In November 2018 we received sad news that the founding Headteacher of Thomas Tallis, Beryl Husain, had died. Her successor Colin Yardley wrote this piece which, with thanks to him, we reproduce here:
During the late 1960s and early 1970s the Inner London Education Authority (ILEA), which replaced the LCC, was building a new secondary school to serve the massive Ferrier Estate in Kidbrooke, then under construction by the Greater London Council. The First Oil Crisis hit the economy and all public spending. Even while it was being built, the school suffered cuts, narrowing the corridors, losing a couple of staircases and lopping some classrooms and the assembly hall. Of course, the building was not completed in time for its planned opening. It was due to be a mixed comprehensive school, but had to start life in a nearby secondary modern boys’ school, Briset Road School. After a couple of years there was eventually the move to the new building, which was still not finished.
Not only was a large part of the building still in the hands of contractors, but incessant cuts left it shoddily constructed, with the flat roof leaking from day one. All of this amounted to an inauspicious beginning for Thomas Tallis School, named after the Tudor-period composer who had local connections. Fortunately for all concerned, especially the children, Beryl had been appointed Headteacher. She immediately proved her mettle by refusing to have the school officially opened because the building was, in her view, far from finished. In fact, that first building was never officially opened. She insisted on compensation in the form of an on-site playing field for the school, pointing out that all the ILEA had to do was buy an adjacent private sports ground and give it to her. She won that battle.
Beryl knew that, in order to survive, let alone thrive, Tallis had to compete with the surrounding well established schools and win. She appointed a young staff, most of them in their first job and over half of them women. It was to be mixed ability teaching in all subjects and at all levels. Homework was obligatory for all. All assemblies, notwithstanding the law, were non-religious.
A predominantly young staff could be moulded in her own image. Beryl considered herself a trainer, as well as the leader. One of her catch-phrases was: “Look after the nitty-gritty.” In other words, get the detail consistently right and the rest will follow. During the 1980s the school became fully subscribed and the hottest ticket in town. In 1990, it was at the centre of the Greenwich Judgement saga. Greenwich had just become an education authority on Thatcher’s break-up of the ILEA. The Council declared a new policy that only children resident within the borough could be admitted to the borough’s schools. This brought an end to the free movement across borders under the all-embracing ILEA. A group of parents just across the border in Lewisham kicked up a mighty storm. They resented the prospect of being unable to send their children to the school they considered their best choice ─ Tallis. The case had to reach the House of Lords before it was determined that free movement had to be maintained.
By the time Beryl retired in 1986, the windows still rattled and the roof still leaked, but she had built a dedicated and outstanding staff and her school had the best results of the Greenwich county schools and was heavily over-subscribed. A measure of its success was the fact that the staff sent enough of their own children to the school to muster two football teams. Beryl was a bundle of energy and enthused all around her. She is remembered with admiration and affection.