Writing this in March 2022, Lord Hattersley's visit to Tallis in 2006 seems like a lifetime ago. These were the days of Blair’s New Labour, and whilst the initial euphoria and optimism of the 1997 election victory had been diluted, for me at least they seem like halcyon days compared to those who have held this office since 2010.
Roy Hattersley had not come to talk about the present though. He had come on a Teaching Challenge. Literally. Arriving with a film crew in tow he had come to take on the task of teaching my Year 12 History class. The class had been engaged with thinking hard on the theme of struggles for equality through the lens of the British women's suffrage movement and the American Civil Rights movement. My students had accepted the invitation to engage in his teaching pedagogy to think further. My role was to comment upon it live via a video link set up in the office adjacent to the teaching room.
I arrived at school early that day, a habit that has not changed. I prepared the classroom, facilitated the requirements of the camera crew, and reassured my students that it was nothing to worry about and that they should enjoy the occasion.
It is hard not to be overwhelmed when you are in the presence of a politician and a political leader for whom you have some admiration. But, then again, he was not in his comfort zone, I was. The classroom was my world. The House of Commons and Lords was his. I was the expert. Or so I thought. And then he started. Just wow. What a lesson!
You see the thing was Roy's life was intimately entwined with struggles for equality. His life’s work was defined by it. He was able to share the stories of gender and racial equality with consummate ease. Once more, he did this entirely through anecdotes and stories .... no work sheets or textbooks to be seen. In addition, such stories could be embellished with accounts of personal involvement and experience such as meeting Bayard Rustin with Robert Kennedy in 1964. I was not born till 1965! I had been reminded of the power of stories to engage and captivate young minds. Oh, my word what a lesson. And it was a privilege for me to watch and comment.
Finally, Lord Hattersley and I shared lunch with the students in Greenwich Park, an opportunity for some less formal conversation. Blair and Brown were the hot topics of the day. At the end my assessment of Roy's teaching, I asked him for a self-assessment and he offered that he was satisfactory and would avoid special measures. I suggested he was very modest.
Bless you Lord Roy Hattersley. You made our day and gave me a tale to tell.
-- Tony Hier
Titter ye not, but I’m a behaviour nerd. Such is the debasement of the language that you’d expect that to mean some super-strict schtick, and may be goggling at my effrontery. How can someone simultaneously be interested in school behaviour while allowing trainers? Woman’s a nutter.
Allow me. Teenagers need structure. They need it not just as training for adult life, though that’s a useful side-effect. They need structure because their brains are constantly reassessing and confronting potentialities. They’re risk takers, boundary-pushers, programmed to start breaking away from home and focus on independence and friends. Some do this more than others. Socio-economics notwithstanding, some are happy to fit in, some rebellious. Some arrive ready for pleasant community life, some are prickles and pickles from head to foot. The needs or desires of the one seem hardwired to clash with the deserts of the many.
This is the context for secondary behaviour management. How you respond thereafter is a matter of educational principles, of belief. Do these children need to be metaphorically battered into obedience to save them from themselves or coaxed into their best selves?
I’m thinking about the last 50 years in these pieces. I was about to go to a girls’ grammar school in 1971 which turned co-ed and comprehensive in 1973. I suspect there was little thought given to behaviour management in the former system, which may have been regretted after the merger. Some grammar school staff didn’t last long – or perhaps they were all very old, they seemed so to me, but that probably just meant they were over 30. As a schoolchild I was disorganised, lazy, opinionated and loquacious: the kind of combo that finishes off the weaker kind of chalk-botherer but is easily squashed by the stronger, or the more interesting. I spent a lot of time outside classroom doors but if anyone had even thought about phoning my mother I’d have been silent for a month. Parents’ evenings, as I must have told you before, held significant terrors for me and were often followed by Ominous Silence on the Home Front.
