When I first heard of Thomas Tallis School, it was the Spring of 2005, and I was a 24 year old Newly Qualified English Teacher looking for his first job. Knowing that I wanted to leave Kent, where I had trained, I was looking for a comprehensive school, like the one I had attended myself as a child, to work in, rather than the grammar system in which I had trained. Although I knew the kind of school I wanted to work in, I was less sure about where I wanted to move to: Brighton, near where I grew up, and where many of my old friends now lived, or the big smoke of London for a fresh start? Hedging my bets, I applied for two jobs, one in Brighton and one in London, figuring I could make my final decision at a later point.
Why Tallis? Well, when I visited the website, it talked of creativity, of the arts, of being a ‘Leading Edge’ school (whatever that meant). The English department was heavily represented on the website, and described as a strong one. And the website celebrated diversity and inclusion. As a former A-Level Music student, I also knew who Thomas Tallis was (and my friend’s dad was a founder member of the Tallis Scholars). If I’m honest, though, the main thing that really sticks in my mind all these years later was a picture of a teacher I would later come to know as Mr Bradshaw, with a broad grin on his face. The website mentioned that lots of school staff were proud to educate their own children there. It all seemed good enough to me. Applications duly sent, I waited. The school in Brighton never got back to me; Tallis did – they’d like to invite me to interview. So off I went.
Making my preparations, I mentioned to a neighbour at the time where I was off to. ‘Kidbrooke!?’, they exclaimed, ‘Rather you than me!’ was their not very helpful comment. Alighting from the train at Kidbrooke Station on a warm Friday and being confronted by the breeze blocks and broken windows of the by now crumbling Ferrier Estate, I began to see why they might have felt as they did. The old school building itself wasn’t much more inviting: further breeze blocks and broken windows and a sign reading ‘DEAD SLOW’ in red block capitals. I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t feel like turning round and heading back home.
But on I went, stepping into the old Reception. Mrs Roberts herself has said that you know within just a few moments of setting foot in a school whether you like it or not, and I immediately felt as if I hadn’t made a mistake. The school felt vibrant, lively, happy and, in spite of its exterior appearance, welcoming. The students didn’t turn and stare at you as soon as you walked in, as I was used to from my experiences in Kent. They were friendly, as were the staff I spoke to, who also had an air of casual happiness in the t-shirts and jeans that most customarily wore in those days. I met the department (‘It’s great here – you can teach what you like!’) and felt like the interview had gone well. Walking back to the station I felt I had found my school. I awaited the phone call impatiently.
But if it was love at first sight for me, evidently my own first impressions weren’t quite as strong as I had thought. I didn’t get the job – it had gone to another candidate. Oh well, I consoled myself, plenty more schools out there to apply to. I drowned my sorrows and moved on, vowing to forget all about Thomas Tallis School. All until the next Monday morning, when a frantic phone call advised that I’d had a reprieve: a second post was available, teaching A-Level philosophy (and a bit of KS3 drama – a one year experiment about which the less said is the better!) in addition to the English. I thought for all of a few seconds before excitedly accepting. I believe I have the still smiling Mr Bradshaw to thank for that one.
As was customary at the time, before starting for proper in September, it was agreed that I would spend two weeks in school at the start of July. I didn’t know at the time quite what a momentous two weeks they would turn out to be for me. If you would have told me then that I would still be here 17 years later, that I would eventually find myself as Head of School, I wouldn’t have been able to believe it.
So, let’s rewind to the 7 July 2005. It had been decided that the whole school was going to go on a trip that day: every tutor group to a different location around London in order to experience and appreciate the architecture and landscape of the city. The Big Day Out was an excellent plan long in the making, and it would prove to be a memorable experience for all concerned – just not for the reasons we might have expected. My group hadn’t made it far beyond Kidbrooke when urgent calls started to be received on our, in those days far from smart, mobile phones. Terrorists had attacked central London, killing 52 people and injuring hundreds more. It remains the worst single terrorist atrocity on British soil.
Thankfully, no members of the Tallis Community were injured that day. Checking orders, we returned to school, with the staff remaining calm and the students, as ever, keeping in good spirits, engaged in fervent debate about the relative merits of Flaming Hot Doritos or Olive wraps. Later that evening, still feeling shocked and confused after the events of the day, I agreed to meet some friends in a pub in East London, where I would find myself introduced to the woman who is now my wife and the mother of my three children. A momentous day indeed.
