Instead of getting his head down at school he got it under a bonnet at home, famously restoring a Triumph Herald 13/60 at the expense of his A-level studies. But what does Mark Evans, creator and presenter of the ‘…Is Born’ workshop TV series think of modern schooling?
It’s bizarre in a way looking back on my schooling because, despite my long-term obsession and interest with all things mechanical, I never even thought about being a professional engineer. Farming was what I was really interested in because agriculture encompassed the two big loves of my life: animals and engines.
I didn’t think about engineering because, from a very early age, probably 11 or 12, I decided that I wanted to be a vet. I knew then that I had to go down the biological sciences route but that would also mean maths. Not my thing. I have never been very good at counting. Those of us at my school in Warwick who aspired to be doctors and dentists — I was the only one who wanted to be a vet — were advised (told) to do biology, chemistry and a combined A-level of physics with maths.
But, I wanted to do pure physics and no maths. I was told I wouldn’t have a hope in hell of getting the required grade in physics because, “You’re not doing Maths.” I just said, “B******, I can’t be doing with maths but I LOVE physics.” So, headstrong as ever, I pushed my case and they caved. Result. Recently though, I went to an open day held by the maths department at Southampton University. What an eye-opener. Now, I really wish I had done what I was told at school!
Do I think in today’s schools there’s too much focus on academic skills over practical, vocational ones? Well, I’m not sure. It depends a lot on the school, I guess. But it does feel like many teachers are forced to focus a bit too much on coaching our kids to pass exams than actually developing their knowledge, intellect, creativity and problem-solving skills. It must be very frustrating for those teachers who really care about the children, our children, in their care. Yes, inevitably, for some courses — and veterinary science is a very good example — you have to prove yourself academically at school to have any chance of getting a university place and, more importantly, staying there if you do get in. I had to work really hard to get two As and a B at A-level, but it was nothing compared to the workload and intellectual challenge of studying for a veterinary degree. But there is a downside, I think, to focussing so much on academic ability when training youngsters for very practical jobs. And, generally, being a vet is very hands-on, or…in! Orthopaedic surgery is, at its core, a form of carpentry. It is. Really! We need clever vets, but we also need creative vets who are good at DIY. Vets who know their stuff but who dare to think differently; vets who understand the engineering of chucks, drills and lag screws. It’s a big challenge for the universities, but also for my mates from vet school who are now employing a new generation of James Herriots.
There’s a balance to be struck, of course, and it depends on the job. The key, for me, is developing youngsters to be able to achieve their full potential, whatever it is they are interested in, they want to do as a job and that makes them happy. As I look back on all the crazy stuff I have done, there’s no question that it’s been making and mending things that have given me the most satisfaction.
So, what’s all this to do with classic cars? Well, in my case, a lot, actually. I was lucky enough to be brought up in a family that encouraged me to DIY. With my dad’s help and guidance, I started servicing the family cars (Mini, Transit Van, 3-Litre Capri) when I was twelve and restored my first car (Herald 13/60 drophead) when I was seventeen. The practical and problem-solving skills I began to develop back then have served me well, not just in the workshop, but also out filming, doing wildlife fieldwork and fixing broken biology in the operating theatre.
So, if your teenage kids have the urge to wield spanners, don’t let them tinker with your hi-tech, 21st century TDI. Get them a classic. My recommendation – a Spitfire. Why? Because you can sit on the front wheel whilst tuning the carburettors using a piece of hose pipe! An engine that was designed to be worked on, and not to be ignored!
If, like me, you worry that our current education model may not be the best fit for the modern world, check out this incredible talk from Sir Ken Robinson — it’s funny. Really funny, but also massively thought-provoking.