I don’t remember a behaviour management focus when I started teaching in the eighties, though you soon got a feel for the ones who could hack it and help you. Sanctions, as in punishments, weren’t routinely discussed. There was no expectation of restorative conversations, just a vague idea that children should know how to behave and be shouted at until they did - though probably the best colleagues had more strings to their bows. My second school was out of control and I left teaching for a bit. Later, in a middle management role in the nineties I got hooked into a US training programme called Assertive Discipline. Looking back, this was probably the start of the kind of detailed, consistent whole-school behaviour policies which are now everywhere. I love tangling with human nature and the systems seemed blindingly obvious to me. I became a trainer with the chance to help struggling teachers – but did it make a difference to my practice? I’m still a bit disorganised and personally disinclined to use rigid systems when I could generally generate a decent climate in the room by other means, notably a really interesting and quite challenging curriculum.
When I first clawed my way up the greasy pole to leadership I worked in an eccentric school with an arcane and largely unknown behaviour policy. We could codify simple expectations: do your homework, listen carefully, don’t swear and so on. A Deputy Head more experienced than I decided to set about the ‘unwritten rules’ which appeared to catch out lots of children – don’t go west to east along the upper science corridor, don’t use reception as a short cut into the lower science corridor and so on. She collected them into one document with brief explanations, twelve pages long and utterly unusable.
When I started as Head at the turn of the century we were up against it so introduced some quick and specific rules. In an exceptionally challenging school I still stopped short of monolithic classroom expectations because I knew I was temperamentally unsuited to enforcing them. Quality standards, yes. Identical structures, relationships and lessons – no. Did I let them down? Lazy, disorganised and opinionated again? Returning to the eccentric school we tightened it up a bit, got fiercer at the sharp end and one Head of Year introduced the only fully teacher-proof rewards system I’ve ever seen.
When I was interviewed at Tallis (finally, you gasp) no one talked about behaviour. I did, quite a lot, when I got the job and we’ve been on it ever since. Why? We’re a mixed community with liberal values. Children expect to have things explained to them. They don’t share similar backgrounds. We encourage debate. Parents are of all sorts. We have to be subtle and nuanced. We have to try to work for everyone. We are about as far from zero-tolerance as you can get and yet our behaviour is reliably good – a working definition of excellence, actually.
I’m not a nutter. I was recommended Professor Michael Marland’s matchless magisterial Craft of the Classroom in 1983 and I’ve clung to it ever since. A product of its time, it sets out the basics of behaviour management at classroom level and upon its methods rest all learning and good order in my view. I sometimes buy colleagues a copy for about a quid off the internet and at a penny a page it’s the very best value. Some bits need excising or explaining: this from a section on ‘physical action’ is very much of its time, for a book first published in 1975.
All that having been said, I must add that we are all human and tempers can be lost. There are very few teachers who have not struck a pupil at some time or another int heir career. A time will come when either you are in a particularly touchy state or a pupil is extremely irritating, and you strike out. Should this happen, don’t cover it up. Send at once for a senior member of staff. If one is not available, go to see your Head of Department or the Deputy Head as soon as the lesson is over.
We forget how far we’ve come.
I think that my view – the minimum rules needed for a fair and safe school - is reflected in the way that the United Nations characterised the conditions necessary for justice for young people, also in the eighties and expressed in eighties language:
Behaviour is a language of communication. Like all languages it needs to be learned and understood. It needs support and constant attention. Children learn how to behave well when they trust the adults around them to do the best they can. Adults do the best they can when they are appreciated, supported and trained. None of this is easily measurable but all of it is vital, vital to all of our fulfilment and happiness in every generation.
The young people of the twenty-twenties are learning to behave in a time of trial perhaps unprecedented, certainly unknown to the generations before them. We pressure and commodify our young through capitalism and the examination system in a way that raises expectations of equality just to crush them with the class boundaries we still, inexplicably, endure. They struggle with racism, gender-based violence as well as plain old misogyny and all in a context of pandemic, uncertainty and poverty for many and catastrophic, exploitative climate change that threatens us all.