In addition to teaching English and Philosophy, and (with a colleague) introducing A-level Creative Writing (RIP), I have been fortunate to hold many fantastic roles at Tallis: UCAS Assistant, Head of English, Assistant Headteacher, Deputy Headteacher, and now Head of School. I have loved every single one of them. Why have I stayed so long? Well, aside from a lack of imagination and a dislike of moving, the Tallis values, which predate any of us and will outlive us all are a significant factor. Creativity, Inclusion, Community, intellectuality, celebrating diversity, non-conformity – these are I think the essence of what one of our governors refers to as our Tallisy-ness. Over the last decade, we have done some work on formulating these values more coherently: we want students to be Inquisitive, collaborative, persistent, disciplined and imaginative. We want to send out young people into the world who are honest, respectful, fair, optimistic and, most of all, kind. Looking back on my own experiences, these more recently defined attributes of the Tallis community have always been there, I think, in my beloved colleagues – the staff - as well as in you, the students.
So why am I leaving now? Well, like Thanos, change is inevitable, and unavoidable. Having been at Tallis for a third of its 50 years, now seems like as good a time as any to move on. I have found another community comprehensive school, this time near Brighton, looking for a Headteacher to help make it the leading creative and inclusive school in its region, and I think that I have learned enough from my time at Tallis to help to lead it towards its goal. Although I may be leaving Tallis, I remain fully committed to the comprehensive educational ideal, believing that the community comprehensive school is the best tool society has for enabling its young people to understand the world and change it for the better.
Tallis isn’t a building (the breeze blocks of the old site or this more appealing one), and it isn’t any individual students or staff. It’s an idea, a principle; values, habits and character. And as I prepare to move back to Sussex with my family, it is these that I will be carrying with me, in my heart.
-- Jon Curtis-Brignell
These remarkable pictures represent a small sample of an archive that I inherited from the 'old school'. I've had them for about 11 years, carefully stored at the back of a filing cabinet in my office. The celebrations this year have prompted me to get some of them scanned and this is the result.
As a photography teacher, I'm impressed by the quality of many of these pictures. Some of them have a surreal charm. Some are hilarious - the children rolling around in the snow, for example. Some have a purely documentary interest. One or two of the portraits are striking. They capture a variety of activities - school trips to Scotland and the Alps, cooking and eating, DT projects, sports days. They remind us that the school used to have cherry trees on the concourse and the Ferrier Estate once loomed over us.
Many of the individuals in these pictures must now be grandparents. As I'm never tired of telling my students, (mis-quoting Roland Barthes) photographs remind us of things lost. My favourite image is of a young boy wearing flared jeans and Doctor Marten boots gently extracting something hot from a school oven with the aid of a tea towel. He doesn't yet know whether what he's cooked is beautiful or edible. I can't help thinking that this is the perfect visual metaphor for education.
-- Jon Nicholls
The life of the father of English choral music Thomas Tallis is an enigma. Historical documents that reveal his character and thinking habits are like finding a needle in a haystack. What does survive in abundance is the huge volume of musical scores that illuminate many of our inferences about the qualities he must have displayed during his 45 years of working for four Tudor monarchs at the Greenwich Palace of Placentia.
With so little to go on other than the musical scores, how was the History Department going to conceive of a celebration of his life in the form of a KS3 visit and historical enquiry? Where should we go? What might we see? What would we ask the students to consider? What use might it be today as the school that bears his name celebrates its 50th Anniversary year?
In an attempt to solve these puzzles, staff members made their way to the Church of St. Alfege and the Old Royal Naval College Visitors' Centre in the heart of the world heritage site of Greenwich in the summer of 2021 and from there the vision began to take shape.
The wonderful staff of St Alfege Church would help illuminate the artefacts in their Tallis corner and a visit to the crypt using torches to investigate further. Similarly, colleagues at the ORNC Visitors Centre would reveal evidence of the former Greenwich Palace of Placentia where he worked for the best part of five decades. The aim? To exercise student inquisitiveness and consider the relationship between Tallis the man and the place where he worked. Furthermore, to explore the connections with the character and habits that the school encourages the students to develop in their journey through Thomas Tallis school, in the 5 decades of public education provision it as provided in this part of southeast London.
