Four stories reflecting on teaching and studying science at Tallis:
My tale is one of fairness on the part of Thomas Tallis school. I left Nigeria in 2008 for my A-level program in London and my journey took me to Thomas Tallis school. My mum had researched some good schools in and around our neighbourhood at Thamesmead and Thomas Tallis was one of the schools that stood out because of the diversity of backgrounds of the student, as well as, the excellent academic record of the school. I indicated interest in joining the school, attended a few interviews and it seemed a good match.
However, since I was opting to study Physics, Chemistry, Biology and Mathematics and I had a credit in my WAEC chemistry result, there was doubt about my suitability to study A-level Chemistry at Tallis. Andrew Smythe called me for a one-on-one interview to ascertain my suitability for the program. I remember I was a bit nervous prior to the interview. Notwithstanding, during the interview, I explained why I was suitable for the science program at Tallis and why I believed I was capable of getting an A in Chemistry. I remember answering a few chemistry questions to Andrew's satisfaction and passing the entrance exam that was administered
To cut the long story short, the 2 years I spent studying at Thomas Tallis and under Andrew Smythe was one I'll never forget. Andrew always pushed me to become the absolute best version of myself and I ended up becoming one of the best students in my year - averaging above 90% in all 4 subjects I took!
As long as you're dedicated and willing to work hard, there is no limit to what you can achieve at Thomas Tallis. If I could do it, you can. They have an incredible collection of talented and supportive teachers to help you realise your potential.
The sky is the limit for you!
I started at Tallis in July of 2007 for the last two weeks of term, before officially starting NQT year in September 2007. I remember panicking during my interview lesson (observed my Andy and Mary) as the presentation I had spent hours preparing wouldn’t open up. Either I did a good job or they were really desperate as I landed my first Science teaching job with Andrew Wardell as my mentor and lucky to have my friend Aysha Karim for this journey.
Tallis days in the old building hold a lot of incredible memories and looking back this is where more of the ‘golden’ moments were. There are so many amazing memories, but one that was really poignant was the farewell ball at the old site. Tallis is definitely a place where personally I did a lot of “adulting”. Starting as a fresh faced twenty something year old to getting engaged, marriage, baby and then relocating to another country altogether.
During my time at Tallis, I had the privilege of meeting and teaching amazing students who taught me something every day. It was also amazing to have people like Mary Edmond, Andy Smythe, Andrew Wardell, Phil Manning Douglas Greig and Damien Quigg to learn from and grow as a teacher. Lifelong friends were also made and I’m grateful to have had the experience I did have at Tallis. The Science department will always hold a special place in my heart along with the amazing individuals both in Science and outside of Science.
When I left Tallis in 2015, I left as lead practitioner for Science with experience of being a deputy head of year. This experience really helped me in my current role as Head of Science in an International British Curriculum School in Dubai, UAE. I often do recall wisdom/strategies shared by Mary, Andrew, Andy, Zahra, Damien, Douglas Greig, Aysha, Alex Gibson, Kerry, Hanna Webber, Zoe Drysdale, Claire and Lucy, to name but a few.
Thank you Science and thank you Tallis!
-- Jahida Janna
My first impression of Tallis was on the 5th of July 2006, a rainy, summer day. It was the first open day I had ever attended and remember it like yesterday. It was the day that I met my best friend, Daan Deol, whom I have now known for over half of my life. We first met outside the ‘temporary’ huts, who could ever forget those?
The dark and dingy science corridor in the old building has been etched into my mind for eternity. I could never forget lining up for science classes and someone switching off the lights in the corridor to wreak some mayhem. I had always been curious and fascinated about science, which is why I decided to pursue science at university and become a scientist. That wouldn’t have been possible without all my past science teachers, Mr Wardell, Ms Janna, Ms Karim, Mr Smythe, Ms Claire, Ms Stenhouse and Ms Edwards.
I stayed on at sixth form and made some amazing friends, whom I keep in touch with to this day. I owe Ms McGowan a debt of gratitude for her support in applying to university. As a first-generation university applicant, she made it possible for me to pursue my passion. I am now nearing the end of my PhD in microbiology and will be starting a postdoctoral position at the University of Birmingham.
My tutor Ms Moon was always a constant source of support and encouragement. She had made the daunting experience of secondary school less arduous, and her patience with our tutor group MO was more than admirable. It was only years later after I had left Tallis that I found out she had died from cancer. I owe you, Ms Moon, endless gratitude.
And that is what Tallis has always meant to me; the people I met and the friends I made.
-- Ilyas Alav
My first day at Tallis was a memorable one for me and my brother Michael. Growing up, we watched a lot of American movies showing high school students wearing suits to school. So, preparing for our first day at Tallis, we had our suits ironed and ready. On getting to Tallis, we were the only ones wearing a suit and carrying a briefcase. Everyone stared at us throughout but some students came up to us and welcomed us, making us feel at home. Instead of being embarrassed about wearing a suit, we were made to feel comfortable, which showed us first-hand the values at Tallis.