Old Machiavelli lived in difficult times and had some difficult solutions to offer. But he knew that the state was safer if people’s lives weren’t made too difficult, and he underpinned that with a simple insight:
A city based on good laws and good orders has no necessity, as have others, for the virtue of a single man to maintain it.
It takes a community to raise a child and that community needs good laws and procedural regularity. That’s what we try to do at Tallis, fairly, and persistently. As we build up our young folks to lead the future we dare to be different, we stick with difficulty and we tolerate uncertainty. We try very hard to do it fairly, because there’s no peace without justice.
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)
I taught a great many years at Tallis.
A friend in the Maths Department got me my first job on supply working mostly in music and humanities. I was going to earn a few pennies before going travelling again. I stayed about thirty years. Just couldn’t drag myself away.
So many stories. So many fantastically talented and challenging students. So many lovely staff.
And Inverliever. I calculate I shared Inverliever, or Arran, with over 1000 students over the years. I led many a Year group trip but if anyone would have me along ( Music, Humanities, other year groups ) I would volunteer my half-term away. Those who experienced Inverliever know of its magic. It’s a place you don’t easily forget. All the trips held their magic but two in particular are never to be forgotten.
The first involved a small group of lads ( they will remain anonymous but they know who they are) who made the staff's lives miserable all week by not sleeping, raiding the girls’ dorms and more. I can’t name staff either but we were fed up and found ourselves poring over a huge sheet of paper on which we had made a map of the premises and upon which we devised a battle plan to end all battle plans. It involved the staff breaking into groups and placing themselves at strategic places around the dorms with fire hoses and buckets of water in preparation for the revenge on the lads who, without doubt would leave their dorms to raid the girls’ dorm at a given time. We had got a few of the girls to write them a note ‘inviting’ them to their dorm at a certain time. All we needed to do was reel them in.
They fell for it! They were annihilated as they broke out of their dorm. Fire hosed, soaked by buckets they could run nowhere. A couple even found themselves dunked in the washing up sinks! They were then locked out of their dorms to face a few minutes in the Scottish February frost before we let them back into the warmth of a shower and bed.
Such fun! Such revenge!
Twice we took groups to the top of Ben Nevis. Couldn’t do it now …..elf and safety.
One group included the usual few for whom it was going to be the biggest challenge of their life and I was at the rear cajoling them to make it to the top. In the end I promised them a MacDonalds from the cafe that we would find at the top. The fib was enough to get them there and I knew that their disappointment, when they realised my lie, would soon be overcome by the awe they would feel by the view and the certain knowledge that they were the ‘ highest people in the whole of the UK’ at that moment.
Yes. Inverliever had a way of helping us all find our little place in a big Universe.
Kind of sums up Tallis. Challenge, fun, friendship. Achievement.
-- Tim Joyce
I arrived at Tallis in September 1993, having led a rather sheltered life. Well turned out for the first day in my new shiny black trousers and even shinier black shoes, it soon became clear that rather than being a place of conformity and rule following, Tallis was a melting pot of characters where the whiff of rebellion was ever present.
Whether it was the Thomas the Tank Engine apron proudly warn by Mrs Young, or the Tibetan Flags that were festooned across room 43 (Ms O having spent the summer immersing herself in an Asian adventure of apparently epic proportions), the pupils, staff and subjects that made Tallis were like nothing I’d ever experienced.
The 5 years leading to my GCSEs were the very best, and very worst of times. Throughout the ups and downs, Tallis became a home. It was the unfailing support , perseverance and determination of a great many people that meant I made it to year 11 in reasonable shape. Bar one red ticket (absolutely Shane’s fault, Ms Leeke!), some infrequent detentions and the occasional bollocking, I was usually on the right side of the law as far as school was concerned.