The result? Ten consecutive days of trips for the whole of Year 7 and 8 that witnessed the collaboration not only of our school with external providers but the invaluable contribution of staff from pastoral, special needs, administrative and kitchen staff ably supported by our Senior Leaders Team, too many to mention.
The legacy? Our students know who he was, where he worked and the incredible character and habits, he maintained throughout his time here in Greenwich 1540-1585. Our students understand the reason these characteristics and habits remain of such significance in their own journeys in life, wherever they may lead. A webpage documenting the visits can be viewed here. And, thanks to colleagues and students in the media arts, here's a film version of our shared adventure:
Here's what some of colleagues had to say about the experience:
I attended Thomas Tallis between 1973 and 1980 with my twin brother Simon.
It could be a rough environment for someone with a posh accent who liked learning, but there were good times. Highlights included a fantastic library, drama productions and some great teachers. I once visited a really, really posh private boarding school with a dedicated arts building and remember thinking, "well the art at Thomas Tallis was just as good as that".
There were lots of hilarious times in class. I remember once my brother told a joke in maths that people didn't get and he explained it was "a J O K X squared", which made the class fall about (lots of maths equations with kxsquared).
One time a lorry full of oranges spilled its load on the Rochester Road outside school. The school filled up with the smell of oranges and there was peel all over the carpets. The Deputy Head came over the tannoy saying "I know they literally fell off the back of a lorry, but..."
The school uniform at the beginning was made of awful navy crimplene with a tunic and trousers - I was literally the only girl in the school whose parents bought it, so embarrassing. I was made to do a fashion show for new parents. The picture below is the closest thing I could find.
This picture made me laugh and the pinafore is about right, although Thomas Tallis paired it with lovely crimplene trousers for girls. Most girls wore skirts and tops and there were fantastic 70s fashion trends with very long and very short shirts, and tops with enormous polo necks.
Drama was a big part of school life at Tallis and we wrote all our own productions. I vividly recall writing about a miners' strike in the Minotaur's labyrinth (very topical in the 1970s) and designing the poster and program for our play about the Children's Crusade.
We once had a bit of snooty substitute teacher for music. He played us an avant garde piece of music and asked us to write a poem inspired by it. It made me think of a planet waking up with dramatic earthquakes, lava floes, volcanoes and storms, then subsiding again. The teacher could not believe the quality of our poetry and the sophistication of our vocabulary and use of language and actually apologised to the class about his low expectations. I hope we inspired him to take up state school teaching.
The school was built of lots of grey concrete and lacked plants, apart from the beautiful trees full of blossom at the front - their branches poked in through the classroom windows and girls put flowers in their hair. As a keen gardener I decided to address the grim situation with some daring guerilla gardening. (Apparently guerilla gardening was invented in 1970s California, so this was on trend). The school caretaker couldn't understand why flowers kept popping up in the empty concrete planters and between the paving stones!
The sixth form had a dedicated floor at the top of the school with its own kitchen and fridge. I took advantage of this to make ice lollies to sell to fellow students in the summer - very popular!
With the great teaching I got As in all my O, A and S levels except German, (ironic as I now live in German-speaking Basel, Switzerland), and was lucky enough to win an ILEA Inner London Scheme place at Magdalen College Oxford to read Chemistry, where I got a First and a PhD. After one year I was awarded a prestigious "Demyship" scholarship, so despite getting in on a special ILEA scheme and not doing the entrance exam, I definitely deserved to be there. I hope schemes like the ILEA once still exist - no way I could have done the exams as I was studying Nuffield science A levels.
I've had a really great career in the pharma and biotech industry and am very proud of having made a real difference for some nasty diseases.
Nothing in life has been anything like as challenging as what I faced at school, so it gave me a lot of resilience for which I'm really grateful.
-- Sarah Holland
In January, it will be thirty years since I started teaching at Thomas Tallis. I had had an unhappy time at my first school, under a head unsympathetic to my request to return part time after the birth of my first daughter. But walking through the gates on the day of my interview, I have never looked back. This is the place where I immediately felt I belonged, and it has remained a home from home ever since.
I have thrived in the English faculty, where under many different leaders I have been given autonomy as well as guidance and support. I have seen so many great teachers and great people come and go – Siobhan McCauley, Soren Hawes, Maureen Housden, Di Broughton, and the wonderful Cameron Sayers, who died so suddenly a couple of years ago – and working with such committed individuals has been a joy. Together with their clear-sighted intelligence, compassion and humanity, their sharp and often mischievous humour has seen us through some dark times.
