When I first heard of Thomas Tallis School, it was the Spring of 2005, and I was a 24 year old Newly Qualified English Teacher looking for his first job. Knowing that I wanted to leave Kent, where I had trained, I was looking for a comprehensive school, like the one I had attended myself as a child, to work in, rather than the grammar system in which I had trained. Although I knew the kind of school I wanted to work in, I was less sure about where I wanted to move to: Brighton, near where I grew up, and where many of my old friends now lived, or the big smoke of London for a fresh start? Hedging my bets, I applied for two jobs, one in Brighton and one in London, figuring I could make my final decision at a later point.
Why Tallis? Well, when I visited the website, it talked of creativity, of the arts, of being a ‘Leading Edge’ school (whatever that meant). The English department was heavily represented on the website, and described as a strong one. And the website celebrated diversity and inclusion. As a former A-Level Music student, I also knew who Thomas Tallis was (and my friend’s dad was a founder member of the Tallis Scholars). If I’m honest, though, the main thing that really sticks in my mind all these years later was a picture of a teacher I would later come to know as Mr Bradshaw, with a broad grin on his face. The website mentioned that lots of school staff were proud to educate their own children there. It all seemed good enough to me. Applications duly sent, I waited. The school in Brighton never got back to me; Tallis did – they’d like to invite me to interview. So off I went.
Making my preparations, I mentioned to a neighbour at the time where I was off to. ‘Kidbrooke!?’, they exclaimed, ‘Rather you than me!’ was their not very helpful comment. Alighting from the train at Kidbrooke Station on a warm Friday and being confronted by the breeze blocks and broken windows of the by now crumbling Ferrier Estate, I began to see why they might have felt as they did. The old school building itself wasn’t much more inviting: further breeze blocks and broken windows and a sign reading ‘DEAD SLOW’ in red block capitals. I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t feel like turning round and heading back home.
But on I went, stepping into the old Reception. Mrs Roberts herself has said that you know within just a few moments of setting foot in a school whether you like it or not, and I immediately felt as if I hadn’t made a mistake. The school felt vibrant, lively, happy and, in spite of its exterior appearance, welcoming. The students didn’t turn and stare at you as soon as you walked in, as I was used to from my experiences in Kent. They were friendly, as were the staff I spoke to, who also had an air of casual happiness in the t-shirts and jeans that most customarily wore in those days. I met the department (‘It’s great here – you can teach what you like!’) and felt like the interview had gone well. Walking back to the station I felt I had found my school. I awaited the phone call impatiently.
But if it was love at first sight for me, evidently my own first impressions weren’t quite as strong as I had thought. I didn’t get the job – it had gone to another candidate. Oh well, I consoled myself, plenty more schools out there to apply to. I drowned my sorrows and moved on, vowing to forget all about Thomas Tallis School. All until the next Monday morning, when a frantic phone call advised that I’d had a reprieve: a second post was available, teaching A-Level philosophy (and a bit of KS3 drama – a one year experiment about which the less said is the better!) in addition to the English. I thought for all of a few seconds before excitedly accepting. I believe I have the still smiling Mr Bradshaw to thank for that one.
As was customary at the time, before starting for proper in September, it was agreed that I would spend two weeks in school at the start of July. I didn’t know at the time quite what a momentous two weeks they would turn out to be for me. If you would have told me then that I would still be here 17 years later, that I would eventually find myself as Head of School, I wouldn’t have been able to believe it.
So, let’s rewind to the 7 July 2005. It had been decided that the whole school was going to go on a trip that day: every tutor group to a different location around London in order to experience and appreciate the architecture and landscape of the city. The Big Day Out was an excellent plan long in the making, and it would prove to be a memorable experience for all concerned – just not for the reasons we might have expected. My group hadn’t made it far beyond Kidbrooke when urgent calls started to be received on our, in those days far from smart, mobile phones. Terrorists had attacked central London, killing 52 people and injuring hundreds more. It remains the worst single terrorist atrocity on British soil.
Thankfully, no members of the Tallis Community were injured that day. Checking orders, we returned to school, with the staff remaining calm and the students, as ever, keeping in good spirits, engaged in fervent debate about the relative merits of Flaming Hot Doritos or Olive wraps. Later that evening, still feeling shocked and confused after the events of the day, I agreed to meet some friends in a pub in East London, where I would find myself introduced to the woman who is now my wife and the mother of my three children. A momentous day indeed.