Mrs Maguire had introduced me to politics and I was enjoying representing the school in our local youth council, learning more about democracy and very much finding my voice. It was a passion that gripped me from an early age and although none of our formal education had been political, Ms O, Mr J and others had informally educated us on the intricacies of the geopolitical landscape. Mr Mandela - revered. Mr Major - not so much.
Anyway, the summer was approaching and I was doing my best to keep those year 11 plates spinning in the air, aided ably by the wonderful Mrs R. I was the only student for her half term revision class, the subject of which was the power of aromatherapy oils and the hidden powers you could unleash to get through your exams. It was great fun. Armed with more lavender than a small branch of Holland and Barrett and an array of highlighters, I was motoring towards the end and making good progress.
Except for Italian.
Now, the languages faculty was a big deal at Tallis and filled with some big characters. Exotic menus of global cuisines adorned the walls. As a very fussy eater it all looked pretty disgusting (me being much more a fan on the turkey twizzler than the tortellini) but Ms C had persevered with us for almost 2 years, desperate to make the kids from the Ferrier authentic for any future trips to Florence. Sadly, I was more captivated by her colourful use of the overhead projection than I was trying to pretend to buy a second class rail ticket from Rome to Venice and by the February-March time, with just weeks to go, I had decided (inspired in part by the icons Summer and Streisand) that enough was enough.
My lobbying efforts were well underway by early March to rid me of this evil (to be fair, Mrs C was very evidently feeling the same way at this point) and despite eloquent, extended explanations to all of the senior team, no one was prepared to let me drop the bloody subject. I was furious. Seething. Livid about the amount of time I was wasting on this pointless endeavour!
A brief flashback to a year 10 history listen - I was a big fan of the suffragettes - led me to the firm conclusion that a period of direct action was required. After all, I couldn’t be the only one feeling like this! (Year 11 was a rollercoaster - Emmeline Pankhurst one moment, Adrian Mole the next…) So having evaluated all options, I swiftly eliminated window breaking, hunger striking or chaining myself to anything.
An organised walk out would be my chosen method of attack. Although I wouldn’t be in lessons, I had considered all legal arguments and was pretty sure there was a world of difference between truanting and protesting.
Pandora was recruited as my fellow commander and we got to work on the specifics. It’s bizarre to think that we had no WhatsApp, Facebook or any platform to really communicate at scale. I didn’t even have a mobile phone! So we reverted to the trusted communication method that has served those dessert islanders so well over the centuries - the rolled up piece of paper. Pandora and I both had excellent handwriting, but it was fairly recognisable and whilst we were happy to organise, we hadn’t quite settled on going public as protestors in chief. At that stage of our education, one of the benefits of year 11 was the 2 hours twice a week discovering the joys of word processing. So we set ourselves to work.
Languages walk out. Enough is enough. Meet at the year base period 4 Wednesday.
As Pandora and I were both quite proficient in IT, we decided to upgrade this rather dull message to something more fitting, a revolutionary call to arms. Though I can’t be absolutely sure, I’d imagine that comic sans was the most likely font of choice and as we were doing well with Mrs B and the word processy stuff, we were able to arrange a perfect set of label printing. We needed 210 of those (1 for each of the year group as we were in a 7 x 30 combination at that stage). Rotatrims we’re in ample supply across the school and we were fortunate to have an unending supply of the year 11 must-have accessory: the clear plastic wallet - big thanks to WH Smith at this point, still the nation’s best stationer in my view.
I enlisted a series of lieutenants and gave them 10 each, instructing the message to be disseminated broadly across the year group. A good strategy I thought and one that would mean a charge of joint enterprise in the event that we were uncovered.
So with messages printed, distributed and the date of the revolution set, all there was to do was wait.
And before too long, it was D-Day.
In the run up to the day itself, chat was fairly muted - most people weren’t aware that me and P were commanders in chief. Many were dealing with impending coursework deadlines or the latest emotional crisis. I’d wondered whether this was all going to be a rather damp squib.