I joined the sixth form team in 1999 after taking my first tutor group through from year 8 to year 11. (I campaigned hard as a part time teacher to be allowed to have a tutor group – imagine that state of affairs now). Under the exceptional leadership of Cath Barton, who had taken over from Tallis legend Stuart Turpie, the sixth form was a wonderful team to be a part of. Under Cath, the sixth from grew in size, and now there are over 700 students, coming from all over southeast London and beyond, from a vast range of diverse backgrounds, benefiting from an outstanding sixth from experience, as we benefit from their energy, wisdom and style.
I began to get involved in progression as soon as I joined the sixth from team, supporting the small number of students who were making applications to Oxford and Cambridge. Working with the great Brian Jones was a delight: if there’s one key attribute a teacher needs that I struggle with it’s patience, and I would give anything to be able to maintain the calm, gentle composure he showed. When Brian left, I took over the role of UCAS coordinator, in those days dealing with about 60 applicants a year. This year we have well over 300 applicants. This is certainly one of my favourite parts of the job - seeing students leave the school excited for futures that offer them so many choices and opportunities.
My eldest daughter joined the sixth form in 2010 and went on to study history at Oxford and is now a primary school teacher in Southwark. My middle daughter teaches maths at Greycoats and my youngest is finishing an apprenticeship at Invicta Deptford, and although I have never tried to influence their career choices, I’m sure their decision to join the profession is due in large part to the enthusiasm which they saw in me for teaching and life at Tallis.
There have been times of great upheaval and huge stress, and soon after the move to the new school I saw many of my close friends and colleagues forced out, but Tallis remains Tallis and resists any attempts to circumscribe or change it. That Tallis ethos and spirit is a powerful and enduring thing. I’ll finish with perhaps one of my favourite anecdotes. When my youngest daughter was in year 9, I remember talking about the upcoming Community Day. Her response – “that’s so Tallis. At my school we’d have Conformity Day.”
Community and non-conformity – that’s so Tallis.
-- Oonagh McGowan
5.15 pm, after a long day and a staff meeting that stretched out like an adolescent’s well chewed piece of gum, I was last on the agenda. I stood and faced a sea of tired faces, took a breath and made my proposal.
We are working hard to give everyone an active voice in shaping what the new school will look and feel like. I think we can do more to develop and expand the language we all have to describe that place. Every student should get a taste of the architectures of London, everyone should have the opportunity to explore as wide a range of buildings, of places across the city as is possible. As a staff are you willing to make London ours? Take a day as a community to go out and look at places, move amongst those places, talk about them. A way to help the school find its voice as the children, as we all, connect our experiences on the day out to what we want our new school to be like inside and out. A day to ask what are the feelings, what is the ethos, what is it we want to take with us? Are you in?
Putting down my scrappy notes I look around that grey, concrete breeze block hall to see hands going up everywhere – every hand. And thus, the Big Day Out was created. And that was the Tallis ethos right there – a willingness to do something a bit off plan, a desire to give every opportunity possible to the school community, willing volunteers to the mere outline of a plan, risk takers, hard-workers.
Over the next few months staff decided on which place of significance, of connection they and their group of children would explore. Some planned to go as far as the Wetlands in West London some as close by as the Laban Centre in Deptford. Every member of staff, every student – out for the whole day.
In my office I and a small team worked at the end of a teaching day, collating, tabulating and budgeting as each member of staff planned their day, booked their travel, collected in permission slips and all the rest of the tedious but necessary elements of a school trip. This trip – en masse, 700 students, leaving the building for the whole day.
A buzz, a sea of blue sweatshirts, rucksacks, bags and hats, walking shoes or not. And so we all set off – walking to train stations, clambering onto coaches, driving away in the school mini-buses.
This film 'Tallis Space' is about the conversations we had when we were planning the new school building.
The Big Day Out section begins at 17:50
Then a whisper, a stir, phones ringing, texts pinging. I was with a group nearly at our destination of Kenwood House, when we started to hear about some event, some disruption in town and our driver got the word via his handheld radio that he couldn’t go through central London. This was 2005 social media was not yet a thing, no iPhones, mobiles were not that smart. As we all shared experiences later – it took a while for the news to get through. The Big Day Out was July 7th 2005. The day of the London bombings. And so it became our Big Day In – groups gradually made their way back to school, those who had set out on public transport had to weave their way around cancelled and diverted trains and buses. Parents set out with cars and vans meeting staff and children, piling them in and driving them back to base. Tables laid out in the concourse with lists of names, slowly being ticked off; staff waiting until everyone child and adult was marked present and safe.