-- George Ezeanaka
Titter ye not, but I’m a behaviour nerd. Such is the debasement of the language that you’d expect that to mean some super-strict schtick, and may be goggling at my effrontery. How can someone simultaneously be interested in school behaviour while allowing trainers? Woman’s a nutter.
Allow me. Teenagers need structure. They need it not just as training for adult life, though that’s a useful side-effect. They need structure because their brains are constantly reassessing and confronting potentialities. They’re risk takers, boundary-pushers, programmed to start breaking away from home and focus on independence and friends. Some do this more than others. Socio-economics notwithstanding, some are happy to fit in, some rebellious. Some arrive ready for pleasant community life, some are prickles and pickles from head to foot. The needs or desires of the one seem hardwired to clash with the deserts of the many.
This is the context for secondary behaviour management. How you respond thereafter is a matter of educational principles, of belief. Do these children need to be metaphorically battered into obedience to save them from themselves or coaxed into their best selves?
I’m thinking about the last 50 years in these pieces. I was about to go to a girls’ grammar school in 1971 which turned co-ed and comprehensive in 1973. I suspect there was little thought given to behaviour management in the former system, which may have been regretted after the merger. Some grammar school staff didn’t last long – or perhaps they were all very old, they seemed so to me, but that probably just meant they were over 30. As a schoolchild I was disorganised, lazy, opinionated and loquacious: the kind of combo that finishes off the weaker kind of chalk-botherer but is easily squashed by the stronger, or the more interesting. I spent a lot of time outside classroom doors but if anyone had even thought about phoning my mother I’d have been silent for a month. Parents’ evenings, as I must have told you before, held significant terrors for me and were often followed by Ominous Silence on the Home Front.
I don’t remember a behaviour management focus when I started teaching in the eighties, though you soon got a feel for the ones who could hack it and help you. Sanctions, as in punishments, weren’t routinely discussed. There was no expectation of restorative conversations, just a vague idea that children should know how to behave and be shouted at until they did - though probably the best colleagues had more strings to their bows. My second school was out of control and I left teaching for a bit. Later, in a middle management role in the nineties I got hooked into a US training programme called Assertive Discipline. Looking back, this was probably the start of the kind of detailed, consistent whole-school behaviour policies which are now everywhere. I love tangling with human nature and the systems seemed blindingly obvious to me. I became a trainer with the chance to help struggling teachers – but did it make a difference to my practice? I’m still a bit disorganised and personally disinclined to use rigid systems when I could generally generate a decent climate in the room by other means, notably a really interesting and quite challenging curriculum.
When I first clawed my way up the greasy pole to leadership I worked in an eccentric school with an arcane and largely unknown behaviour policy. We could codify simple expectations: do your homework, listen carefully, don’t swear and so on. A Deputy Head more experienced than I decided to set about the ‘unwritten rules’ which appeared to catch out lots of children – don’t go west to east along the upper science corridor, don’t use reception as a short cut into the lower science corridor and so on. She collected them into one document with brief explanations, twelve pages long and utterly unusable.
When I started as Head at the turn of the century we were up against it so introduced some quick and specific rules. In an exceptionally challenging school I still stopped short of monolithic classroom expectations because I knew I was temperamentally unsuited to enforcing them. Quality standards, yes. Identical structures, relationships and lessons – no. Did I let them down? Lazy, disorganised and opinionated again? Returning to the eccentric school we tightened it up a bit, got fiercer at the sharp end and one Head of Year introduced the only fully teacher-proof rewards system I’ve ever seen.
When I was interviewed at Tallis (finally, you gasp) no one talked about behaviour. I did, quite a lot, when I got the job and we’ve been on it ever since. Why? We’re a mixed community with liberal values. Children expect to have things explained to them. They don’t share similar backgrounds. We encourage debate. Parents are of all sorts. We have to be subtle and nuanced. We have to try to work for everyone. We are about as far from zero-tolerance as you can get and yet our behaviour is reliably good – a working definition of excellence, actually.
I’m not a nutter. I was recommended Professor Michael Marland’s matchless magisterial Craft of the Classroom in 1983 and I’ve clung to it ever since. A product of its time, it sets out the basics of behaviour management at classroom level and upon its methods rest all learning and good order in my view. I sometimes buy colleagues a copy for about a quid off the internet and at a penny a page it’s the very best value. Some bits need excising or explaining: this from a section on ‘physical action’ is very much of its time, for a book first published in 1975.
