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
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 Ferrier Estate, one of the largest in Europe, was state situated in Kidbrooke, Greenwich. The council decided that it needed to be modernised through a regeneration scheme. I was a resident community activist and, together with the local authority, a community day was proposed as a channel to keep the community united and informed about the redevelopment process and future decisions that might affect the area. Named the Ferrier International Feast Day (FIFD), the first event took place on the 3rd of October 2003.
These pictures represent the engagement and makeup of the local community which included churches, businesses and a few primary schools. As the local secondary school, Tallis played an important role, providing support and helping to ensure the success of the Feast Days and other community events that followed in subsequent years - tree dressings, carnival parades and, of course, more Feast Days. At one time, the school took over the abandoned NatWest bank offices, turning it into an art gallery and community consultation space. Working with local practitioners, such as Taru Arts, and the Paraiso School of Samba, Tallis helped to coordinate events designed to engage local residents in celebrating the strong sense of community on the estate and in imagining the future of The Ferrier.
Regeneration of the area continues to this day with new buildings and a new location for Thomas Tallis School. The whole area is now known as Kidbrooke Village.
As a community activist, I am very proud of the work we all did in the early 1990s and continue to do for future generations to come.
Happy birthday Thomas Tallis School.
-- Rosa Gonçalves
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
Have a look at this prospectus (click image below to open). It’s a flag planted firmly and carefully in a disputed territory lately won for the people. It is a sign and a symbol, a snapshot in time and a work of art.
What does it represent? The first comprehensive schools were opened in the late forties, but they were rare. Our neighbour, Kidbrooke Comprehensive, was purpose-built in 1954 but selection at 11 continued. In 1965 Harold Wilson was PM and Antony Crosland Secretary of State for Education and Science. On their watch, Circular 10/65 The organisation of secondary education  boldly stated the Government's objective to end selection and eliminate separatism – and therefore, to enable comprehensive schools for every child in every community.
That this House, conscious of the need to raise educational standards at all levels, and regretting that the realisation of this objective is impeded by the separation of children into different types of secondary schools, notes with approval the efforts of local authorities to reorganise secondary education on comprehensive lines which will preserve all that is valuable in grammar school education for those children who now receive it and make it available to more children; recognises that the method and timing of such reorganisation should vary to meet local needs; and believes that the time is now ripe for a declaration of national policy.
In this, they hoped to create something very particular in the nation’s schools.
A comprehensive school aims to establish a school community in which pupils over the whole ability range and with differing interests and backgrounds can be encouraged to mix with each other, gaining stimulus from the contacts and learning tolerance and understanding in the process.
Though difficult, the task was honourable and worthy of brave endeavour.
The Government are aware that the complete elimination of selection and separatism in secondary education will take time to achieve… But the spontaneous and exciting progress which has been made in this direction by so many authorities in recent years demonstrates that the objective is not only practicable; it is also now widely accepted. The Government believe that both the education service and the general public will welcome the further impetus which a clear statement of national policy will secure.
Thomas Tallis School was born in 1971, part of the ‘further impetus’ and the artefact under advisement is a prospectus – perhaps its first – from 1975.
I love the photo of Beryl Husain. Yes, school prospectuses are full of headteachers at their desks, but she isn’t posing smugly for the camera with some spurious award behind her. This is a woman who gives the impression of being a bit distracted, perhaps mildly irritated by a mildly irritating problem – a sudden change in the noise level on the yard, a staff absence. Her desk’s got stuff on it and the biro’s a long way from a gold fountain pen. While this is a woman who could leap into action at any point to give something a bit of a shake, she looks like a thinker.
And she writes clearly, staking her ground. ‘Good facilities do not necessarily create a good school. more important are the policies and long-term aims which determine what happen to the children’. Equal opportunities, no labelling, no discrimination, a progressive school with traditional standards. Informality, and friendliness without abandoning courtesy, politeness and behaviour. Consideration for others. Service to the community. I might just replace our prospectus with this one.
The prospectus talks of transition, grouping, Heads of Year, teachers, Deputy Heads, communication with home. The organisational chart with ‘your child’ in the centre is a perfect representation of a school, without verbiage or risible claims. In the description of the curriculum for the older children there’s a line about making ‘provision for those who prefer not to take exams’ which has a beautiful dignity completely lost from a current system hyped-up on aspiration and its tragic die-stamping and funnelling of children.
The curriculum is described concisely, and I’m particularly diverted by what changes most, perhaps in the humanities where ‘man in society’ and social anthropology are key. Would we live in a more understanding world if social anthropology had been compulsory in all schools?
Prospectuses always show libraries and it’s great to know that children were sent to research using not only books, but LPs and slides. The idea of languages day trips to Boulogne always startles me about London schools but wait! What is THIS! A trip to Romania in 1974! No, I went on a trip to Romania in 1974, from Teesside! Did all socialist authorities send their children over, to see the mountains and the poverty, the soldiers with guns in the snow and the terrifying plumbing? In my head I’m transported to a cavernous guest-house dining room in the mountain resort of Sibiu, my first taste of fizzy mineral water and foreign sausages. Were there other teenagers there, cooler ones, from Tallis?
Readers of this site need no more information about residentials to Inverliever, though the near-misses don’t appear. Sporting clubs as well as competitive teams has a pleasant tone. Cycling at Herne Hill is still a thing.
Unlike, sadly, on the final page, the Youth Centre. That’s a dream that took root in some fields but was uprooted almost everywhere in successive decades. Youth work is fantastically important but easy to cut, until there’s nothing left. Soon the youth work historians with have to begin by explaining what it was. And why it mattered. And how well the nation’s young have done without it.