Most of us never got to our destinations that day. We didn’t explore and connect with the landscapes of London, but we did do something else – we reassured, we smiled, we made bad jokes to keep our fears at bay; children shared phones, found ways to connect to parents and pass the messages on, “We’re OK”. Children, parents, and staff working together to get everyone back in. We might not have expanded our vocabulary of architecture but we learned about teamwork, problem-solving, being creative, sharing and yes caring. We came back to our “manky”, grey, breeze-block - held together with chewing gum - buildings undeterred. Later in the year smaller groups would set out to local places and the conversations continued.
What goes on inside a school will ultimately define its personality, leave a mark for every generation. The Big Day Out for many was certainly a “memorable educational experience” as Tallis’ current headteacher writes. Ms Roberts goes on to speak of our responsibility to teach “young people how to live a good life … through the virtuous route of sustained endeavour, curiosity, substance, breadth, depth, kindness and selflessness.”
On July 7th 2005 the Tallis community had all those qualities in bucket loads!
-- Siobhan McCauley, teacher at Thomas Tallis from April 1989 to August 2012.
This is a story about loyalty, from my first year of teaching at Tallis. '96 or '97, I forget now. In the dreadful old building, but with the same fantastic South London children. I think about the cast concerned, M and N, and W, from time to time. They are of an age for their children to come here now, and I think that some do.
Inspections from OFSTED back then were multi-day affairs for which a number of weeks’ notice was supplied, generating large amounts of paperwork in response. A school lived or died by the aggregate score of lesson observations as the main measure of teaching quality, together with the proportion of GCSE students awarded 5 A-C grades including English and Maths. Both measures since utterly discredited, although they ruined many a teaching career.
Schools stank of new paint and desperation when the Inspectors came calling, as they did to Tallis that summer. The English department was under the cosh over the exam results from the year before. I can still recall the (feigned, we felt) surprise of the Lead Inspector, his face pursed like a man sucking a Werther's Original on the top deck of the 286 whilst taking himself to Queen Mary’s for treatment for his prostate difficulties.
The Year 9 class I had that year were sufficient to generate a measure of anxiety about the likely findings of the Inspectorate. I was a newcomer in these matters and Year 9 students, delightfully, are on the cusp of late adolescence and early young adulthood - 13 going on 14, or rather older (it might appear) in some cases. There had been a number of trials to face over my successful delivery of the curriculum and relationships with some of the students had been rocky. One girl, N, had just taken violent exception to my contacting her parent to express distress at her forthright manner in class. Mum had not been entirely supportive on the phone and it was clear that full and frank discussions of the neophyte taking English lessons had occurred at home. Even shaving my head and bulking up by going to the gym six days a week so that I resembled, vaguely, N's scary older brother - the lad had been removed from Tallis by mutual agreement just after the start of the year - was no longer cutting it and resentments were reaching a rolling boil amongst N's crew, all of whom sat, pallid but with striking maquillage, along the back row. “Why,” N had yelled the week before, fixing me with a gimlet eye, “d’you got to bring my FAMILY into it?”. Subsequent pique kept her at home for a period and I was hoping that there’d be a continuing series of no-shows for the inspection.
And then there was M, out of school more than in. He was a slight lad with an extraordinarily loud voice for someone with his frame. I don’t believe I’ve ever encountered the like in the 25 years since. His family all had very significant hearing impairments but I don’t believe they signed, so M communicated with them simply by raising his voice. Schooled in this from early childhood, he knew no other way of speaking than by doing so at the most remarkable volume. He had a diaphragm like a blacksmith’s bellows and great autonomy at home because his parents deferred to him in all worldly matters, such were their communication difficulties. He was self-made, it appeared, in most ways. Writing was challenging for him and so it was a thing he refused to do, although on occasion I wrote at his dictation whilst the rest of the class grudgingly got on with something. The endpapers of his book were full of scurrilous neon felt-tip illustrations and although they were torn out with rigour on my part wherever I came across them I was in a double-bind about it as the only way of preventing them recrudescing was if he did not take his book home - making him therefore unable to complete any homework.
