Hello! My name is Mía and I joined Thomas Tallis Post 16 in September 2019. I remember being very excited and looking forward to joining a school that seemed to share my values and would hopefully encourage me in my decisions for the future - I was not disappointed.
I am currently studying for a degree in Astrophysics at Queen Mary University of London and am very proud to be a Tallis alumni. I have two younger siblings both of whom are Tallis students and I often find myself recommending Tallis to other potential students.
Although I can be quite naturally shy, I always felt confident approaching teachers for help. They made me feel comfortable from the beginning by being friendly and relaxed even while upholding behaviour and expectations in lessons, which seemed to command a very genuine form of respect from students and added to the sense of community at Tallis. Having the perspective of attending a different secondary school beforehand, really helped me to appreciate Tallis in its style of education and I always noticed the great sense of community that was there, even before I had made many friends or got to know my teachers very well, which I think is the best environment to be comfortable and focus on learning.
Tallis allowed me to pursue my interests and actively encouraged me to do so. I am a person who is passionate about a variety of subjects and I appreciate being given the opportunity to study a range of them rather than being prescribed a specific pathway, while still under the advisement of the Sixth Form team about possibilities for potential careers. I was also encouraged in the projects I was part of outside school, such as the National Youth Folk Ensemble, where I was met with enthusiasm by the music department, and even asked to share some English traditional music with my peers.
Although both of my years at Tallis were affected by the pandemic, I always noticed that there were still many enriching extracurricular activities and trips proposed to help engage students in their subjects, especially to motivate younger students but also in Post 16. In Physics a trip to CERN was proposed and in History another to Berlin. I also remember how despite lockdown, the Tallis orchestra was still able to produce a video with us all playing together.
When applying for a music degree at Cambridge, I remember being very supported by the UCAS team as well as my music teachers specifically. And although I ended up not passing the extensive process, it was a highly valuable experience from which I emerged having gained skills in interviews and having prepared my CV in advance for further UCAS applications.
I finished studying at Thomas Tallis in May 2021, and left with four A Levels in History, Music, Physics and Maths. Although I did not go on to study it, I am very proud of my A Level in History as it was a subject I had not studied at GCSE and was able to really enjoy and do well in thanks to my teachers.
I have gladly returned various times to offer my help, which I would be more than happy to continue doing in future, and that is the greatest testament I can make to my time there.
-- Mia Iles Pérez
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
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
Thomas Tallis kept much of his life to himself which was probably wise in a bloodthirsty century when serving a monarch could be good news one day and fatal the next. The first post we know he had was as organist at Dover Priory, where he was described as joculator organorum, player of the organs. Joculator means ‘player’ and is also where we get ‘juggler’ and the French ‘jongleur’. It sounds a jolly sort of job.
Tallis the professional musician spent most of his life as a court musician, serving the kings and queens at their Greenwich palace. The latest biography says that in his lifetime he saw "a massive influx of new musical practices from outside England. He saw the birth of the music publishing industry in London. He saw the creation of new genres and the transformation of old genres beyond all recognition."
How did he know what to do? How did he measure the risks and opportunities? What made him decide, in the courts of mercurial, violent and unpredictable monarchs, what was worth risking his neck for?
I think there’s a clue hidden in his epitaph:
As he had lived, so also did he die
In patient quiet sort (O happy man);
To God full oft for mercy did he cry,
Wherefore he lives, let death do what he can.
Tallis had a long view. He was a Roman Catholic Christian, which he had to hide for a huge chunk of his life. He would have been ready to die. He would have kept his soul in order. He would have hoped patiently for the best, cultivating optimism about what he could build and what he could leave behind. He would have hoped that the world would change for the better.
And he wanted to know that world. He was inquisitive. Tallis learned from anyone who passed through the court, questioning the great musicians of Spain and the new, plainer singing from Germany. He worked with it all to develop a unique music that’s still in daily use five hundred years later.
Tallis can’t be pigeonholed as just a survivor, though that was itself a remarkable achievement. He was an artist, a thinker, dedicated to a creativity that flooded his days.
What a gift that example is to our school, to be named, at four hundred years’ distance for a man who was "at ease with a broad range of styles and could move freely among them while keeping a distinctive voice of his own [...] He did not merely survive constant change; it made him even more resilient and more capable.’"
Fifty years of school history seems like a long time to us, earthbound and rational as we are. But Tallis’s optimism and inquisitiveness made his name live forever. The songs of his past echo round the world and as long as singers sing he’ll be known and loved. Though he died in 1585 he’ll live as long as history because he loved the thought of the future, of wondering, questioning, exploring and investigating and challenging assumptions that terrified lesser people. You’ve got to love the man’s optimism.