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.
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
May 1995 … I was in the last two months of my teacher training, in my second placement at, what was then, Kidbrooke School. I had a verbal offer of a teacher role there but also been for interview at another local school – Thomas Tallis. I received the “You have been successful …” phone call and a couple of days later the official letter, the letter that started it all, arrived.
I began my first teaching year in September 1995, as a Newly Qualified Teacher, joining the maths department led by Trish Dooley. The team, as I remember, consisted of Trish, Dave Ellis, Jenny Ward-Ure, Tony Antonioni, Marilyn Clare, Angela Taylor, Cress Senkus and Allen Skuse. A much smaller department in a smaller school then. It was a great place to work and learn how to be a teacher, with really good people around me. They all made teaching look so easy and I couldn’t not learn from them and they were always ready to support the newbie!
I was also a Year 7 tutor and the first 7SF tutor group was formed. Head of Year was the great Stuart Turpie and I can certainly say some of his ways were unique! Come the Spring, I experienced my first school journey to Inverliever in Scotland with a number of 7SF making the trip. A real highlight of the school year for all involved. Horse riding was one of the activities available and I was encouraged to have a go by some of the students. This would be the first, and last, time I got on a horse and spent what seemed like hours quite un-nerved by the experience. So much so that I did not correct the instructor when she continually called me George. Something the students with me found most amusing!
Back then, when I was first starting out on my teaching journey, did I know that Tallis would be the only school I would ever work in? Probably not, but I like to think a part of me hoped so. And here I am, 27 years later, still loving working at Tallis. Over half my life now spent at Tallis. That in itself tells you what a great place Tallis is and has been over the past 25+ years.
-- Steve Fyfe
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