All that having been said, I must add that we are all human and tempers can be lost. There are very few teachers who have not struck a pupil at some time or another int heir career. A time will come when either you are in a particularly touchy state or a pupil is extremely irritating, and you strike out. Should this happen, don’t cover it up. Send at once for a senior member of staff. If one is not available, go to see your Head of Department or the Deputy Head as soon as the lesson is over.
We forget how far we’ve come.
I think that my view – the minimum rules needed for a fair and safe school - is reflected in the way that the United Nations characterised the conditions necessary for justice for young people, also in the eighties and expressed in eighties language:
Behaviour is a language of communication. Like all languages it needs to be learned and understood. It needs support and constant attention. Children learn how to behave well when they trust the adults around them to do the best they can. Adults do the best they can when they are appreciated, supported and trained. None of this is easily measurable but all of it is vital, vital to all of our fulfilment and happiness in every generation.
The young people of the twenty-twenties are learning to behave in a time of trial perhaps unprecedented, certainly unknown to the generations before them. We pressure and commodify our young through capitalism and the examination system in a way that raises expectations of equality just to crush them with the class boundaries we still, inexplicably, endure. They struggle with racism, gender-based violence as well as plain old misogyny and all in a context of pandemic, uncertainty and poverty for many and catastrophic, exploitative climate change that threatens us all.
Old Machiavelli lived in difficult times and had some difficult solutions to offer. But he knew that the state was safer if people’s lives weren’t made too difficult, and he underpinned that with a simple insight:
A city based on good laws and good orders has no necessity, as have others, for the virtue of a single man to maintain it.
It takes a community to raise a child and that community needs good laws and procedural regularity. That’s what we try to do at Tallis, fairly, and persistently. As we build up our young folks to lead the future we dare to be different, we stick with difficulty and we tolerate uncertainty. We try very hard to do it fairly, because there’s no peace without justice.
I arrived in Thomas Tallis in April 1991 to take over the role of 2i/c of maths. It was, in a way, a dream come true as I had always wanted to teach there and was so excited to get this post and little did I know I would be there for the next 21 years. Its reputation in the borough was fabulous and all my teacher trainee peers who were lucky enough to be selected for a teaching practice there were looked upon with jealousy and, dare I say, resentment, by the rest of us.
My first ‘task’ was to finish off teaching the Year 13 A-level curriculum with my partner teacher Dave Ellis. Up to now I had had limited experience of teaching A-level and certainly not Year 13. During a phone call in advance of starting at Tallis, he suggested I take on possibly the 3 most complex topics in the syllabus. “Sure,” said I, “no problem”. I spent the Easter holidays in a perpetual state of fear ensconced in maths problems, past A-level papers, textbooks, writing and re-writing lesson plans, having panic conversations with fellow newish teachers, those I had trained with, never once suggesting to Dave this was a tad outside my comfort zone. I got through it and, in a way, this set the tone for what became my joy for and love of teaching and doing maths. And so, I thank Dave for this taster of what was to come.
The department was made up of extraordinary maths teachers. The A-level teachers including Liz Stewart, Tony Antonioni, Jenny Ward-Ure, Dave, all of whom were inspiring to work alongside. I knew from the off I just wanted to be as good as them. The culture of loving maths was contagious. That first summer I was initiated into the silence of the department work base while everyone poured over the papers at the same time as the students were doing their actual exams in the hall. Nobody was allowed to share what they had got for each question until everyone had a chance to finish – we still had to teach other year groups in between doing the papers. And in later years, when we didn’t have the time to do this, we would spend parts of our summer holidays doing the exam papers. In fact I remember handing my papers to Jenny every September, asking her to mark them for me and give me feedback. Thanks Jenny!
The culture there felt unique at the time and like none I have experienced since. It permeated outside our work base such that students knew we loved what we were doing, so much so that maths became a bit more acceptable, possibly even trendy. The number of students in A-level groups increased dramatically. Rather than the one group of 8-10 students, we were filling two groups each year. We were blessed with some wonderful students, many of whom gave us another dose of fear as their maths skills/knowledge were far more advanced than ours (or mine anyway). Many a time we could be found taking deep breaths outside the classroom concentrating on how to ensure we could challenge the likes of Christina Goldschmidt, Kechi Nzerem, Dixon Poon and Ben Colburn, to name just a few.
Then, thanks to Jenny, Danny Brown, Angela Taylor and Jeannette Harding (the latter two to this day inspiring young people to shine brilliantly in Tallis maths), we were given the opportunity to teach further maths. As a group who needed to be prepared. We did just that. On Monday lunchtimes, the potential further maths teachers met and went through topics. Allocated in advance, we ‘taught’ each other from studying the topics and how we could counter misconceptions, linking them to prior learning to provide a seamless curriculum from A-level to further maths. No fear here obviously….
