Meet The Teacher: Mr Purkiss
Mr Purkiss, Bede’s Prep School’s new Deputy Head, never wanted to be a teacher.
“It might seem a bit strange,” he explains, “but when I was at school it was the last thing on my mind.”
Instead, throughout his time in education – right through until his time at University, through which he was sponsored by the Royal Artillery – all he wanted to do was play Rugby.
“I got to the point where I was playing for Moseley RFC after having spent my school years at Princethorpe College. I played scrum half with a passion. My whole life was geared around wanting to play for Leicester and to this day I’m green, red and white inside. There was nothing I wanted more.”
Then, however, disaster struck. After a career-ending injury, Mr Purkiss’ life changed forever.
“I remember saying to myself, ‘What’s the plan now?’ and, honestly, I didn’t have one.”
After graduating with a degree in Ocean Science and Geophysics, Mr Purkiss went back to where his adult life started, at Princethorpe, where his old Housemaster sat him down and offered him a job.
“He saved my life in a way. The role he gave me was purely Pastoral. I was an Assistant Housemaster in the all-boys Catholic school I had attended less than a decade earlier and came to realise, really, that not only had I come full-circle but that I was being given a chance to take a second run at things.”
Princethorpe, which was once called St Bede’s, encouraged Mr Purkiss to step into the classroom. At first he “dabbled” but before long had “slipped feet first” into teaching science, both at GCSE and A Level, and before he knew it he was leading a life he had never imagined.
“Honestly, as much as I enjoyed it, I still didn’t feel like I belonged there. By that point I had met my wife to be and we talked about it together. We didn’t want to be those people who just went to school as children and never left, so we upped sticks and did what lots of people do in their twenties – we moved to London.”
Keen to try something new, Mr Purkiss embarked on a career in the city, but soon found himself feeling restless.
“I was attracted by what looked to be glamorous,” he says, “but it all felt a bit meaningless. But then I started working as a supply teacher and everything changed. I stumbled into a total and utter epiphany.”
The revelation, as Mr Purkiss describes it, came when he started teaching younger children.
“I don’t know how to describe it. Up until it happened I knew I enjoyed teaching but something never felt quite right. And then, being around these energetic little people, seeing their curiosity and their passion to learn, I realised that I didn’t just like being a teacher – I loved it.”
Teaching first at Cottesmore and then at Copthorne, where he was Head of Science and Head of Boarding for five years, both Mr Purkiss and his wife embraced life in education with all of their energy.
“One of the best things about teaching younger children is that you have the freedom to teach the biggest concepts – really complicated, sophisticated stuff – to people who sincerely want to learn more. At the Prep School age, Science lessons can cover the same topics as you might at GCSE but the odds are your pupils will really want to learn.”
Inspiring children to think scientifically, according to Mr Purkiss, is fundamental to their success in Senior School and life beyond; the way he talks about the “educational timeline,” identifying how younger pupils can “discover themselves and put their lives in a grander context” makes it clear how passionate he now is about his vocation. Even in recent years, however, his love of teaching has taken some knocks.
“We spent some time at King’s in Taunton, where I was Head of Boarding, and that was absolutely brilliant,” he says, “although I hardly saw my sons. They are now in Year 2 and 5 and are absolutely loving it here."
For the last 3 years however Mr Purkiss had been Director of Studies at The New Beacon in Sevenoaks where he oversaw the academic life of the school.
“Whilst I enjoyed the challenge immensely, I knew that I wanted to be more involved with the wellbeing of the children and coming to Bede’s, to this role, is as good as it gets. There’s something very special about this place. It helps children to be who they want to be and gives them everything they need to get there. That’s what I’m all about.”