six we went to Small Heath in Birmingham. At Marlborough Road Primary I failed the 11-plus and went to Oldknow Secondary Modern. Me and school didn't go together at all. I was a difficult student. I always felt like an outsider. I spent most of my time playing truant. I used to go to the cinema.

On a Monday I used to spend my dinner money on broken biscuits and starve for the rest of the week. I was always getting caned and standing outside the headmaster's office.

In those days education was very important and if your parents heard you'd misbehaved at school, you got a hammering. I remember being excluded for a few weeks for being really disruptive. Everybody hated it. It was the pits for the teachers too, who were at the end of their careers or starting out.

I'm nearly 50 and still remember certain incidents at school, they are things we carry with us for the rest of our lives. One teacher, who had been in the war, said he'd shot better men than me. One female teacher lost it and scratched me; after that they were nice to me for a week.

I'm dyslexic. In those days no one understood it and I couldn't understand what was going on. I had problems with reading aloud and spelling, though I was good at hiding the shame of dyslexia. As I've been successful in general, I'm open about it now.

I write columns for trade magazines but I get someone to check my copy. It's unfortunate I took so many years before I got over that shame. I thought I was thick and would rebel.

One teacher locked me in the store-cupboard and was amazed that at the end of the lesson I had cleaned it up; I was trying to create order out of chaos. I was a no-hoper in the school system. Smaller classes would have been ideal. I had lots of energy, so lots of activity would have been good. It is no surprise that I ended up as an entrepreneur; I never accepted the perceived opinion.

I was good at drama. I can remember playing Moses and all the teachers thought I was marvellous and could command the audience. Because we were all poor, there was not much expectation and the teachers were just trying to police the situation.

When I left school at 16 I made a decision to move away from the environment where I had been brought up. I gave myself a talking to: "I have to do something about the way I speak and behave." Everything about me is self-taught. My brain works faster than I can write things down - so it is really good at holding information.

You have to remember all the kids who are never able to pass exams; they shouldn't be tossed away. There is not enough attention given to young people who can't do well in the league tables. I'm lucky I didn't end up in prison.

jonty@jonathansale.com

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