In the December of 1999 I came to Thomas Tallis school for the first time. I was visiting for the day to have an induction, ahead of my PGCE placement due to start in January.
I arrived dressed in a suit and was asked to sit in reception and wait for my mentor, Mr Steve Fyfe. Over the next 5 minutes or so people came in and out at the start of a busy day of school life. One man was wearing jeans and a Ferrari polo shirt and carrying a clipboard. I remember thinking he must be delivering something as he was clearly looking around for someone. It turns out he was looking for me - this was Mr Fyfe! Those informal dress days are distant memory now.
He introduced himself and led me up to the maths department. We got on straight away, discussing my first teaching placement in Hackney, maths, teaching and within no time at all, football.
He gave me my timetable, which I still have. I was very lucky to spend those first few weeks learning from the best. Ward-Ure, Senkus, Dooley, Clare and the late Tony Antonio. Oh, and Steve. As you can see from the photo, my timetable was written on a student report. They have not changed much! You can also see that we had week A and B, an early close on a Wednesday week B and the structure of the day wasn’t too different either.
I learnt so much from them all (including SF). Not least Tony. He was a lovely man and I recall 2 distinct things about him. Firstly, how he would come in EVERY Friday with the TES jobs section. He would slam it down on his desk and announce how many maths teacher jobs there were that week. The second thing was he would announce, on an almost daily basis, how many teaching days there were left until the next holiday or the end of the year. He did this more than ever as he approached his well-deserved retirement. He very sadly passed away within months of his retirement. So many teachers count away their lives, myself included. We must remember to live life and enjoy every day.
As well as the staff mentioned above, I also met others on that first day, including Ms Taylor who is still here and shares an A-level group with me. There were also other staff around the school who I probably passed on that first day and would go on to work with for the next 2 decades.
Over the last 22.5 years, there have been many constants and many variables. Very fitting for a maths teacher.
-- Chris Hordern
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
The deaf community is currently campaigning for British Sign Language (BSL) to be officially recognised as a language of the United Kingdom. MP Rosie Cooper gave the 3rd reading to the Private Members Bill on Friday 18th March 2022, and over three thousand people - deaf, hearing, deaf-blind people, attend Trafalgar Square to rally for the BSL Bill. Tallis’ KS4 DSC students and some students from Year 10 BSL class attended the rally to support the BSL Bill. Rose Ayling-Ellis (Eastenders and Strictly 2022 winner), Nadeem Islam (Small World, The Bay, also ex Tallis student) were on stage addressing the importance of passing the BSL Bill. We met a couple of ex Tallis students, Jazzy Whipps (Youtuber) and Benny Ngo (Youtuber) and they chatted with our students. It was an unequivocally historical event of epic proportions, especially when the reading swiftly passed with unopposed votes!
Great news! The House of Lords passed their 1st reading on 21st March 2022, and the 2nd reading is scheduled for 1st April 2022, where politicians will debate whether to pass the BSL Bill prior to Royal Assent. We at Tallis are optimistic that the House of Lords are in favour.
The day went smoothly, we were so grateful of the glorious weather and were met with a friendly and joyful atmosphere.
Channel 5 News broadcast the event.
Here are some comments from students:
-- Jane Newman, Deaf Support Centre
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
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?
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
This happened over 40 years ago, but still I am occasionally woken in the middle of the night by the horror of it.
In the Spring half term holiday of February 1977, I was one of the staff accompanying a Year 7 or 8 party of 40 children to Inverliever, the school's residential centre in Scotland. Our trip coincided with a spell of freezing weather. Clear blue skies, snow and sharp frost every night. The children were making the most of the snow and the staff had the main job of keeping them warm and well fed. They had been warned not to risk going on the ice.
There came the day when we would take the minibuses round to the far side of Loch Awe and climb the area's highest point, Sith Mor. It is not a hard walk, following an ancient drove road. At the bottom of the main climb there is the large Sandy Loch, which skirts the road.
I tried to keep in front of the children, making sure they did not go astray. It was not snowing and there was no wind, but the air almost crackled with the cold. The children were clearly finding the experience invigorating.
I rounded a bend to find that several boys had raced ahead of me and had made a downward stretch into a treacherous slide. They were now crossing a field of snow. But I knew it was not a field, it was the frozen Sandy Loch. They were racing across and could not hear my shouting a blowing on the teacher's friend, the Acme Thunderer whistle.
As my career flashed through my mind, I knew there was only one thing I could do. If the ice gave way and they fell in, so must I. Knowing it could well be the last decision of my life, I followed them onto the ice, having made it clear to the rest of the party that they must walk round the edge of the loch.
Miraculously, we got to the other side and, like mountain goats, the children scampered up to the peak. Our return journey took the long way round.
Just out of interest, I smashed some ice at the edge of the loch. It was up to 8 inches thick, enough to support a car. But that did not ease my palpitations.
-- Colin Yardley, former Headteacher
I taught a great many years at Tallis.
A friend in the Maths Department got me my first job on supply working mostly in music and humanities. I was going to earn a few pennies before going travelling again. I stayed about thirty years. Just couldn’t drag myself away.
So many stories. So many fantastically talented and challenging students. So many lovely staff.
And Inverliever. I calculate I shared Inverliever, or Arran, with over 1000 students over the years. I led many a Year group trip but if anyone would have me along ( Music, Humanities, other year groups ) I would volunteer my half-term away. Those who experienced Inverliever know of its magic. It’s a place you don’t easily forget. All the trips held their magic but two in particular are never to be forgotten.
The first involved a small group of lads ( they will remain anonymous but they know who they are) who made the staff's lives miserable all week by not sleeping, raiding the girls’ dorms and more. I can’t name staff either but we were fed up and found ourselves poring over a huge sheet of paper on which we had made a map of the premises and upon which we devised a battle plan to end all battle plans. It involved the staff breaking into groups and placing themselves at strategic places around the dorms with fire hoses and buckets of water in preparation for the revenge on the lads who, without doubt would leave their dorms to raid the girls’ dorm at a given time. We had got a few of the girls to write them a note ‘inviting’ them to their dorm at a certain time. All we needed to do was reel them in.
They fell for it! They were annihilated as they broke out of their dorm. Fire hosed, soaked by buckets they could run nowhere. A couple even found themselves dunked in the washing up sinks! They were then locked out of their dorms to face a few minutes in the Scottish February frost before we let them back into the warmth of a shower and bed.
Such fun! Such revenge!
Twice we took groups to the top of Ben Nevis. Couldn’t do it now …..elf and safety.
One group included the usual few for whom it was going to be the biggest challenge of their life and I was at the rear cajoling them to make it to the top. In the end I promised them a MacDonalds from the cafe that we would find at the top. The fib was enough to get them there and I knew that their disappointment, when they realised my lie, would soon be overcome by the awe they would feel by the view and the certain knowledge that they were the ‘ highest people in the whole of the UK’ at that moment.
Yes. Inverliever had a way of helping us all find our little place in a big Universe.
Kind of sums up Tallis. Challenge, fun, friendship. Achievement.
-- Tim Joyce