Over the years, more teachers came and went, more students did the same. I can’t mention them all but know I have huge respect for and thank them all as they encouraged my love for maths, regardless of whether they taught or studied A-level. Students at any level challenge their teachers to be better all the time and they certainly did at Tallis. My love of maths remains a constant for me. I still try to keep up with the changes and continue to do problems and the odd A-level paper when I can – I just don’t get Jenny to mark them anymore, though I think she would.
-- Trish Dooley
A trainee teacher on practice with us said to me recently, “You know when you just feel comfortable somewhere? When somewhere just feels like home? That’s where you want to stay.”
And so it was, when I walked into Thomas Tallis School in 2008 for an interview for the Head of Wellbeing. As I passed through the front gates I was met by two towering, colourful, cartoon-looking… robots? people? They turned out to be bin covers but were like big, friendly guards, welcoming me to some mythical place. The buildings looked old and ramshackle, but there were bright flashes of art and imagination everywhere. Hanging from the ceiling, just visible through cracks in walls, artful graffiti. At lesson changeover there were boisterous but happy voices, coloured hair and odd assortments of shoes and socks rushing by. I liked it.
It's strange how you can walk into a school and feel something. I’m sure that not everyone feels the same thing. Schools are made up of the people in them and, just like individual people, we might not always click with the places we go or the people we meet. But Tallis clicked for me. I was happy to be offered the job later that day, and even happier to be beginning a project that was not wide-spread in the UK at that time. My job was to set up the Wellbeing Faculty, which was a combination of PSHE, Citizenship, RE, Careers and Work Experience, Social and Emotional Aspects of Learning (SEAL), Alternative Accreditations and a whole host of small and large projects – the Jack Petchey Speak Out Challenge, Circle Time, the International Schools Award, the Healthy Schools Award, Student Council, Debating, the Health Hut... we took on anything that would make a difference to the lives of the students who passed through our gates. We set up a thematic curriculum and built up a wide range of experiences that were not usual in schools. Or, if they did exist, were side-lined or tokenistic, while our offer became central to the Tallis way of doing things. They were exciting times.
But, like many things in schools (or organisations in general), what is considered important enough to give time and space to can be dependent on the people in charge. The importance of a head teacher cannot be underestimated, I have found. A change in leadership meant a change in direction and Wellbeing was no longer something that was seen as valuable or relevant or necessary. Although the Faculty of Wellbeing disappeared and my role was diminished to something less than what I had arrived at Tallis with, although my work and reputation practically disappeared overnight (over a number of agonising months in reality but that is a drop in the ocean compared to all that can happen in our lives), the essence of Tallis survived. There were enough people among us who held onto some essential idea of Tallis, that thing that I felt when I first walked into the school, so that when the next (and current) head teacher came along we could rebuild.
Wellbeing became Guidance. We created Tallis Character and Community Days and Ways to Change the World. Some of these things might once again, in some future Tallis, be taken away or be deemed unnecessary or simply replaced by something new. But some are woven into the fabric of Tallis. These Tallis Tales are another aspect of what it is to belong to Tallis. Like all things Tallis. Tallis Habits. Tallis Character. Tallis Futures. Tallis Choices. Tallis Voices.
We are Tallis.
-- Michelle Springer, Director of Guidance
Have a look at this prospectus (click image below to open). It’s a flag planted firmly and carefully in a disputed territory lately won for the people. It is a sign and a symbol, a snapshot in time and a work of art.
What does it represent? The first comprehensive schools were opened in the late forties, but they were rare. Our neighbour, Kidbrooke Comprehensive, was purpose-built in 1954 but selection at 11 continued. In 1965 Harold Wilson was PM and Antony Crosland Secretary of State for Education and Science. On their watch, Circular 10/65 The organisation of secondary education  boldly stated the Government's objective to end selection and eliminate separatism – and therefore, to enable comprehensive schools for every child in every community.
That this House, conscious of the need to raise educational standards at all levels, and regretting that the realisation of this objective is impeded by the separation of children into different types of secondary schools, notes with approval the efforts of local authorities to reorganise secondary education on comprehensive lines which will preserve all that is valuable in grammar school education for those children who now receive it and make it available to more children; recognises that the method and timing of such reorganisation should vary to meet local needs; and believes that the time is now ripe for a declaration of national policy.
In this, they hoped to create something very particular in the nation’s schools.
A comprehensive school aims to establish a school community in which pupils over the whole ability range and with differing interests and backgrounds can be encouraged to mix with each other, gaining stimulus from the contacts and learning tolerance and understanding in the process.
Though difficult, the task was honourable and worthy of brave endeavour.
The Government are aware that the complete elimination of selection and separatism in secondary education will take time to achieve… But the spontaneous and exciting progress which has been made in this direction by so many authorities in recent years demonstrates that the objective is not only practicable; it is also now widely accepted. The Government believe that both the education service and the general public will welcome the further impetus which a clear statement of national policy will secure.
