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.
I was reminded why Tallis is a precious place this winter, by a group of students I met when I came in to give a guest lesson on the Benin bronzes.
It was 30 years since I'd been a Tallis student myself. I confess I wasn't the best behaved student in the school. But I did have a hell of a lot of fun.
I was invited back in to talk to year 8s about a film I made recently for Channel 4 News about whether the world famous looted artefacts should be returned to Nigeria.
Many of the Tallis students I met were inquisitive, bold, and irreverent. They certainly didn't just accept what they were told at face value. They asked questions. Challenging ones. And they had energy.
It made me reflect on my own time at Tallis, and in particular as a 6th former, in 1991. Tallis at that time had formed an ultimately short lived triumvirate with two other local schools, which was meant to allow them to offer a wider range of subjects, and make the most of scant resources.
One of the challenges was the educational culture between the schools and their teachers was vastly different, and the coalition was dissolved after a few years.
Tallis has always tried to do things differently - and it's very special and deeply rooted educational culture of dialogue, challenge and exploration showed up for me and my friends in our A level Geography lessons.
Spoiler alert - this story does have a very happy ending - but it started very badly.
One of our two Geography A level teachers was from Tallis - our much loved and respected Mr Shurwin. Mr Shurwin was pretty quiet, but he was funny and kind. He commanded our respect and attention largely because he was a really lovely bloke, and he treated his students as grown ups, who had every right to ask questions and challenge ideas. I remember him treating us like this even when we were in the lower school. He got the best out of us by letting us explore our imaginations, while gently guiding us to the knowledge he knew we needed to absorb for the boring stuff - like exams!
But things got off to a very bad start with our other A level teacher, Ms Holland, who was from one of the other schools. She evidently found us to be querulous and obstructive. The lessons were conducted at Tallis, and I suspect we were somewhat territorial and snooty. We thought she was impatient and disinterested. We argued incessantly - the class was not going well.
After a few weeks things blew up and we had a massive row. I think it may have even involved us locking her out of the classroom (sorry - but I promise this story does end well!)
When she eventually made it into the classroom she was understandably furious.
"What's wrong with you people?" she yelled at us. "Why do you keep on going off on tangents all the time and asking random questions?" she wanted to know.
"Well that's how we've always learned" we replied. "We just want to talk a bit more!"
Ms Holland was understandably exasperated - but nuff respek to her - she said "OK. we're gonna try it your way. Because my way clearly isn't working".
It was transformative. Ms Holland was brilliant - she was funny, engaging, and exciting. One of the best teachers I've ever had. She met our energy with her own - and her lessons were great.
Somehow - despite my head at 17 being thoroughly turned as a young man discovering the delights of London town - Mr Shurwin and Ms Holland helped me get an A in my Geography A level.
A very belated thanks to you both!
I ended up reading a Geography degree, at Sussex, where I had the immense privilege of being able to continue asking questions and challenging received wisdoms - sometimes for the hell of it, but always in pursuit of knowledge, however obscure.
And in the faces and questions of the year 8s I met during my guest lesson about the Benin bronzes, I saw, heard and felt some of that same energy that I experienced when I was a student at Tallis many many many years ago.
It was a pleasure to be back!
-- Keme Nzerem
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
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.