In addition to teaching English and Philosophy, and (with a colleague) introducing A-level Creative Writing (RIP), I have been fortunate to hold many fantastic roles at Tallis: UCAS Assistant, Head of English, Assistant Headteacher, Deputy Headteacher, and now Head of School. I have loved every single one of them. Why have I stayed so long? Well, aside from a lack of imagination and a dislike of moving, the Tallis values, which predate any of us and will outlive us all are a significant factor. Creativity, Inclusion, Community, intellectuality, celebrating diversity, non-conformity – these are I think the essence of what one of our governors refers to as our Tallisy-ness. Over the last decade, we have done some work on formulating these values more coherently: we want students to be Inquisitive, collaborative, persistent, disciplined and imaginative. We want to send out young people into the world who are honest, respectful, fair, optimistic and, most of all, kind. Looking back on my own experiences, these more recently defined attributes of the Tallis community have always been there, I think, in my beloved colleagues – the staff - as well as in you, the students.
So why am I leaving now? Well, like Thanos, change is inevitable, and unavoidable. Having been at Tallis for a third of its 50 years, now seems like as good a time as any to move on. I have found another community comprehensive school, this time near Brighton, looking for a Headteacher to help make it the leading creative and inclusive school in its region, and I think that I have learned enough from my time at Tallis to help to lead it towards its goal. Although I may be leaving Tallis, I remain fully committed to the comprehensive educational ideal, believing that the community comprehensive school is the best tool society has for enabling its young people to understand the world and change it for the better.
Tallis isn’t a building (the breeze blocks of the old site or this more appealing one), and it isn’t any individual students or staff. It’s an idea, a principle; values, habits and character. And as I prepare to move back to Sussex with my family, it is these that I will be carrying with me, in my heart.
-- Jon Curtis-Brignell
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.
Down stage left huddled in the wing. Submerged in darkness as the house lights reverberate with a resounding clunk! The light melts away. Only the sound of gentle, slightly heightened, breathing and the palpable blend of excitement and fear, laced with a tinge of adrenaline, fills that cocooned space. A cast waits in the wings ready to make their entrance into the performance space. All the work here is now done. Characters developed, lines learnt, staging blocked, set and costumes designed and made, lighting and sound set. Months of rehearsals in preparation.
At this moment I am redundant. It is now totally theirs as they get ready to step into the space and shine ... and so many have shone so very brightly .
So many plays devised and scripted have begun life from that womb-like corner. From the legendary Cabaret, Romeo & Juliet, Abigail's Party to the magically chaotic and anarchic year 7-9 showcase evenings when improvised pieces were selected from Drama lessons and performed in front of huge audiences. Not for the faint-hearted or those who hoped for an early night!
From that corner I remember hanging onto Leeroy’s (cast Threepenny Opera) pots and pans strapped around him, so they would not jangle. He whispered in my ear, "I’m scared!" I whispered back, "So am I!" Gently sprinkling water on Emily’s (Sally Bowles, Cabaret) face and hair to give her that ravaged streaky mascara look, while simultaneously doing a ten second full costume change. Trapped with the head of Drama, Ginny Lester and a ginormous chair donated from Emma Jeff’s parents' front room in the Life and works of Oscar Wilde, our response to Clause 28. Telling Colin Yardley (the then headteacher), who had agreed to take on the role the prince in Romeo and Juliet in full doublet and hose, to under no circumstances break a leg as we would all be in the quagmire! This was after he had gamely taken part every night in the full cast warm-ups, which included saluting the sun, in said full costume with a dodgy leg.
Many students from Tallis have had interesting and successful careers in the performing Arts - Sam Spruell, Kat Joyce, Dominic Cooper, Ezra Godden, Hannah Chiswick, Marney Godden, Lisa Cowan, Hannah Gittos, Liam Mayasaki-Lane, Will Beer, Ihsan Rustem, Chenai Takundwa, Graham Rinaldi, Kae Tempest, Max Key ,Joe Kerridge, Kemi Nzerem, Nathan Cooper - as actors, directors, designers, writers, musicians, dancers, community arts facilitators, journalists, presenters and artists of the spoken word. These are to mention just a few. Apologies if you are not listed here. You are not forgotten!