Thomas Tallis School was born in 1971, part of the ‘further impetus’ and the artefact under advisement is a prospectus – perhaps its first – from 1975.
I love the photo of Beryl Husain. Yes, school prospectuses are full of headteachers at their desks, but she isn’t posing smugly for the camera with some spurious award behind her. This is a woman who gives the impression of being a bit distracted, perhaps mildly irritated by a mildly irritating problem – a sudden change in the noise level on the yard, a staff absence. Her desk’s got stuff on it and the biro’s a long way from a gold fountain pen. While this is a woman who could leap into action at any point to give something a bit of a shake, she looks like a thinker.
And she writes clearly, staking her ground. ‘Good facilities do not necessarily create a good school. more important are the policies and long-term aims which determine what happen to the children’. Equal opportunities, no labelling, no discrimination, a progressive school with traditional standards. Informality, and friendliness without abandoning courtesy, politeness and behaviour. Consideration for others. Service to the community. I might just replace our prospectus with this one.
The prospectus talks of transition, grouping, Heads of Year, teachers, Deputy Heads, communication with home. The organisational chart with ‘your child’ in the centre is a perfect representation of a school, without verbiage or risible claims. In the description of the curriculum for the older children there’s a line about making ‘provision for those who prefer not to take exams’ which has a beautiful dignity completely lost from a current system hyped-up on aspiration and its tragic die-stamping and funnelling of children.
The curriculum is described concisely, and I’m particularly diverted by what changes most, perhaps in the humanities where ‘man in society’ and social anthropology are key. Would we live in a more understanding world if social anthropology had been compulsory in all schools?
Prospectuses always show libraries and it’s great to know that children were sent to research using not only books, but LPs and slides. The idea of languages day trips to Boulogne always startles me about London schools but wait! What is THIS! A trip to Romania in 1974! No, I went on a trip to Romania in 1974, from Teesside! Did all socialist authorities send their children over, to see the mountains and the poverty, the soldiers with guns in the snow and the terrifying plumbing? In my head I’m transported to a cavernous guest-house dining room in the mountain resort of Sibiu, my first taste of fizzy mineral water and foreign sausages. Were there other teenagers there, cooler ones, from Tallis?
Readers of this site need no more information about residentials to Inverliever, though the near-misses don’t appear. Sporting clubs as well as competitive teams has a pleasant tone. Cycling at Herne Hill is still a thing.
Unlike, sadly, on the final page, the Youth Centre. That’s a dream that took root in some fields but was uprooted almost everywhere in successive decades. Youth work is fantastically important but easy to cut, until there’s nothing left. Soon the youth work historians with have to begin by explaining what it was. And why it mattered. And how well the nation’s young have done without it.
Youth work’s older brother, the Adult Education Institute appears at the back too. Good education, good youth work, lifelong learning: cradle to grave intellectual and social support. What was so bad about this that it needed excising from our national psyche? When did we become antisocial drones, measuring the whole of our intellectual endeavour by competitive examination, designed to keep the rich in their copper towers?
The seeds were sown before the year of our next prospectus (click image below to open), 1996, when the previous government declared no such thing as society and sold off its assets. By ’96 John Major was at Number 10 and Gillian Shephard the SoS. It felt pretty ropey at the time but in hindsight looks like a golden age of conservative government.
Tallis the man appears on the inside cover opposite a picture of the Head, Colin Yardley who, with a friendly preface and a sideways look, declares to transition drop-in visitors ‘I am always available for most of the morning’. That sets the standard pretty high. How? How? Obviously, sensible prioritising and a control of your diary. Good for him. I doff my cap.
This prospectus has a long description of the aims of the Tallis curriculum of which I heartily approve. Breadth and balance, opportunities in the arts, well-qualified teachers and plenty of support staff in very practical roles. A nod to children with special needs and the chance to repeat a year, under certain circumstances, if that’s right for the child: difficult then and nigh-on impossible now. Integrated Humanities appears on the options list and I have to go for a short lie-down, suddenly reliving a nasty experience with Int Hums in the Midlands 12 years previously. Planners are explained and parents encouraged to sign them: is it odd that we still do this 25 years later?
Yardley’s Tallis has a post-Local Management of Schools feel to it, necessarily so. There’s less talk about the LEA and more about school-based decisions and systems. As with the curriculum, he’s clearer about behaviour mechanisms. ‘As few rules as are practical’, sensibly agreed, and we hold that torch still, Husain’s legacy carried through fifty years, but how the context has changed. I was clawing my way up the greasy pole as a behaviour trainer at the same time so I’m familiar with the territory: exclusion ‘for a few days’ (up to 10), outside support for those at risk of 45 days exclusion in a year and therefore permanent removal. (If I may take a diversion, when I was a clueless Deputy Head at about this time, one of the Behaviour Support team we relied on for those most depressing 45-day cases was Dominic Cummings’ mother. I kid you not.)