The wry humour of my predicament both over this and over his conduct in lessons was not lost on him as M was a keen observer of my many failings as a classroom practitioner, even liking to end lessons with exit-interview comments: “I DIDN’T GET ANY OF THAT.” or “S**T LESSON SIR. JOKE.” - even though it clearly wasn’t. (A joke, I mean. The lesson I can’t speak for now, actually.) Death in Terry Pratchett speaks only in majuscules, and so did M, and both were equally fatal to a calm state of mind. His views on any matter tended to the extreme and this and the volume with which they were presented usually instantly derailed orderly learning. Remonstrating with him was utterly without point, as was setting a detention, as he just stayed at home until the dust had settled. Calling his parents was useless for obvious reasons. During lessons M drew smut in his book, whilst occasionally putting his hand up to chip in, a hand I was usually too craven to pick for fear of what might be said. Not that it made much difference: even M’s sub-rosa mutterings of discontent were quite audible as his whisper was at normal conversational volume for a mortal.
Now terror was abroad. Some lessons across the school earlier that week had failed to make the grade and that and the statistics showing us up meant it was coming down to the wire. The final lessons that Friday needed to be decent or the school was for it. I was hoping the Key Players would be out but honesty has always been our leitmotif at Tallis and we resolutely refused (as other schools did, and do, one hears) to send the naughty kids home on gardening leave any time we were inspected. And the week of the inspection both N and M were in every day. I didn’t quite understand why.
My heart was in my boots - I hadn’t yet been seen but knew I would be. N bore grudges I was certain and was sure to play up; M was quite simply indifferent to what anyone else thought. He liked to call a spade a shovel and had previously shown that he was almost entirely indifferent to authority, for to him no power was legitimate but his own. Luckily, though, the inspectors knew enough not to appear in the classroom of a Newly Qualified Teacher it seemed, and I’d been spared a visit, perhaps also for reasons to do with the way that class’s timetable worked. During Monday morning’s lesson the inspection team had been setting up their workroom, and the midweek lessons were last thing in the day, when Findings were being Written Up.
The school only had to make it through to Friday lunchtime without terminal mishap, as the final debriefing session with the inspection team occupied Friday's graveyard slot. I had the Year 9 class period four, the last possible time for a visit, and of course the door opened after the first ten minutes of the lesson and the Lead Inspector came in with the Clipboard Of Doom and took a seat at the back, began flipping through the lesson plan. Revenge is a dish best eaten cold, and the lesson was potentially a cup of lumpy cold sick with a spoon shoved into it. If N or M wished to show me up and take the school down too, this was their time. I can’t now remember what the topic was - something from Blair's National Literacy Strategy probably - Writing to Focus Group, a thing of that sort.
Well now. I didn’t fancy my chances but of course I didn’t know then that the students here might hate the teachers, or say they do, in normal circumstances, yet the agio pneuma descends when interlopers come calling. The comitatus was everything: the tribe fought off Tacitus's men at the gates to the hilI-fort in the Downs, piled up the breach with their English dead at Agincourt, and played up and played the game at Wadi Rum in the Age of Empire until the sand of the desert was sodden red. Honour is more than a word, I now know, and loyalty was the thing. As far as N and M were concerned, the honour of the school was at stake and they wished to play their part.
I had taken the advice of the wily Head of Faculty when preparing for the ordeal - we all had - and the steer was to get something set up and then get the kids to knock on with it, on the basis that OFSTED's judgement allegedly hung solely on the charisma of the performer plus a bit of vox pop with the kids. (OFSTED were obsessed with lesson ‘pace’ as well - ‘Mush! Mush, children! We have life-changing exams to prepare for!’). To this the counter was: twenty minutes setup, give out the resources, twenty-five minutes of writing, wrap things up, done. It might throw the inspectors off the scent: if the Sage On The Stage wasn’t performing, it tilted them into a Book Look - and I had diligently been marking the kids’ work, when not tearing it out - or they had to talk to the students. Ranks might close up - that was the hope, anyway. A high-risk strategy with my lot, I felt.