Youth work’s older brother, the Adult Education Institute appears at the back too. Good education, good youth work, lifelong learning: cradle to grave intellectual and social support. What was so bad about this that it needed excising from our national psyche? When did we become antisocial drones, measuring the whole of our intellectual endeavour by competitive examination, designed to keep the rich in their copper towers?
The seeds were sown before the year of our next prospectus (click image below to open), 1996, when the previous government declared no such thing as society and sold off its assets. By ’96 John Major was at Number 10 and Gillian Shephard the SoS. It felt pretty ropey at the time but in hindsight looks like a golden age of conservative government.
Tallis the man appears on the inside cover opposite a picture of the Head, Colin Yardley who, with a friendly preface and a sideways look, declares to transition drop-in visitors ‘I am always available for most of the morning’. That sets the standard pretty high. How? How? Obviously, sensible prioritising and a control of your diary. Good for him. I doff my cap.
This prospectus has a long description of the aims of the Tallis curriculum of which I heartily approve. Breadth and balance, opportunities in the arts, well-qualified teachers and plenty of support staff in very practical roles. A nod to children with special needs and the chance to repeat a year, under certain circumstances, if that’s right for the child: difficult then and nigh-on impossible now. Integrated Humanities appears on the options list and I have to go for a short lie-down, suddenly reliving a nasty experience with Int Hums in the Midlands 12 years previously. Planners are explained and parents encouraged to sign them: is it odd that we still do this 25 years later?
Yardley’s Tallis has a post-Local Management of Schools feel to it, necessarily so. There’s less talk about the LEA and more about school-based decisions and systems. As with the curriculum, he’s clearer about behaviour mechanisms. ‘As few rules as are practical’, sensibly agreed, and we hold that torch still, Husain’s legacy carried through fifty years, but how the context has changed. I was clawing my way up the greasy pole as a behaviour trainer at the same time so I’m familiar with the territory: exclusion ‘for a few days’ (up to 10), outside support for those at risk of 45 days exclusion in a year and therefore permanent removal. (If I may take a diversion, when I was a clueless Deputy Head at about this time, one of the Behaviour Support team we relied on for those most depressing 45-day cases was Dominic Cummings’ mother. I kid you not.)
Girls are not at a disadvantage, we are assured. Racial incidents are rare. Children from ethnic minorities do well ‘indeed, they may be doing better than the majority group’. How did that play out, post-school?
The third prospectus (click image above to open), tra-la, is one of my own, which makes me reconsider the earlier ones. I write a bit of stuff at the start, lifted directly from ‘the policies and long-term aims which determine what happen to the children’ , as Husain has it but the rest of it is other’s endeavour: Curriculum Deputy, Head of Sixth, Director of Arts who conceptualises and realises the product. Who were the others in the past? Did Beryl draw her own child-centred diagram? Did Colin write the lot, from Welcome to Sixth Form? I know every name of the people who lift Tallis into the air in this 50th year, but looking back at this beautiful brochure, from 2046 or ‘71, who’ll remember the others, the uncredited experts whose tireless commitment buoys up my silly face, in a frilly shirt, leaning on a pillar?
And if only I could say that it is our ‘policies and long-term aims which determine what happen to the children’. It's much harder to see, now, the clear path from principled, quality education for all to prosperity in an equal society. It’s much harder to plot that course now that so many principles have been abandoned, so many short cuts rebranded as motorways.
I was 10 in 1971 and 35 in 1996. Neither of those years was perfect and I don’t expect perfection now, but it feels as though some hope has been abandoned along the way. Perhaps Headteachers in every generation feel that, though we’d rightly never find it out from their prospectuses. Even if that’s gloomily true, I hope that they, like me, are encouraged by irrepressible teenagers, friendly parents and inventive colleagues. I hope that when they press the button to start every day, they do it with style and focus, like these my own predecessors. They knew in their bones that the comprehensive school is a dream every bit as visionary as the National Health service, but much, much harder to achieve.
I feel better for reading these. I hope you do too. When I grow up, I want to look like Beryl Husain’s picture.
 Gillard, Derek. "Circular 10/65 (DES 1965) - full text online". www.educationengland.org.uk
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.
Hot on the heels of the image uploaded by Ian Heffer, it's motivated me to delve into my old photographs and dig out a picture of the first rugby team at Tallis. As you can see we didn't necessarily have the right kit or footwear but we had spirit and we didn't let the heavy losses to rugby playing schools like St Joseph's and Shooters Hill GS get us down.
Back row L-R:
Front Row L-R:
-- Richard Cox
I remember feeling a mixture of relief and fear.
Relief because I had a school to go to at all. According to my primary school I had got the highest mark of any child in Greenwich Borough in the year 6 tests, but I had been turned down for places at all the schools on my list, including Tallis. A week before school started I did not have a school place. No grammar schools had been included on my list on principle, but Charlton Boys, Woolwich Poly, Crown Woods, Abbey Wood, Tallis, all had sent letters saying thanks but no thanks.
Being a sensitive soul I was gutted, nobody wanted me. On appeal I got an interview with the Head of Tallis back then, Mrs Husein . I had to visit her on my own in her office at Tallis, and she grilled me about my character. Different times... But I was in!
I remember the gates opening on the first day. At the old site there was a long walkway that dropped down to the concourse, with the two arms of the building on either side. It felt like entering into an alien spaceship, or the mouth of a massive, terrifying animal, hundreds of little ants tumbling in with no idea of what went on inside the belly of the beast. Aargh!!!
But out we came at the end of the day, a tiny bit less scared, and even starting to feel just a little excited about the years ahead.