Girls are not at a disadvantage, we are assured. Racial incidents are rare. Children from ethnic minorities do well ‘indeed, they may be doing better than the majority group’. How did that play out, post-school?
The third prospectus (click image above to open), tra-la, is one of my own, which makes me reconsider the earlier ones. I write a bit of stuff at the start, lifted directly from ‘the policies and long-term aims which determine what happen to the children’ , as Husain has it but the rest of it is other’s endeavour: Curriculum Deputy, Head of Sixth, Director of Arts who conceptualises and realises the product. Who were the others in the past? Did Beryl draw her own child-centred diagram? Did Colin write the lot, from Welcome to Sixth Form? I know every name of the people who lift Tallis into the air in this 50th year, but looking back at this beautiful brochure, from 2046 or ‘71, who’ll remember the others, the uncredited experts whose tireless commitment buoys up my silly face, in a frilly shirt, leaning on a pillar?
And if only I could say that it is our ‘policies and long-term aims which determine what happen to the children’. It's much harder to see, now, the clear path from principled, quality education for all to prosperity in an equal society. It’s much harder to plot that course now that so many principles have been abandoned, so many short cuts rebranded as motorways.
I was 10 in 1971 and 35 in 1996. Neither of those years was perfect and I don’t expect perfection now, but it feels as though some hope has been abandoned along the way. Perhaps Headteachers in every generation feel that, though we’d rightly never find it out from their prospectuses. Even if that’s gloomily true, I hope that they, like me, are encouraged by irrepressible teenagers, friendly parents and inventive colleagues. I hope that when they press the button to start every day, they do it with style and focus, like these my own predecessors. They knew in their bones that the comprehensive school is a dream every bit as visionary as the National Health service, but much, much harder to achieve.
I feel better for reading these. I hope you do too. When I grow up, I want to look like Beryl Husain’s picture.
 Gillard, Derek. "Circular 10/65 (DES 1965) - full text online". www.educationengland.org.uk
Tallis kept his head down so that he could keep it on. At a time of monarchical savagery he survived in the courts of four Tudors. It's probably fair to say that he didn’t draw attention to himself in any way other than through his music, startling enough, by any standard. We’ve no idea what kind of a person he was except that his epitaph describes a ‘patient quiet type, O happy man’.
I’ve moved amongst church musicians in my time and know a bit about what gets their metronomes going. I have to say that patient and quiet is not always their modus operandi. They may be quiet in the house and even patient with small children and dogs but I’ve known ‘em take bits out of slackers, clergy and anyone else getting in the way of the muse. I worked alongside one of the great cathedral organists and, while charming personally, he had a great line in asperity. Picture me in a beautiful chapter house, togged up in a ridiculously long cope, waiting as one of eight to escort the Bishop down the aisle (imagine a middle-aged mediaeval security detachment). All manner of processional mechanics having already set off, we wait behind the choir, professional musicians themselves, aged 8 to 60. Himself sets off suddenly at a moderate gallop, literally wrong-footing the smaller choristers in the front rank to whom he menacingly stage whispers over a dissatisfied shoulder. ‘Oh do come on. And don’t start that ridiculous coughing’. Was Tallis like that?
Conductors, like stage directors, have a particular relationship with their people. They are necessarily direct, even brusque and can get away with stuff that might end in flouncing or a punch-up in ordinary conversation – yet the outcome is usually wonderfully united. How does it work? Honesty and collaboration.
Which, fancy that, are the Tallis 50 themes for this half term. ‘Honest’ is one of our characteristics so we expect everyone in our community to tell the truth, reliably and habitually, so we don’t waste time on falsehoods or chasing wild geese (attractive as that sounds on a gloomy London afternoon). We let our no be no and our yes be yes. We shouldn’t need nudging, nagging or reminding, it is an habitual virtue.
Likewise ‘collaborative’, one of our habits. We cooperate appropriately (obviously not under exam conditions), give and receive feedback and share the product that we make, whatever it is. We share, discuss, debate, critique, consult, publish and explain. We work together: get it, got it, give it.
Honest and collaborative are buzzwords of the zeitgeist, but so hard to do, so hard to keep in tandem. The big issues confronting humanity – injustice and climate emergency – are maddening and terrifying in equal parts. It’s no wonder that so many discussions and debates are carries out in isolation and anger. People demanding honesty have had enough of lies. People yearning for collaboration have had enough of exclusion. Debate carried on in the ether seems to prioritise falsity and division as individuals shout their way to notoriety – yet the www is designed for collaboration, designed for sharing.
