Knowledge is the moral of the story

Jonny Mitchell
Jonny Mitchell

Thornhill Community Academy’s straight-talking headteacher Jonny Mitchell showed the world what life in the classroom is really like in the award-winning TV documentary series Educating Yorkshire.

Now he writes exclusively for the Reporter Series.

I thought I would tell you a bit of a story this week. Just imagine it’s a school assembly, because the best ones always had a story. One with a moral, of course. Anyway, here goes...

A man was having some real trouble with his water pipes at home, which were always clanking and making horrendously sinister sounds. He knew, given time, this was going to cause him a problem, and probably cost him a veritable fortune in repairs. He dressed into his work clothes, took some of his basic household tools, and set to work searching for the source of the sounds, in the hope he could tighten something, slacken something, bang something and make it all OK again.

He searched for hours, randomly smacking the pipes with his heavy hammer, but all to no avail. He finally gave up the ghost, beaten, and called in an engineer to locate the source of the problem and hopefully fix it.

The engineer arrived and the man explained the problem. The engineer thought for a while, went out to his van, returned with a small hammer, walked along the length of the pipes for a couple of minutes, then positioned himself under the end of one of the pipes, reached up with his right arm and gave the pipe a firm smack with the hammer.

“Would you turn the water on please?” he asked the man. The man obliged. Silence, save the faint sound of water running easily through the pipes.

“See how it goes for the next couple of days, would you? If the noise comes back, let me know. If I don’t hear from you in the next three days, I’ll pop the bill in the post assuming it is fixed.”

The man was ecstatic; at last he could have some peace and quiet. The noise never returned. True to his word, a bill arrived a few days later. The man opened it. £470. He was absolutely apoplectic. How much? He was only here a matter of minutes.

Within seconds he was on the phone to the engineer. “Sorry, but £470 is an outrage; you were barely here ten minutes! Even with a call-out rate, that is extortion. How on earth did you come up with that amount? I mean, I could have hit the pipe and done it all for nothing!”

“That’s correct!” replied the engineer. “Call-out £50. Ten minutes at £120 an hour: £20. So £70 in total for my time,” he explained.

“So where do you get the extra £400 from?” asked the man, puzzled.

“Oh, that? That’s for knowing exactly where to hit the pipe, my friend!”

Only apocryphal, clearly, but perhaps a lesson for everyone.

Those involved in education, whether in schools, colleges, workplaces or beyond, share a common belief. Knowing how to do something is valuable, whatever it is. Not everybody can solve complex equations, speak five languages, split the atom, discuss politics, locate Turkmenistan on a map or remember the key dates of the Kings and Queens of England. Does it matter?

I taught a student over 10 years ago now. He could barely read and write when he arrived at high school and, to be honest, was barely there enough to make any progress. He walked out of school at 16 without a single qualification of any description. But, guess what? When I had trouble with my pipes a few months ago, and rang a heating engineer at 11 in the evening, in some desperation, I wasn’t expecting to see him standing on my doorstep, tool-bag in hand.

“Alright, sir. How’s it going?” He smiled at me. He knew it was going to cost me a fortune. And, guess what? I didn’t begrudge him a penny of it.