So as long as M’s book was free of pornographic depictions, it might be fine. And that particular kindergarten had been weeded of things rank and gross that possess’d it merely the week before. More, I'd called in a favour with his Head of Year, the only person M rated in the whole school, who'd instructed him not to say a single word if the Inspectors visited. The fix was in, probably one involving fags. N was fond of incorrect verb agreements - we was always doing this that and the other in her biographic writing from earlier in the term - but she was caught up in the drama of her own life with rare intensity and her book was voluminously if inaccurately scripted. As long as no-one wound her up, she might do. The other kids were smashers and the weakest in the class, W, loved WWF. His piece about Wrestlemania 13 was a terse masterpiece of action description, which even though it sometimes lacked even spaces between words (sample: 'TheUndertakerwasdonein') could not but impress even the hardest heart via its innovative use of scriptio continua to convey the feverish excitement of the mash-up being described, one circulating at the time in school on dodgy VHS tapes bought from Lewisham Market.
I finished the set-up, and set them to it. Chop chop. Andiamo. M seemed to be keeping to his word, and N and her henchwomen were getting on with the task: they had strong opinions to defend. I toured the room widdershins speaking to children as, clockwise, did the Inspector.
How would things turn out? At first, N stared him down, but then showed her book. Nods of engagement. All the students had a ‘Writing Frame’, a Wizard Wheeze that I had picked up during teacher training the year before. It was writing-as-colour-by-numbers, but also at the bleeding edge of pedagogical refinement. If a child was stuck, they could dip in to help themselves craft a sentence, that was the theory. Or copy out verbatim, that was the reality. Pens were moving, matters were going along. I was beginning to feel a rising confidence, until I saw that the endpapers of M's English book were being scrawled in with his felt-tips, the lad doing this with an oddly stilted body language, leaning in over the desk whilst his pen moved frantically, the leaves of the book not opened fully, hiding what was being produced, yet working at blistering pace. Shading in, not writing, was happening. What was going on?
The Inspector worked his way round to him whilst a sense of creeping dread began to grow in me. Christ, what was the boy doing? But the pages were flipped back before the Inspector could get to them, and M wasn’t for sharing. A headshake. Would he say something, kill the mood of fragile scholarship? I tried to make eye contact with M to warn him off. Nothing doing. Nada. Zip. Nowt. Studied avoidance of interaction. So: on. Select a few students: oral feedback to individuals, then read the best bits aloud to the class. Take volunteers. Dole out grudging praise. Sing for your supper you buggers. Studiously ignore M and N, praise the behaviour you want to see more of, just like in the teaching manuals. The clock was ticking down and we were nearly there. Then we were.
The Inspector came to the front to thank the class for being so helpful to him in his deliberations. This brief farewell from the Man From The Ministry and then the students were dismissed and began to filter out. N and her shipmates departed. A loud shriek from one as they left, a scuffle. M remained. He had found a Thing To Do. He began to beckon from his seat in the gloom at the back. His gestures, at first shy, intensified. He began to smile. A rictus developed. His wiry hand scooped the air. Yes, you, you there - come and see. Enter freely and leave something of the happiness you bring behind. Like Jonathan Harker at the threshold, the Inspector knew something was up, but could not prevent himself from approaching M for the Big Reveal.
And there it was. With a flourish the book was flipped open on M’s desk, and the Inspector flipped off: M had spent the entire lesson crafting in garish capitals the instruction F**K OFF, neatly laid out across an entire double A4 spread. An illustrative finger indicated the imperative and M made eye contact, nodding excitedly as he did so. Yeah? Yeah? He seemed mute with delight; the inspector was mute for other reasons I think. No-one spoke, a relief.
The tableau unfroze and the parties departed. I packed up my things and left for the English Office, inwardly composing my letter of application to the Audit Commission, a public body my mother, a former headteacher herself, had always favoured over education work. Office stuff, away from the general public. Yes, that was it. Secluded back rooms. Yes. She knew best.
Later the Head sought me out. The Inspection team had turned out to be one of the good ones - they weren’t, always - and the Lead Inspector was a HMI appointed in the days when that actually meant something. My lesson hadn’t saved the day - the other, vastly more experienced English teachers had done that - but I had been mentioned in dispatches for a brave job in trying circumstances. M hadn’t even needed to speak, at the end, because his single contribution said all. No exit interview required.
Loyal to a fault, our lot. Loyal to (a) T.
-- Jon Bradshaw
The Ferrier Estate, one of the largest in Europe, was state situated in Kidbrooke, Greenwich. The council decided that it needed to be modernised through a regeneration scheme. I was a resident community activist and, together with the local authority, a community day was proposed as a channel to keep the community united and informed about the redevelopment process and future decisions that might affect the area. Named the Ferrier International Feast Day (FIFD), the first event took place on the 3rd of October 2003.