But, arriving into school that morning, I knew we were on. There was an electric current in the air as we geared up for action. Huddled whispers, nervous giggles - and not a clue about what was to come from our unsuspecting teachers.
It was suddenly break time and as usual we headed to the year base. It was a fairly warm day and we would normally have been outside, but a spontaneous solidarity now united us.
Suddenly, commotion. An almighty racket from the door leading out. What the hell was going on?
Having headed round the corner, I was momentarily lost for words. The 11RS lads (very much a motley crew) were suddenly amassing any piece of available furniture they could lay their hands on and for some unexplained reason barricading all of us inside the year bus. Chairs, tables, trays - it all went on, piling higher and higher by the second. Having intervened to ask what the bloody hell was going on, one of them replied they were stopping us from going to languages, having apparently completely misinterpreted the note!!! As I ran over to stop the false start, a very angry Mr B was heading towards the door at speed, hollering and shouting - we assumed - for the immediate cessation of activities! As that failed, he launched into a sort of fly kick, desperately trying to break the barricade, at the door! Panic ensued in the year base, with most now exiting through the emergency door, or the window for those feeling more adventurous!
Period 3 was over in a flash, and the familiar tone of the pips signalled the beginning of the revolution: operation walk out was on! I sprinted to the year base, to find not one, not two but many revolutionaries who had answered our call. I also found Pandora, who was now mildly hysterical. Lots of noise and swirling about before someone came up to me (my cover blown) and said: so what now? At that very moment, I was panic stricken, it suddenly dawning on me that I’d done all the work to get us here but hadn’t actually planned what next. We had no placards, or purple and green sashes, no organised meeting point…just most of the year group who were now looking to me for direction.
“To the back fields”, I bellowed possibly accompanied by a revolutionary fist in the air. Off we went, huddled together (Pandora and I) now in the middle of the throng, marching purposefully under a Tallis blue sky, all buzzing that things seemed to be going well (so far!).
We were suddenly at the very furthest point of the field, adjacent to the railway line, which seemed as good a place as any to set up shop. We arranged ourselves in groups and mostly sat down. After moments of what seemed like a party atmosphere the air was penetrated by the amplified tones of Mr B.
“Stop, stop right there. We know who you all are” he boomed, megaphone in hand and flanked by at least 20 teachers who had arranged themselves in a line formation and were advancing towards the revolutionaries. As they moved closer, everyone stood up, unsure what would come next. Suddenly, and without warning, one of my number shouted, “RUN”…
And with that, we all did. Quickly, bags in hand, arranging ourselves neatly into a sweeping formation that meant we could escape their advances. “Danny Thorpe, stop right now” one of them screeched, but they had absolutely no chance. Whilst any sporting talents had eluded me so far, my feet were very much to the metal and we were ascending at speed into the building…
Almost hyperventilating, I fell through the door into the Italian classroom. A sweaty, ginger, hysterical mess. And Mrs C was furious. Practically steaming. She ordered us straight back outside and made clear we were not welcome in her room anymore. Trying desperately to get ourselves together, we were soon discovered my Ms L, senior, serious and furious. She was actually much friendlier than her general demeanour suggested, but she was not to be messed with. Her inquisitions were always of a serious nature when her glasses were moving and today was absolutely one of those days. Her demands for answers to explain just what on earth had been going on only made me and P more hysterical, but luckily for us she was soon distracted! A number of the RS lads were now in full flow at the other end of the corridor, reenacting some kind of battle scene as they escaped from the increasingly furious teachers, whose echoey shouts could be heard from all four corners of Planet Tallis as the revolutionaries entered the building.
It was fair to say that the unfolding chaos wasn’t quite what we had planned. And I’d had far more fun than I would have had if my time had been consumed with the seemingly never ending exploration of Italian tenses!
Lunch time was a weird affair. Word had got round and upon encountering any year 11 pupils, the teachers would simply look in disgust. Carol, who ran the dinner operation at Tallis, broke ranks, screaming enthusiastically at any year 11 she could find how disgusted she was with the mornings events.
