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Jodh Dhesi’s career has taken him from an underprivileged background in Southend to a prestige role helping shape the future of 10,000 schoolchildren across Birmingham. He maintains a passion for education that was fired when his mother taught him to read before he went to school. Jon Griffin, Chamberlink’s award-winning columnist, went to meet the new chief executive of the King Edward VI Foundation.

all about wealth, I came from a disadvantaged background which was full of books. “My mother taught me to read


before I went to school. My hobby was reading. I loved classics like the Wind in the Willows, Jungle Book. “My sister and I were the first in

the family to go to university. My mother and father had both left school when they were 16. We were poor, we didn’t have very much to rub together.” Jodh, a self-confessed ‘Essex

Boy’ who grew up in Southend, - “it was wonderful to grow up by the seaside” – has come rather a long way since the adventures of Toad and Ratty first fired his young imagination and instilled in him a lifelong love of learning. Jodh is the newly-appointed

chief executive of the King Edward VI Foundation in Birmingham, a charitable educational organisation with its roots in Renaissance England dating back to 1547 when a group of influential citizens petitioned the monarch for an endowment to set up a school.

‘There is no other (educational) trust in the country doing what we are trying to do here’

King Edward’s School in the old Guildhall in New Street was created in a then small Midlands town which would eventually become the workshop of the world and the city of 1,000 trades. It was the forerunner to an inspiring educational establishment spanning nearly 500 years which today oversees a total of 11 schools educating more than 10,000 children in the city. And in common with the young

Jodh, whose passion for learning had its origins in his mother’s determination to teach him to read before he went to school, pupils from less privileged backgrounds are today being given a vital

20 CHAMBERLINKApril 2021

odh Dhesi’s passion for the importance of the written word is crystal-clear. “It’s not

That opportunity may never have

arisen if Jodh’s father Narinder had not taken the plunge in the 1960s and moved to the United Kingdom from Uganda. It was a hard road for Mr Dhesi Senior in an era of often blatant racial prejudice. “He left Uganda when he was 16

to join the British Army and was one of only two non-white soldiers in his regiment. Later he wanted to join the police force but was told by the recruiting sergeant not to bother because of his race. “He turned out to be a tough individual. But he didn’t want us to have to fight like him, he wanted us to throw our energies into another life.”

Narinder Dhesi worked on

building sites and as a bus conductor to raise his family of four children – but Jodh followed his father’s advice and pursued a more academic route, eventually landing a place at Cambridge University, where he graduated from Christ’s College with a first-class degree in modern and medieval languages. “I didn’t want to go into banking

or accountancy, I wanted to enter public service, to give something back because of the amazing opportunities I had had. For the first year I went to teach at my old school in Southend. Many of my former teachers were still there – it was quite a funny experience.” But he was soon back in

Cambridge, where he was to remain for 15 years in a variety of middle and senior leadership roles with Parkside Federation Academies. The builder’s boy from Essex had found his vocation. He became head of languages at

Once-in-a-lifetime opportunity: Jodh Dhesi

helping hand by the Foundation, which also encompasses the state sector and comprehensive pupils in its network. As Johd proudly proclaims:

“There is no other (educational) trust in the country doing what we are trying to do here. The endowment has built up over the

centuries and is used to support the independent schools and assisted places but it is also used to support the state schools. The more I found out about the organisation and how unique it is, and what a model it can be for education, the more I thought this was a once-in-a- lifetime opportunity.”

two federation schools, including Coleridge Community College, which had been in special measures. “I would teach at Parkside in the morning and then cycle over to Coleridge. That was tough. These young people, because of their background, lack of support and poverty really struggled. “At the college I had pupils who

had struggled to read and write in English. It is harder to teach in a school in a deprived area and in special measures.

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