It's amazing what you can find when you rummage around in your parents' old files! For example, here's an edition of the school's old newsletter, The Tallis, from December 1989. Laura Crocker, teacher of Languages and former Tallis student, recently discovered this historical document and has kindly shared it with us here. It contains some fascinating details.
Laura tells us:
At my mother's house, hidden at the bottom of a huge pile of papers, I found this gem. My parents must have been given this during my first year as a pupil at Thomas Tallis. It was 1988. It evoked so many memories of my time at school in the late 80s/early 90s. The Christmas Carol concerts in St James' Church, the end of ILEA, Baker days, Inverliever!!!!!!!, Mr Lark... In 2002 I returned to Thomas Tallis as a teacher. It is lovely to remember the staff named in the letter (who were my teachers and who became my colleagues), the beginning of FRACAs, the launch of the Sixth Form Centre, the big Congratulations for the 'superb' GCSE results!...... Tallis, and indeed education, has changed so much, but the spirit remains.
And here it is, I imagine carefully cut and pasted by Brian Macmillan, the school's media resources officer at the time. You can almost smell the fumes from the banda machine!
Click here to view an interactive version of the newsletter, allowing you to easily zoom in on items of interest. Thanks to Laura for sharing this fascinating document with us. Do you have any old Tallis related ephemera in your collections? If so, please consider sending a copy of them to us for publication here.
The habits and characteristics we teach at Tallis are, at face value, obviously good. Imagination changes the world and honesty is proverbially the best policy. But what when they go wandering? What when imagination leads to suspicion or paranoia, or honesty leads to hurt and lingering distrust? It is possible to model nuance, and fine distinction, or just to be glib?Some colleagues and I had a sit-down last week to clear the air. We’d found ourselves singing a bit disharmoniously from a range of hymn sheets and this had led me to an outburst of asperity. We decided honestly to air it all in the hope of moving on united by our commitment to the Tallis cause. The meeting was long but productive and we all felt better afterwards. As the next crisis was already waiting impatiently in the wings stamping its hooves and hissing a bit, it was just as well. We’d mended the roof during a lull in the storm and commended ourselves nicely on our construction and constructiveness.
This little summit came between a formal procedures including an interview for Deputy Head. Unlike the sit-down, both of these come with fancy structures to support, validate and protect correct and complicated decision-making. In both processes, some people are made happier by the outcome and others are made unhappy. It is difficult to get this quite right, so the formalities and conventions help, giving a language wherein honesty may nest.
And at the same time, I’ve been listening to the most extraordinary podcast. It’s about the Trojan Horse affair. For readers in far posterity, this was a letter alleging wrongdoing in Birmingham schools that led to the imposition of the bizarre fabrication known as ‘Fundamental British Values’ upon us all. Who wrote the letter, why, what it meant or whether it was true are still largely unknown. There were inquiries, reports, disbarrings and sackings, but no real statement was ever given – and if the podcasters are right, justice is yet to be served. Yet the application of the controversy to schooling has changed the tone for a generation of schools and school leaders. It would be good to know the truth, that the knock-on wasn’t purely political exploitation. Without it, imagination is left to its own devices to the detriment of our national life, wrecking what we used to call community coherence.
And in the papers and on the ground a thousand and a half miles away, the war rages in Ukraine. Does Putin lack the imagination to see the world as it is now? Or does he imagine it would be better with a Greater Russia, soviet-style but without the soviets? Our children at Tallis have walked for Ukraine so that that they may express despair for the children there.
Closer to home, the story of Child Q and her appalling treatment at the hands of those whom the state pay to protect her. We simultaneously sentimentalise and demonise children in this thoughtless country. Was no one, in school or police station, able to say ‘Honestly, that’s not right. This is a child.’? Are our agents unable to imagine themselves or their own children in that position? Our children at Tallis have stood in solidarity for Child Q so they may express despair for her, and for themselves.
Thomas Tallis survived a dreadful time in English history, of religious wars, summary executions and blood feuds. We know so little about him that imagination must lead to speculation. How did he survive? He probably stayed true to the Roman church and he probably hid it, daily. Does that count as dishonesty? What did he imagine he was doing? Or was survival his only priority? Tallis’s polyphony - different voices making glorious harmony and so on - is a gift to any cheesy assembly-giver. Tallis’s Canon is a lovely exercise in continuity and trust in those who follow after you, also useful for assemblies and other occasions for uplift. His most famous piece, however, takes more unpicking.
When I use a bit of the great man’s 32-part Spem in Alium at the start of the year, I fudge it a bit. The text is from the Apocrypha, the Book of Judith. It is a bloodthirsty tale itself of a heroic widow who charms and then kills the leader of an oppressive army, to save her people. She’s irritated with everyone else’s weakness and reluctance to act and, once the nation is saved, also refuses to marry anyone else. Her words at the root of the timeless music are pretty uncompromising: I will not trust in any other, but only in thee, the God of Israel. This is not a community-building sentiment so I just tell the children it is about trust, sticking to the polyphony and the music of the man as my theme.
