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Understanding Humanism: interview with humanist school speaker, Tim Purches

As we gear up to support teachers and schools at the start of a new school term, we caught up with one of our humanist school speakers, Tim Purches, about his experience of training and becoming a fully accredited humanist school speaker, his first ever school visit, and the joy of answering the questions from pupils curious to know more about the humanist approach to life, and why you should become a school speaker, too.

Hi Tim, what motivated you to become a humanist school speaker?

It seemed to be a really worthwhile way of doing something positive to help schools teach children about humanism. I was a little doubtful about if it was really for me, but after the training I ended up as the only trained speaker in my local area – Plymouth – so I felt obliged to at least give it a go. It turned out to be a really good decision!

Why is it important for children to learn about humanism in school?

Someone’s worldview, be it religious or not, can be fundamental to how they see the world and live their life. To me, RE lessons have a valuable role in helping children understand at least some of those worldviews as a way of preparing them for living in a society with a wide diversity of beliefs. Clearly, with so many people now lacking any sort of religious belief, it’s key that they learn about non-religious worldviews too. I also very much hope they are encouraged by RE to consider their own beliefs. Many of them will end up being non-religious, and a better understanding of humanism can help them develop a framework around which they can shape their own personal outlook on life.

What was training with Humanists UK like? How did it prepare you?

It only lasted one day, but was intensive and focused, and covered all the key areas I needed to know about.  I was fortunate to be able to do my training in-person, and that gave me a valuable opportunity to mix with other potential school speakers.

Could you describe your first school visit and how you felt?

I felt very, very nervous! I’d never done anything like it in my life before, and with no teaching experience or children of my own I was facing a totally unknown type of audience – a classroom of 10 and 11-year-olds. To my surprise, and no little relief, it went off quite well (which is another tribute to the effectiveness of the school speaker training). Of course, experience has taught me there were things I could have done better, but I nevertheless left the school feeling quite positive and that I really had something to offer as a school speaker.

Do you have any particularly memorable experiences to share with us?

The most fun part of any school visit is the questions I get asked at the end. That’s when I get to hear what really interests the children about my life as a humanist, as well as the humanist worldview in general. I mostly speak to Year 6 pupils, but their questions can be just as thoughtful and demanding as any adult. They can be quite entertaining too.

During a recent visit one of the children’s imagination had clearly been caught by the idea of ‘Viking’ funerals, where the body of the deceased floats out over the water in a blazing longboat. He wanted to know if a humanist could have a funeral like that. It was a great opportunity to speak about how humanist funerals are a celebration of someone’s life, and are customised to reflect their wishes and those of their loved ones. Sadly, I had to admit the practicalities of a Viking-style funeral (not to mention the legalities!) would probably make it a bit too out there, even for a humanist ceremony, but I may be wrong.

What resonates with you most about the humanist approach to life?

That it’s a positive outlook, encouraging us to make the most of our time on this planet and to try, even in the smallest of ways, to leave the world a better place than we found it.

Is there anything else you would like to share?

It’s a really rewarding role – I’d recommend it to anyone who feels it’s something they could do.

Thank you, Tim!


If you’re interested in having a positive influence in your local schools and becoming a humanist school speaker, you can apply to our training today! We have two taster sessions on 13 and 22 September and a full training session on 3 December. Apply to become a humanist school speaker today! 

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