These remarkable pictures represent a small sample of an archive that I inherited from the 'old school'. I've had them for about 11 years, carefully stored at the back of a filing cabinet in my office. The celebrations this year have prompted me to get some of them scanned and this is the result.
As a photography teacher, I'm impressed by the quality of many of these pictures. Some of them have a surreal charm. Some are hilarious - the children rolling around in the snow, for example. Some have a purely documentary interest. One or two of the portraits are striking. They capture a variety of activities - school trips to Scotland and the Alps, cooking and eating, DT projects, sports days. They remind us that the school used to have cherry trees on the concourse and the Ferrier Estate once loomed over us.
Many of the individuals in these pictures must now be grandparents. As I'm never tired of telling my students, (mis-quoting Roland Barthes) photographs remind us of things lost. My favourite image is of a young boy wearing flared jeans and Doctor Marten boots gently extracting something hot from a school oven with the aid of a tea towel. He doesn't yet know whether what he's cooked is beautiful or edible. I can't help thinking that this is the perfect visual metaphor for education.
-- Jon Nicholls
The life of the father of English choral music Thomas Tallis is an enigma. Historical documents that reveal his character and thinking habits are like finding a needle in a haystack. What does survive in abundance is the huge volume of musical scores that illuminate many of our inferences about the qualities he must have displayed during his 45 years of working for four Tudor monarchs at the Greenwich Palace of Placentia.
With so little to go on other than the musical scores, how was the History Department going to conceive of a celebration of his life in the form of a KS3 visit and historical enquiry? Where should we go? What might we see? What would we ask the students to consider? What use might it be today as the school that bears his name celebrates its 50th Anniversary year?
In an attempt to solve these puzzles, staff members made their way to the Church of St. Alfege and the Old Royal Naval College Visitors' Centre in the heart of the world heritage site of Greenwich in the summer of 2021 and from there the vision began to take shape.
The wonderful staff of St Alfege Church would help illuminate the artefacts in their Tallis corner and a visit to the crypt using torches to investigate further. Similarly, colleagues at the ORNC Visitors Centre would reveal evidence of the former Greenwich Palace of Placentia where he worked for the best part of five decades. The aim? To exercise student inquisitiveness and consider the relationship between Tallis the man and the place where he worked. Furthermore, to explore the connections with the character and habits that the school encourages the students to develop in their journey through Thomas Tallis school, in the 5 decades of public education provision it as provided in this part of southeast London.
The result? Ten consecutive days of trips for the whole of Year 7 and 8 that witnessed the collaboration not only of our school with external providers but the invaluable contribution of staff from pastoral, special needs, administrative and kitchen staff ably supported by our Senior Leaders Team, too many to mention.
The legacy? Our students know who he was, where he worked and the incredible character and habits, he maintained throughout his time here in Greenwich 1540-1585. Our students understand the reason these characteristics and habits remain of such significance in their own journeys in life, wherever they may lead. A webpage documenting the visits can be viewed here. And, thanks to colleagues and students in the media arts, here's a film version of our shared adventure:
Here's what some of colleagues had to say about the experience:
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.
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
I have always believed that school trips should be at the heart of a good education. Education is about memories and friendships and shared experiences. During my 22 years at Thomas Tallis I've had the privilege to organise a large number of trips, probably about 50 odd to UCL and the Royal Observatory, Greenwich during my time teaching A-level chemistry and GCSE Astronomy.
However, my personal favourite was a residential trip that I ran every year for sixth form students to the Margaret Macmillan centre in Wrotham, Kent. Located in the North Kent Downs we always used to take all of Year 13 in Feb/March to consolidate their A-level science subjects. The students worked so hard over 3 days, typically 12 hour shifts, but we had loads of fun too!
There would often be snow on the fields and bluebells in the woods. One year we built igloos and, most years, the students enjoyed the climbing walls as a break from their science education. Every year we had loads of fun in the evenings! The staff who visited Wrotham over the years included Mr Wardell, Mr Lederer, Ms Karim, Ms Stenhouse, Ms Edmond and many many more. In the evenings we would light a campfire and pass the guitar, or have a science quiz or get out the school telescope. Striking the celestial jackpot would mean finding Jupiter and its moons or just about making out the polar icecaps on Mars. Making Year 13 astrophysics real!
Sing-songs would always include the Beatles (sorry kids but you came away to be properly educated)! It was like stepping back in time, built in the 1950's with no wi-fi reception (so no mobile phone time - shock horror!) we all had to go back to basics. The food was old-fashioned crumble with lots of custard and no fried chicken in site. In many ways, it always reminded me of visiting Macca's childhood home in Liverpool: basic, simple, family values. We all had to talk to each other and make up our own entertainment.