Drama should promote confidence, teamwork, empathy, the ability to listen, critique and negotiate, an appreciation of aesthetics, voice projection, discipline and belief. It should be a safe space in which to take risks, make mistakes, play, experience that "Wooohoo" feeling, be challenging whilst also having fun. I think that Drama has impacted on many students outside of the industry and in so many different walks of life.
Tallis has always invested in the arts in its broadest sense. I believe this central focus and its rippling effect is one of the many ingredients that attracted interesting members of staff. It was one of the key reasons I stayed for so long. Arriving on supply, to pay an electricity bill, I hung around for 31 years. Drama is just the best subject to teach and I was honoured and privileged to have taught such talented, intelligent, creative, witty, fine young people .
I have many warm, funny and occasional tough memories of Tallis. Many tales could be told in my role as a tutor, Head of Year and head of the Sixth Form. But the place that I always zoom back to when thinking of Tallis, and the feelings that have never been recaptured and that are still missed, is always being squashed up in that darkened corner downstage left, huddled in the wing.
-- Cath Barton
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
I write this as part of a celebration of 50 years of Thomas Tallis School in 2022. This reminds me of 1997 when, as Head of the Staff Association, I organised the 25th Anniversary event, held at The National Maritime Museum Greenwich. Former and current staff came together for a wonderful evening of celebration in a tremendous setting; indeed a perfect metaphor for Tallis - the centre of the world, the Mean Time.
I worked at Tallis from 1985 to 2019 under all its Headteachers, whilst fulfilling a wide range of roles and responsibilities - Head of Pavilion (On site Unit); Youth Centre worker (in the early days Tallis had both a Youth Centre and a Community Centre where on most days OAPs were welcomed – this later became the 6th form base); Deputy Head of Year; SENCo – I have probably done more IEPs, (Individual Education Plans) than are healthy to do – one year they took 400 hours+ at home and they were still not completed; Head of Citizenship and PSHE; teacher of Social and Religious Education (SRE), Pastoral Studies, Humanities, A-Level Sociology, A-Level Psychology, which I introduced into the school; Chief Invigilator/Exams once I retired from teaching; and also Parent Governor.
Our son, Lewis, went to Tallis and his words are salient:
I went into a tutor group, year 7, where there were 30 pupils and for about 10, English was not their first language. I was so lucky to have that, such richness of diversity. The school portrayed the best of humanity. All children were given a chance and it was so wonderful what it stood for, in its inclusivity, collaborative learning, every child being given a chance, and demanding and producing excellent results. At its best, people were not allowed to fail and there was a focus on the Arts - and winning football teams!. A child was allowed to be!
In its early days, possibly due to the rather unfortunate reputation of the Ferrier Estate which was on its doorstep, Tallis was certainly not the flavour of the month. However, by the 90s, according to National league tables, it was considered to be in the top 200 schools in the country, at least for A-Level. How did this ‘bog standard comprehensive’ in SE London attain such pre-eminence? No doubt the headteachers: Beryl Hussein, Colin Yardley, Nick Williams, Rob Thomas and more recently Carolyn Roberts, and key Deputies – Allen Skuse, Agatha Maguire (who sadly passed away so young), Spyros Elia and Rosemary Leeke, all helped set a tone and create an environment where teachers and pupils could thrive. However I am sure that they would all say that it was everyone - all teachers, pupils, support staff, even the building itself that helped make and ensure that Tallis was a very special place. While always maintaining respect for others, Tallis was an institution that had a clear sense of confidence in itself, its identity and practices, and this led to creative innovation, self belief and solid teaching, and dedication that demanded the best from its teachers and pupils. There was envy around. I once heard a teacher from another school say in a public meeting, “Oh, Tallis, you have to be a girl with a double barrelled name, play the cello and live on the Cator Estate to go there”. And such myths were marvellous because the facts were quite different. Indeed as SENCo, each year, I organised reading age tests for all incoming pupils, and generally at least 75% of the year were at, or more usually below, their actual age. Obviously as a local comprehensive we had no say regarding entrants, even our own children. Lewis was initially 93rd on the waiting list. Only the parents of Statemented children had that right and many, many used it, no doubt attracted by the overall success of the school and because Special Needs had a very good reputation. The school was the first in London to gain the prestigious ‘Basic Skills Agency Quality Mark’. Also, the Local Authority chose Tallis as the home for the Speech and Language and Hearing Impaired Units.