We’re dealing with some big issues in schools today. We know enough to know that we get and have got so much wrong. Wickedly, dehumanisingly wrong, planet-endangeringly wrong. But the worst of us, who need to sort it out, behave like dictators rather than directors, commandants rather than conductors. Grandstanding leadership disguises dishonesty and political sound-biting prevents shared endeavour. That affects the way young people learn to argue, when exclusivity and purity can close gateways to genuine just progress and where adult expectations discard the desperate adolescent need to explore and experiment before they decide, before they take on the mantle of adult citizenship.
Even if we don’t know anything else, we know that Tallis endured, and because he did, his music did. The new world our young people need is a shared endeavour. We need to be honest – like the conductor – and collaborative - like the conductor. We need high expectations, but we need to trouble ourselves to collaborate to build a better world.
You couldn’t sing the 32 parts of Spem in alium on your own and you couldn’t get it sung right without honesty about what needs to be done. Musicians do it all the time, and we can learn from that.
I’ve written this blog alone on yet another train but honestly, couldn’t it have been better if I’d done it collaboratively?
The following story appears in Percy Ungate's book 'Luck was a Lady', a copy of which he kindly sent to us in 2020.
Percy writes: "I was the Police Officer for the Ferrier Estate and surrounding area including Thomas Tallis. I advised re the building of the school i.e. security. I was the guest of honour at the inaugural prize giving in 1971, and did various talks. I was known as P.C. Percy or 'The Bobby on the bike'.
We are very grateful to Percy for this great Tallis Tale.
It was about 1977-8. As part of the school's programme I did a talk to a disruptive group from the Thomas Tallis Secondary School at Kidbrooke. It was a group of about 25-30 children. I was asked by the Teacher if I could arrange for a police dog to visit the school. This was a regular thing that we did where the handler would describe how they care for and train the dogs. We would usually arrange, apart from the talk, for the dog to find a bloodstained axe hidden somewhere and we usually saw a burglar jumping our of the school window and running away, luckily with his right arm heavily wrapped up!
I agreed and we fixed the date. "Not next Wednesday or the next, but the next." As soon as I returned to the Juvenile Bureau, I put it in my diary. It happened to be 1st April.
My colleague Ricky Brock was licensed by the GLC to control vermin and a part of his kit was a lifelike pigeon, used as a decoy, made of rubber so that when he squeezed the tail, the head moved. And so to Thomas Tallis at 9am on the 1st April. I expected 20-30 children but to my amazement, we were shown into the main hall, which was packed with all the 1st, 2nd and I think 3rd years. About 250 -300 children, and the teachers.
I began by introducing PC Gunn and his dog Brutus, who were attending from the police dog school at Keston. Then I introduced PC Brock who was attending from the Metropolitan Police communications Branch at Scotland Yard, who work closely with the dog school.
We took the dog to the playing field where 'Ben' showed them how the dogs were trained and fed and cared for. He sent Brutus to find the axe, which had been hidden in the field. He found it; it resembled the same axe that he had found at the other school last week and the week before that!! It was then that we spotted a burglar jumping out of the Head Teacher's window. Brutus was sent after him and brought him down. He closely resembled another one of my colleagues.
Then we had the children back in the playground where Ricky had parked his car where he was able to keep them 20 or 30 feet away. He then explained that we use pigeons in situations where we are searching open countryside where there are no telephones and where another police dog is urgently required. The pigeon takes the message back to Keston Dog School, who immediately send another dog to assist in the search. He then produced the pigeon from the boot of his car, held it under his tunic gently squeezing the tail so that the head moved, and made a pigeon like noise. He then returned the pigeon to the boot explaining to the children that unfortunately he could not fly the bird as it had been on night duty that night and of course, needed its proper sleep.
We thought the visit had gone reasonably well and left. About two weeks lacer I was back at the school, arranging a visit and I happened to ask the Head Teacher, Beryl Husein, about our previous visit, how did it go? "Oh Percy, it went so well, the children are working on a project and they were going co ask you back when it was finished. But you might as well have a look now." She led me to a large area where, around the walls, the children had drawn and painted scenes of dogs searching the open countryside and woodlands, where there are no phones and of pigeons flying back to Keston with messages to send more dogs to search. They had gone to a lot of trouble and had obviously listened intently to the talks. I was completely bowled over by the effort they had put in and congratulated them on such a wonderful project. I then asked Beryl if we could have a word in her office. We entered and I closed the door. I said, "Beryl, they've been to all that trouble, the teachers were there too, it was the first of April". I think it was a look of horror that crossed her features. I continued, "We have radio communication these days, we don't use pigeons. I thought the teachers would have realised that it was 1st April. So what do we do now?"
Mrs Husein replied, having seen the joke. "A whole generation of people from Kidbrooke will probably spend the rest of their lives believing that Police use homing pigeons to communicate".