These pictures represent the engagement and makeup of the local community which included churches, businesses and a few primary schools. As the local secondary school, Tallis played an important role, providing support and helping to ensure the success of the Feast Days and other community events that followed in subsequent years - tree dressings, carnival parades and, of course, more Feast Days. At one time, the school took over the abandoned NatWest bank offices, turning it into an art gallery and community consultation space. Working with local practitioners, such as Taru Arts, and the Paraiso School of Samba, Tallis helped to coordinate events designed to engage local residents in celebrating the strong sense of community on the estate and in imagining the future of The Ferrier.
Regeneration of the area continues to this day with new buildings and a new location for Thomas Tallis School. The whole area is now known as Kidbrooke Village.
As a community activist, I am very proud of the work we all did in the early 1990s and continue to do for future generations to come.
Happy birthday Thomas Tallis School.
-- Rosa Gonçalves
Down stage left huddled in the wing. Submerged in darkness as the house lights reverberate with a resounding clunk! The light melts away. Only the sound of gentle, slightly heightened, breathing and the palpable blend of excitement and fear, laced with a tinge of adrenaline, fills that cocooned space. A cast waits in the wings ready to make their entrance into the performance space. All the work here is now done. Characters developed, lines learnt, staging blocked, set and costumes designed and made, lighting and sound set. Months of rehearsals in preparation.
At this moment I am redundant. It is now totally theirs as they get ready to step into the space and shine ... and so many have shone so very brightly .
So many plays devised and scripted have begun life from that womb-like corner. From the legendary Cabaret, Romeo & Juliet, Abigail's Party to the magically chaotic and anarchic year 7-9 showcase evenings when improvised pieces were selected from Drama lessons and performed in front of huge audiences. Not for the faint-hearted or those who hoped for an early night!
From that corner I remember hanging onto Leeroy’s (cast Threepenny Opera) pots and pans strapped around him, so they would not jangle. He whispered in my ear, "I’m scared!" I whispered back, "So am I!" Gently sprinkling water on Emily’s (Sally Bowles, Cabaret) face and hair to give her that ravaged streaky mascara look, while simultaneously doing a ten second full costume change. Trapped with the head of Drama, Ginny Lester and a ginormous chair donated from Emma Jeff’s parents' front room in the Life and works of Oscar Wilde, our response to Clause 28. Telling Colin Yardley (the then headteacher), who had agreed to take on the role the prince in Romeo and Juliet in full doublet and hose, to under no circumstances break a leg as we would all be in the quagmire! This was after he had gamely taken part every night in the full cast warm-ups, which included saluting the sun, in said full costume with a dodgy leg.
Many students from Tallis have had interesting and successful careers in the performing Arts - Sam Spruell, Kat Joyce, Dominic Cooper, Ezra Godden, Hannah Chiswick, Marney Godden, Lisa Cowan, Hannah Gittos, Liam Mayasaki-Lane, Will Beer, Ihsan Rustem, Chenai Takundwa, Graham Rinaldi, Kae Tempest, Max Key ,Joe Kerridge, Kemi Nzerem, Nathan Cooper - as actors, directors, designers, writers, musicians, dancers, community arts facilitators, journalists, presenters and artists of the spoken word. These are to mention just a few. Apologies if you are not listed here. You are not forgotten!
Drama should promote confidence, teamwork, empathy, the ability to listen, critique and negotiate, an appreciation of aesthetics, voice projection, discipline and belief. It should be a safe space in which to take risks, make mistakes, play, experience that "Wooohoo" feeling, be challenging whilst also having fun. I think that Drama has impacted on many students outside of the industry and in so many different walks of life.
Tallis has always invested in the arts in its broadest sense. I believe this central focus and its rippling effect is one of the many ingredients that attracted interesting members of staff. It was one of the key reasons I stayed for so long. Arriving on supply, to pay an electricity bill, I hung around for 31 years. Drama is just the best subject to teach and I was honoured and privileged to have taught such talented, intelligent, creative, witty, fine young people .
I have many warm, funny and occasional tough memories of Tallis. Many tales could be told in my role as a tutor, Head of Year and head of the Sixth Form. But the place that I always zoom back to when thinking of Tallis, and the feelings that have never been recaptured and that are still missed, is always being squashed up in that darkened corner downstage left, huddled in the wing.
-- Cath Barton