So success must have been due to the practices developed once students arrived. The old school was crumbling but not in spirit! There was a clear sense that both the pastoral and the academic – the whole child – were important. Great emphasis was given to extracurricular activities - after all, if you ask a student about memories it is usually what went on outside the classroom that first comes to mind. For myself, I am very proud that as football manager for the older students I managed to get to a few London Cup Finals, including beating private schools on the way, and winning the competition later became the norm under Richard Ankar. Also, when I moved into Debating after an invite from a competition the day after I was sacked as Football manager by the inimitable Terry Richards (after a couple of sendings off and the worst refereeing display I had ever witnessed, including a goal being disallowed for offside after our captain, in his anger at decisions, had dribbled from just outside our penalty box past every one of the opposition team and put the ball in their net). Not only did we win various debating competitions but we were also asked to represent London in Paris as part of the Entente Cordiale celebrations. Various public schools requested that we join their Debating League. Turning up to compete at Westminster School will be remembered by us all as one the scariest moments of our lives. John Bradshaw’s generosity of spirit also led to us to representing the school in a discussion group at 10, Downing Street for a meeting with Tony Blair and George Brown. Wow!
For a mixed comprehensive to be successful it has to ensure that all abilities want to go there and that it maintains a healthy mix of girls and boys. Colin was brilliant in managing to get middle class parents to demand and trust Tallis instead of sending their children to private or selective schools, of which there are many locally. This was achieved not only by going on a ‘Ferrier Watch’ every lunchtime and chasing after any miscreants, but also emphasising the importance of Art, Drama, English and Music, ably assisted by people such as Howard Nicholson, Cath Barton, Geraldine O’Mahoney and Keith Lark, in leading their subject teachers; too many people to mention, all brilliant. Speaking of Colin, as a ‘Gooner’ I always saw him as George Graham, with Nick Williams as Arsene Wenger – keeping up the great defence but with a bit more style. Indeed the old school could be seen as Highbury, without the grandeur, and the new build as The Emirates. It looks good but perhaps something is missing.
When every teacher left they were given a farewell speech and if they had been there for a couple of years they were expected to reply with their own. When Colin left it was a bit more special… far more song and dance, including a rendition of ‘Love Letters’… In the breaks I read out, totally flat and without dramatics, words from the many disciplinary letters he gave to me. I don’t think anyone could fully understand why I got so many. One was because I had been absent – in fact I did not have a day’s absence for more than 22 years. On the day in question I had organised paternity leave anyway; however, sadly, on that day, my mother died… and yet there was his disciplinary letter! But I loved the man.
A few more words about The Pavilion. It was the on-site unit for pupils who were struggling, or creating struggles in the classroom. One boy ‘just’ came to the unit for drama. That subject ruined his entire week. Another could not face any ‘normal’ lessons. Each student had their own reasons, their own stories. I came with quite a therapeutic, psychoanalytical background, and it was interesting to introduce these approaches both in the 'Pav' and in training sessions in the school. I grew to be doubtful about the convergence of therapy and teaching, but it was really fascinating at the time. There was only one pupil who frightened me in over 45 years of working with young people. I interviewed them all on entry to the Pavilion. He sat so tightly, saying nothing. I was quite fearful that he might suddenly explode and attack me. My dog Charlie came in and rested by him. I was very afraid for my dog. The boy did not move and did not respond to my words. Charlie’s head rested next to his knee. This seemed to go on forever, and then the boy’s hand moved and he started stroking Charlie. Symbolically he was joining the group, and Charlie had done all the sophisticated work.
Beryl Husein was invited to a pupil-cooked lunch at the 'Pav' a couple of weeks after I started. From day one, without asking, because I thought if I asked then refusal would have been the only reply, my dog Charlie (golden retriever/border collie mix) had come to school with me, as he had in my previous place of employment. On her return to the main school Beryl said, “I was given two wonderful pork chops”, whereas what I remembered most was the incredible lick that Charlie had given her and her look of bliss. Charlie worked there for the rest of his life. Interestingly the whole area was an RAF base during the war, with the Pavilion being a hospital for injured airmen. Charlie seemed to feel their ghosts.