But there must be more? They must be planning something, we pondered, fairly sure that there would be consequences for our actions. And sure enough, we were right.
Halfway through period 6, we were instructed to down tools and gather our things. Immediately. Directed to the door, it was clear that Operation Strike Back was underway. Marched in silence to the goldfish bowl that was the Sports Hall, we were arranged into tutor groups for the bollocking of our lives.
Understandably, they were beyond furious. And as the torrent of anger rained down, it’s fair to say we weren’t laughing any more. Poor Mr J (Head of Year, Top bloke) looked close to tears, declaring “you’re all sheep” and running between us hollering “baaaaaaaaaaaa” at the assembled masses. The dawning reality that we’d probably taken the poor guy closer to the edge than at any time during his 5 years of shepherding our flock was a sure fire way to bring the party to an end.
There wasn’t really any discussion about a second strike, and after Mr J’s worrying display, I developed the view that I should simply shut up and get on with it.
By some miracle, I ended up with a C in Italian at GCSE, a grade I’m sure I could have improved if I’d concentrated on my studies instead of revolution.
-- Danny Thorpe, Leader of Royal Borough of Greenwich Council
The following interview with Richard Cox and George Taylor was recorded in 2018. Thanks to both them for sharing their memories of the early days of Thomas Tallis School. You can listen to the recording or read the transcript below.
My name is Richard Cox. I went to Thomas Tallis. My first day was the sixth of September 1971, the day that it opened. So I was one of 120 original boys, no girls then, that went to Thomas Tallis. It was at a time when there was a shortage of secondary source spaces and there was a plan to open up Thomas Tallis, further down the line, in Kidbrooke to cope with the the demand of the new people coming onto the Ferrier Estate. But, in September '71, the school hadn't been built and we had to spend two years at Briset Road. So, that was my introduction to Thomas Tallis.
I've never been a student at Thomas Tallis but my son is a friend of Richard's and he started on the same day in '71. Because my son was coming to the school, I took an interest in what was happening. And I was a parent governor for a number of years. I stayed a parent governor for about three or four years and then my daughter came to the school.
In the early days, there were only four teachers. There was Mr. Turpie who everyone will know and love. We've lost him recently, which is a big shame. But we also had Mr. Richter and Mr. Evans and Mr. Martindale. So they were our four teachers. Mr. Evans specialised in general science, Mr. Richter was English and Mr. Martindale taught maths. Mr. Turpie was geography. And we had a temporary Head for one term, Mr. Davis. And there was a Mr. Edwards who was the deputy head at the time and he taught history. So we didn't have a broad curriculum. In those days, we didn't have any sports facilities like you've got now. Fantastic sports facilities. The students here are very lucky in that respect. But we just had to get on with it. So it was very a big learning curve for everybody. In those early days we had a fantastic basketball team. The first intake got to the last eight of the national competition. And we played against a school from Hampstead down here in the old building. The gallery was packed with teachers and students watching us. It was a really close game. We lost it, but the sporting achievements were fantastic. And of course, in those early days, the school produced Pat Van Den Hauwe, do you remember him? He went on to play for Tottenham and Everton. He was in the year below me. Yeah, that's right. He had a brother called Rudy but I don't think he was that great. But yeah, what Tallis gave me was the friendships, the social interactions, because all of the people that I grew up with are still my friends. I mean, we've been friends for 47 years. So it's a, it's a big deal for me. I left school with virtually no qualifications. But we all make our way in life and some of us went on to great things. I've just retired. I'm not complaining. I've had a good life. Thomas Tallis set me on my way. There was a big reunion about 15 years ago. The teachers were there and it was as if we were really good friends. I mean, we used to call them by their first names. I'm not sure you get that anymore. I went on to form friendships with some of the teachers outside of school with rugby. So a lot of the teachers here came to play for Charlton Park and that's the rugby club that I was taken to by one of the teachers who played there, so that set me up for life. They treated you like adults, and they encouraged you. And they let you get on with things. They let you learn. They let you use blow torches and things like that in the metalwork classes. You didn't have to worry about health and safety. Everything was common sense. And they kept you on the straight and narrow. It was like a family atmosphere.