I can imagine why this might have been important to Tallis. He probably couldn’t trust many people in the entire course of his life. His faith must have been at once endangering and sustaining. My fear for our young people is that they feel the same, though fewer have his metaphysical support. They see dishonesty in national life and they imagine the worst (which comes true for too many of them). It undermines everything we say about the value of a good life in community if we constantly put them in danger. Who can they trust?
Let’s hope that our Tallis values and Habits are not easily shaken off. Let’s hope that the clarity and free-ing-ness of honesty and its siblings, transparency and trust become habitual. Let’s hope that the energy and renewal of imaginativeness and its siblings, creativity and progress will help us, but especially our children, to become better people.
I’m sorry this is a bit gloomy. The other tales on the website are so happy and interesting that it seems churlish to allow the parlous state of the world to intrude. I do it because I think that the record should show the good ship Tallis sailing through some choppy waters as we search for an understanding of the world and a change for the better. Glad to have you all on board, shipmates old and new.
It was in an assembly at Kidbrooke Girls’ School in the early eighties, when my close friend and teacher colleague, Di Bruce, leant over and whispered, “You know there’s a vacancy in the English department at Thomas Tallis!” I was supply teaching at Kidbrooke at the time, having had three children in quick succession. “Very progressive and exciting - Tallis,” she added, grinning.
So that was how I found myself in 1983 covering an English vacancy in a department, led at the time by Margaret Sandra, an ardent feminist, with the impressive Beryl Husein, as headteacher. Within weeks the Head of the English, Music and Drama faculty post became vacant, and I somehow found myself, taking it on temporarily, and then, quite surprisingly, permanently…not exactly the supply job I’d envisaged. I was Head of Faculty from 1983 to 1990. Colin Yardley became headteacher soon after I joined; an inspirational and incredibly diligent leader. It was hard work, exciting and challenging but also great fun and very rewarding.
The original school building was in awful condition by 1983. The flat roof was full of holes and when it rained buckets were places strategically in the corridors, which the kids dodged round or kicked over. The windows in the classroom and corridors didn’t close or fasten properly, so we cobbled them together with wire coat hangers. We often froze in the winter and boiled in the summer.
However, the ethos of the school was brilliant, with the clear aim of ensuring every single child achieved at their optimum level; the curriculum was broad and progressive and the collegiate spirit amongst staff was uplifting. It was an interesting time curriculum wise too. A debate was raging about the pros and cons of 100% coursework in English, which led to some lively discussions within and beyond the faculty. It was a challenge in the mixed ability classroom but we embraced it and dealt heroically with the endless marking. At the end of the day there was always a constant stream of kids lined up outside the Faculty Office seeking help with their coursework and English teachers gave them their time tirelessly.
After an exhilarating seven years working with such brilliant colleagues as Cath Green, Maggie Holland, Geraldine O’ Mahoney and Elliot Furneaux, the kindly District Inspector, Tom Barrowman, persuaded me that it would be a good idea to apply for the English Inspector post for Greenwich. The break up of the Inner London Education Authority had led to education being taken over by individual Boroughs and each one set up its own inspectorate.
And so it was that my relationship with the school changed. I visited several times in this role, happy to see the school I had sadly left – evolving and thriving. I was also in charge of the Advanced Skills Teachers in the borough and was delighted to be involved in the work of two brilliant ASTs at Tallis: Tony Hier and Doug Greig, both inspirational and dynamic members of the Humanities Faculty. They radiated creativity and were key members of the AST community. It was a joy to watch them teach.
With characteristic openness and a truly progressive spirit Tallis also became a part of the Royal Greenwich Teaching School Alliance, which, as the Local Authority lead on workforce and curriculum development at the time, I helped to form. This led to many opportunities for the school to share its good practice with others: for example, a project focused on Modern Foreign Languages in collaboration with Goldsmiths and University of Greenwich, for which I managed to secure funding from the Mayor’s Fund. Thomas Tallis was one of the ten secondary schools involved in this project and made a significant contribution: agreeing to host a group of colleagues from the other nine schools to observe two of their teachers. This was brave and generous of Juliette Robinson and her colleagues and much appreciated by the teachers from other local secondary schools from Greenwich and Lewisham. Tallis was also a key member of the Music Trust, another cross borough project I was involved with during my time with the local authority. Carolyn Roberts kindly accepted the role of Chair and gave generously of her time and the school premises for concerts.
And now I have two of my grandchildren at the school, one in Year 11 and one in Year 9, with a third due to start next September. They go willingly to school and come home happy. They find it friendly, tolerant with a comfy school uniform - which one of them has even slept in over night! The youngest one can’t wait to join them!
-- Maggie Croxford, former Head of English