This is a true story and I would like to take this opportunity to apologise to that generation if they feel aggrieved or cheated. My only excuse being chat I realised the teachers were present, but I didn't know that they were as daft as the kids. Sorry.
I'd had a long relationship with Beryl Husein and Thomas Tallis School as it had been on my 'Home Beat' before I joined the Juvenile Bureau. I had addressed the assemblies many times and had been the guest of honour with my wife at their inaugural prize giving. Just an after thought. One of the funniest things I can remember when bringing a dog to a school is to see the handler wrestling it while crying to get its paw on the inkpad then in the visitors' book especially when the paw is as big as the book.
-- Percy Ungate, former police officer
It's ten years now since you died. What a long time a decade seemed when we heard Paul Simon's song Ten Years at your funeral! I'm sharing this letter now because I still think of you often.
You died on 9 July 2009, between your sixtieth birthday and your sixtieth birthday party. You weren't an easy friend. I think I was one of the few that you didn't have a major falling-out with at some point or another. But there were lots of people who loved you. There were going to be lots of people at your party, and there was standing room only at your funeral later that month.
Jane Clossick and I stood there together and listened to this song. An old friend of yours told the story. You were his guest at Christmas one year, and being characteristically convivial at the dinner table. When this came on the stereo your focus changed, you dropped out of the conversation, listened intently; you asked for it to be played again, and again; you listened again, and again, concentrating. It's a scene vividly familiar to anyone who knew you. What was it about the song that caught your attention?
I have so much to thank you for. You introduced me to three of the great loves of my life: music, Scotland, and whisky.
I'm sorry that I never got on with the oboe, the instrument you chose for me. But the steel pans were magnificent. What a joy to be part of making that glorious happy music! It's nearly 25 years since we took our band Panache to Spain, and you charmed the mayor of Cadiz into letting us headline at the Carnival. I remember your magnificent vain delight at being given the remote control for the culminating firework display; at sending the signal so that the rockets burst just as we played the last chord in our favourite song.
Thank you for introducing me to Scotland. I had already visited that corner of Argyll on holiday with my family when we first took a trip to Inverliever in May 1995, but it was on our school music trips to the Lodge between then and 2001 that the Highlands really captured my heart. Now I live in Scotland, teaching and writing here, and spending my spare time exploring the Highlands (by bus and train - you'd approve!). So much of my life has been shaped by that connection. Thank you for sharing that love with me.
In truth it probably wasn't very professional for you to sit drinking Laphroaig with me until the small hours in Inverliever while we waited for the younger students to go to sleep. But we set the world to rights several times over, and I've enjoyed the stuff ever since. For a few years I kept a stock of Port Ellen, your favourite. I think we both liked it because the distillery closed in 1983, so we knew that each glass was part of a dwindling, dying stock. I wonder what you would make of the news that the distillery will be reopening? Excited, but also maybe - like me - just a little bit grumpy about being deprived of that pleasurable melancholy? In any case, I'll test it for you, in about fifteen years' time, when I can get my hands on a bottle.
Here's one of my favourite memories. In the lonely years before I found my feet at school I used to arrive early and sit with you in the Music Suite. We'd drink lapsang souchong tea (another gift to me - I still drink it all the time) and talk about maths, music, politics, and philosophy. The morning I'm thinking of we didn't talk much. When I arrived you were listening to Ralph Vaughan Williams on the stereo. I sat down silently and we listened together for about twenty minutes, watching the early summer sunshine on the trees, hearing the Lark Ascending, enjoying the music and each other's company, and saying nothing.
Anyway. I miss you. I know you were lonely, and ill, and afraid of going blind. I nod along when other people say that it's probably a blessing that you died so suddenly when you did. But I miss you all the same. I wish we could talk over a glass of whisky every now and again.
Hot on the heels of the image uploaded by Ian Heffer, it's motivated me to delve into my old photographs and dig out a picture of the first rugby team at Tallis. As you can see we didn't necessarily have the right kit or footwear but we had spirit and we didn't let the heavy losses to rugby playing schools like St Joseph's and Shooters Hill GS get us down.
Back row L-R:
Front Row L-R:
-- Richard Cox
The following image was kindly submitted by Ian Heffer who features in it. If you are in the photo or have great memories of playing sports at Tallis, please get in touch. You can leave a comment here or submit your own story.
This is the 1st 11 football team for Thomas Tallis in 1971. The picture was taken at the temporary school in Eltham (the old Thomas a Becket school). The names I can recall are as follows:
Back row left to right:
Russell Taylor, Paul Baker, Michael Dennis, (?), (?), (?)
Paul (?), Nicky Laffer, Charlie Piggott, Dale (?) Ian Prosser, Paul Madeley, and myself Ian Heffer.
At the time the school only consisted of one year and no girls were to join for a further two years. My class was 1TU. Teacher: Mr Stuart Turpie.
-- Ian Heffer