One deputy head was very dubious about the educational value of the trip. However, when I was short-staffed I invited him and he was quickly converted. He saw how hard the students worked and he let himself enjoy the magic atmosphere of the trip, even letting his hair down to pick up the guitar. The moment he bumped into a student revising at 5 o'clock in the kitchen convinced him!
One thing about such trips is you learn that the students never sleep. A teenager's clock keeps strange time! I must admit, it used to take me a week to recover. On the way home there would be some very sleepy students on the bus.
It was also a chance to build genuine friendships with staff and see the students thrive outside a formal school atmosphere. I hope that all of the students remember the trips fondly and look back at all the fun we had!
-- Andy Smythe
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
It's ten years now since you died. What a long time a decade seemed when we heard Paul Simon's song Ten Years at your funeral! I'm sharing this letter now because I still think of you often.
You died on 9 July 2009, between your sixtieth birthday and your sixtieth birthday party. You weren't an easy friend. I think I was one of the few that you didn't have a major falling-out with at some point or another. But there were lots of people who loved you. There were going to be lots of people at your party, and there was standing room only at your funeral later that month.
Jane Clossick and I stood there together and listened to this song. An old friend of yours told the story. You were his guest at Christmas one year, and being characteristically convivial at the dinner table. When this came on the stereo your focus changed, you dropped out of the conversation, listened intently; you asked for it to be played again, and again; you listened again, and again, concentrating. It's a scene vividly familiar to anyone who knew you. What was it about the song that caught your attention?
I have so much to thank you for. You introduced me to three of the great loves of my life: music, Scotland, and whisky.
I'm sorry that I never got on with the oboe, the instrument you chose for me. But the steel pans were magnificent. What a joy to be part of making that glorious happy music! It's nearly 25 years since we took our band Panache to Spain, and you charmed the mayor of Cadiz into letting us headline at the Carnival. I remember your magnificent vain delight at being given the remote control for the culminating firework display; at sending the signal so that the rockets burst just as we played the last chord in our favourite song.
Thank you for introducing me to Scotland. I had already visited that corner of Argyll on holiday with my family when we first took a trip to Inverliever in May 1995, but it was on our school music trips to the Lodge between then and 2001 that the Highlands really captured my heart. Now I live in Scotland, teaching and writing here, and spending my spare time exploring the Highlands (by bus and train - you'd approve!). So much of my life has been shaped by that connection. Thank you for sharing that love with me.
In truth it probably wasn't very professional for you to sit drinking Laphroaig with me until the small hours in Inverliever while we waited for the younger students to go to sleep. But we set the world to rights several times over, and I've enjoyed the stuff ever since. For a few years I kept a stock of Port Ellen, your favourite. I think we both liked it because the distillery closed in 1983, so we knew that each glass was part of a dwindling, dying stock. I wonder what you would make of the news that the distillery will be reopening? Excited, but also maybe - like me - just a little bit grumpy about being deprived of that pleasurable melancholy? In any case, I'll test it for you, in about fifteen years' time, when I can get my hands on a bottle.
Here's one of my favourite memories. In the lonely years before I found my feet at school I used to arrive early and sit with you in the Music Suite. We'd drink lapsang souchong tea (another gift to me - I still drink it all the time) and talk about maths, music, politics, and philosophy. The morning I'm thinking of we didn't talk much. When I arrived you were listening to Ralph Vaughan Williams on the stereo. I sat down silently and we listened together for about twenty minutes, watching the early summer sunshine on the trees, hearing the Lark Ascending, enjoying the music and each other's company, and saying nothing.
Anyway. I miss you. I know you were lonely, and ill, and afraid of going blind. I nod along when other people say that it's probably a blessing that you died so suddenly when you did. But I miss you all the same. I wish we could talk over a glass of whisky every now and again.
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
In July 1996 Nelson Mandela was visiting London and was due to speak to crowds outside the South African Embassy in Trafalgar Square. I had been teaching at Tallis since 1984, and my SRE students knew how much Mandela’s visit meant to all of us, how momentous an occasion this was. They begged to go and hear him - and this was literally the day before!
We would need immediate permission from the Headteacher, Colin Yardley.
If this had been any other school, it would have been a ‘no’ from the Head, due to the logistics of such a last minute arrangement. As we reminisce, I so clearly remember the Tallis way, with Colin at the helm - a ‘can do’ and ‘let’s make it happen’ approach to events. The massive enthusiasm of the students, who helped me to ask Colin, and my assurance that I would obtain all the parental permissions overnight, and bring these to him personally, was all we needed.
We went, and wow!! - it was the highlight of my career and a pinnacle of happiness for the whole group.
On their return to school, all the students rushed to find and thank Colin and regale him with the details of Mandela’s speech and of the euphoric atmosphere in Trafalgar Square.
-- Mandy O'Donnell (Hitchcock)