There was something wonderfully ‘Napoleon’ about Beryl, diminutive but colossal. Indeed when I arrived a couple of minutes late for my first SSC (Senior Staff Committee) meeting, having in that short time sorted and cleared up the blood after a very rare contretemps in the 'Pav', she said very clearly and firmly “Richard, I do not want to hear the reasons why, but if you are ever late again, do not bother to come ever again”. Clear messaging!
I was Deputy Head of Year to ‘Mrs Tallis’, Margaret Young, another wonderfully formidable woman – there were so many at the school. Pupils thought her very hard, but she had a very kind heart; indeed she was often soft cop to my hard. She would have hated the pupils realising this. Every day she wore her ‘Thomas The Tank Engine’ apron. It always seemed incredible to me that by the end of the first week of term she could put names to faces of all the 210 children. Our year base overlooked the concourse; marvellous for her to keep an eagle eye over all proceedings! Indeed, one summer, Colin and I knocked down the dividing wall between classrooms so as to make a proper sized year base. Not sure too many headteachers would do, or be allowed to do that nowadays. The NRA, annual National Record of Achievement Ceremonies, probably called ‘The Prom’ nowadays, were started by Margaret but evolved into the most wonderful events, especially led by Tim Joyce and Cath Barton, when all the leaving Year 11 students, their parents and special guests came together in celebration. In 1992 Margaret asked me to ‘run’ it. No Deputy had ever done this. I bought a special Hugo Boss cream linen suit. Everyone wore their finest. I shall never forget turning around on the stage and seeing Colin in an almost identical outfit. It was also raining heavily, and totally worryingly I had lost my speech – I had raced home twice to try to find it, which I did 3 weeks later in my car - and the moment for coordinating and giving the welcome and core speech of the evening was getting ever closer. One of my tutees, Chris Williams, said, “Don’t worry Sir, you will do fine”. I didn’t feel it.
Pastoral issues were always taken very seriously, and Tim, Cath and I had counselling training. I became a sort of specialist in working with older students, Year 10/11 and 6th formers, writing all the key reports and testimonials and supporting them in putting together their UCAS statements. And over the possible 5 years of staying with a tutor group one had the privilege of getting to know the parents really well, always phoning home that day if their child was absent, and it was embedded in the culture of the school that one worked alongside the parents in getting the best for their child.
Special times were the ’Reading Weeks’, held every year, where literature and reading took pride of place, largely organised by the English faculty. I was very pleased when Nick Hornby, of ‘Fever Pitch’ etc fame, and the future Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy, each accepted my invitation to spend a day with staff and students. Carol Ann was a close friend of my wife’s family; indeed the poem ‘Warming her Pearls’, studied by so many pupils, is dedicated to Sara’s mother Judith, who had first alerted Carol Ann to what became the central theme of the poem. Neither writer demanded a fee.
Geography field work weeks are also fondly remembered. Many staff took part, although Stuart Turpie, another who has sadly passed away, and the Darenth/Dartford studies plus Margate trips remain vivid in the memory. There we were on top of a huge vacuous, empty gravel pit and Mr. Turpie says, “This is going to become a huge shopping centre”. Oh yeah right!? – and now it is: Bluewater! Coming back from Margate and the coach full of kids and breaking down on the M2 will also not be forgotten. Inverliever Activity Centre in the Highlands of Scotland became a regular venue for students, massively encouraged by Colin, Tim Joyce and Keith Lark; although for me, travelling up on April 15th 1989, and desperately trying to keep up with the Arsenal game I was missing, all became largely irrelevant with the news from Hillsborough.
Activity weeks were fantastically enjoyable with everybody undertaking incredible adventures out of school to all manner of places and things. Except, of course, for the day of the 7/7 bombings, when hundreds of Tallis kids and their teachers were stranded all over London, miles from Kidbrooke, and everything shut or closed down, and they all had to walk home safely.
Elliot Furneux and Martin Collier were two teachers who enthusiastically promoted pantomimes by the teachers for the kids at Christmas time. So many took part, but without their drive it is doubtful they would have happened. Very firmly in my memory bank at least is my ‘Loads Of Money’, (Harry Enfield) and Mr Blobby, but I am sure all teachers have their own stories. What is worth highlighting is that there were many times of fun, laughter and enjoyment alongside all the academic hard work. Have times changed?