Well I'm afraid I'm going to pour some cold water on it because I haven't got very many positives. Some of the experiences Richard is telling you about were anathema to a parent of my age. First name terms with teachers and so on and so forth. My son, like Richard, what was it...? O Levels...?
We were so far behind. For the first two years, we did virtually nothing. Because we didn't have the building. We were in Briset Road, a very confined space. We just did the basics so when we came to Kidbrooke Park Road, it was catch up. And they tried to bring people in, they tried to cram but it didn't work. There were only a handful of people that went on to do O Levels. Most people did CSEs. So the academic achievement was non-existent. Of course, you didn't have league tables, you didn't have the pressure of trying to achieve in 1976. You could walk out the front door, and you could get a job. You didn't have to worry about qualifications. You could write to a bank and say, "I'd like to come and work at the bank" and you'd get a response or a nice letter back saying "Come and have an interview". And they'd give you a job and there were jobs aplenty. From a personal perspective, I didn't feel cheated. It's only later in life, that you feel cheated when you realise that you haven't had the education that you deserve, when the promotions are not there at work. So that's interesting.
I can really reiterate a lot of what Richard said in relation to my son who suffered at some stages from word blindness and something else. Turns out, far too late, he was discovered to be dyslexic. But like Richard, this particular group, and the group that he's talking about, all went on to degrees of some kind or other, mainly by their own efforts after they left school. My son struggled for some time. He did get a good job at the local town hall. But he came home one day and said, "Will you sign these papers?" He went to work on a kibbutz for six months, and then it turned out to be a year. And then he walked across the bottom of Africa. "Is he going to settle down?" He did. And would you believe he got a flat with another school friend on the Ferrier Estate. I helped decorate it. But the positives are not very great. I mean, looking at it now, it's marvellous. I do remember when the governors interviewed Mr. Lark. And I was greatly tempted to ask him if he could do a Byrd song at the interview when he had his bag with all his music in it. I wished I'd asked him "What do you intend to do to tie in the school to Thomas Tallis the organist?" Taking up what Richard said about the family atmosphere, having left school with very few qualifications as they did, my son or my daughter, both have had success. My son is now retired, in fact. He was a police inspector when he retired. My daughter had, and we've still got it, a coat that she made here. It was in a glass case in in the foyer of the school. And she now has a beauty business. Very successful. I have nieces, not nephews, actually, who passed through the school and all of whom took degrees at various universities. I have great nieces who came to the school and both of those went on to a degree education. So whatever it was, was planted in those early days. Whilst it might not have benefited the originals, it's benefited a lot of other people since.
Well, I feel I've been cheated in terms of facilities you've got now because we never had those opportunities. In Briset Road we had a very tiny gymnasium. There was also a big sports hall but it had a concrete floor and was very cold. Looking around at the facilities here, the basketball arena, the dojo, the studios, the gymnastics hall. These students are so lucky to have those facilities. And there isn't anything that can stop them from going on to achieve. They can, if they want, be the best. They've got an opportunity to be the best.
Through my own son. I know the affection that he had for the school because he won't have anything set against it. He held the long jump record at the school for a long time. It probably still stands. But that brings up another point. When the Inner London Education Authority went against all competitive sports, and you've got children who are good at competitive sport, but a little bit weak on the academic side, they've got something to wave their banner about. As Richard said about basketball, my son played basketball with Mr. Turpie. But again, we missed out as parents where our children didn't get what we thought they should have got.
I've got no regrets about coming here like Russell (George's son), I wouldn't say anything against it. It was a great, great school.
George kindly donated some photos of the school being built from 1971:
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.