Jamie Oliver’s TV series based on improving nutrition and school meals was filmed at Kidbrooke School and Tallis, and I remember Jamie serving me my lunch. Interestingly, because Tallis students took to his dishes so positively, and there were no parents lobbing chips over the fence to their distraught sons and daughters, the series seemed to be ¼ Tallis and ¾ Kidbrooke. There is a message there somewhere.
Because I worked most of all on the Pastoral, SEN, Arts and Humanities side of the curriculum my insights into Maths and Sciences are limited. They can tell their own stories. However Mr Carvin must be mentioned. He was so wonderfully old school, always in his slippers and his white lab coat. He was totally feared and totally loved. One look achieved impeccable behaviour and for this he was respected. The students felt absolutely safe in his company. They were going to learn.
There are so many stories that could be told:
In 1990, With Colin’s agreement, 9RS set up a business - ‘DK Enterprises’, with pupil Sonya Reader as CEO, a sort of lunchtime tuck shop. Soon we were making over £400 a week. Every child in 9RS was involved and paid for their work, and we had more money in our business bank account than the school had in theirs. Colin demanded our closure and put all the money to school projects such as Martin Dean being paid to restore the school exam tables!
Other memories include the introduction of formal organised counselling, headed by Jane Weinberg; ‘Red Rum’, perhaps the greatest Grand National horse ever, visiting the school; Fred the groundsman and his 32 procedures to create the perfect wicket; Sports Days and student/pupil games; uniform innovations, later followed by almost every school; Friday lunchtime football in the old sports hall, with year 11 for many years, each week a mini/massive epic which all ended with the a/b weeks; close links with the National Theatre; Brian Jones and my A-Level group achieving 100% pass and all A* or A; Nick Williams and his superb managing of the school throughout his tenure, especially during times of crisis, including tragically a murder; Nicholas Serota of The Tate Gallery being headteacher for the day; the move to a new build.
But, most of all, every teacher in every department and every student everyday and their hard work to achieve success and often with a smile on their faces. So here’s to 50 more years!
-- Richard Stubbs
The following article appeared in the Kentish Times in January 1974. The text is included below. It certainly represents some interesting views of secondary education in the 1970s, not least the radical idea that boys and girls should both learn needlecraft and woodwork! Ambitions to knit the school more securely into the fabric of the nearby housing estate were certainly realised in subsequent years. Fascinating stuff!
THOMAS TALLIS pupils should grow up to be the most "liberated" people in the area if their school training is anything to go by.
They are the only local school to have mixed classes in all the indoor lessons with boys learning needlecraft along with the girls, and girls joining the boys for woodwork and metalwork.
"If anything, the girls are better than the boys at metalwork because they come along with no preconceived ideas and are very willing to be taught," says the teacher.
And the boys are as good as the girls at needlecraft - last term some of them made needlework collages, which involved hemming and, in some cases, sewing on. buttons. It should one day cut down on the mending of their wives!
Gym lessons and some other games classes are also mixed, and so is the basketball team, which is often a great surprise to teams from visiting schools. The school even boasts a female football team.
Yet such modern ideas come from a very young school. Thomas Tallis opened in Briset Road, Kidbrooke, in September 1971, and moved to new buildings in Kidbrooke Park Road last September.
The new premises are not yet complete. The first block is occupied by nearly 600 pupils, aged from 11 to 14, but the second block, which will house another 700 pupils, is not expected to be completed until next year.
Built on a fairly open plan, the school has many unusual features - carpet on ll the floors, except in the laboratories, a games hall, a sixth form common room, with snack bar, and the latest equipment in the gym and laboratories.
The Thomas Tallis Youth Centre is also housed at the school, and an evening institute block will be incorporated in the new building - along with a home economics wing and more classrooms.
One of the criticisms often made of comprehensive schools in that they are impersonal but headmistress Mrs Beryl Husain is adamant that this does not apply in her school.
"Although we do not have a house system here, each year has a year head, who gets to know everyone and, of course, from teachers get to know their pupils extremely well," says Mrs Husain. "I cannot claim to know all the pupils, but then how many heads of smaller schools can really claim to know the pupils well, even if they know them all by name."
The school was designed to be an integral part of the Ferrier Estate, and Mrs Husain is always happy o arrange for visitors to look round the school - although few take the opportunity.
Later, it is hoped to start various community projects, leading to the children becoming more involved with the area.
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.