I was reminded why Tallis is a precious place this winter, by a group of students I met when I came in to give a guest lesson on the Benin bronzes.
It was 30 years since I'd been a Tallis student myself. I confess I wasn't the best behaved student in the school. But I did have a hell of a lot of fun.
I was invited back in to talk to year 8s about a film I made recently for Channel 4 News about whether the world famous looted artefacts should be returned to Nigeria.
Many of the Tallis students I met were inquisitive, bold, and irreverent. They certainly didn't just accept what they were told at face value. They asked questions. Challenging ones. And they had energy.
It made me reflect on my own time at Tallis, and in particular as a 6th former, in 1991. Tallis at that time had formed an ultimately short lived triumvirate with two other local schools, which was meant to allow them to offer a wider range of subjects, and make the most of scant resources.
One of the challenges was the educational culture between the schools and their teachers was vastly different, and the coalition was dissolved after a few years.
Tallis has always tried to do things differently - and it's very special and deeply rooted educational culture of dialogue, challenge and exploration showed up for me and my friends in our A level Geography lessons.
Spoiler alert - this story does have a very happy ending - but it started very badly.
One of our two Geography A level teachers was from Tallis - our much loved and respected Mr Shurwin. Mr Shurwin was pretty quiet, but he was funny and kind. He commanded our respect and attention largely because he was a really lovely bloke, and he treated his students as grown ups, who had every right to ask questions and challenge ideas. I remember him treating us like this even when we were in the lower school. He got the best out of us by letting us explore our imaginations, while gently guiding us to the knowledge he knew we needed to absorb for the boring stuff - like exams!
But things got off to a very bad start with our other A level teacher, Ms Holland, who was from one of the other schools. She evidently found us to be querulous and obstructive. The lessons were conducted at Tallis, and I suspect we were somewhat territorial and snooty. We thought she was impatient and disinterested. We argued incessantly - the class was not going well.
After a few weeks things blew up and we had a massive row. I think it may have even involved us locking her out of the classroom (sorry - but I promise this story does end well!)
When she eventually made it into the classroom she was understandably furious.
"What's wrong with you people?" she yelled at us. "Why do you keep on going off on tangents all the time and asking random questions?" she wanted to know.
"Well that's how we've always learned" we replied. "We just want to talk a bit more!"
Ms Holland was understandably exasperated - but nuff respek to her - she said "OK. we're gonna try it your way. Because my way clearly isn't working".
It was transformative. Ms Holland was brilliant - she was funny, engaging, and exciting. One of the best teachers I've ever had. She met our energy with her own - and her lessons were great.
Somehow - despite my head at 17 being thoroughly turned as a young man discovering the delights of London town - Mr Shurwin and Ms Holland helped me get an A in my Geography A level.
A very belated thanks to you both!
I ended up reading a Geography degree, at Sussex, where I had the immense privilege of being able to continue asking questions and challenging received wisdoms - sometimes for the hell of it, but always in pursuit of knowledge, however obscure.
And in the faces and questions of the year 8s I met during my guest lesson about the Benin bronzes, I saw, heard and felt some of that same energy that I experienced when I was a student at Tallis many many many years ago.
It was a pleasure to be back!
-- Keme Nzerem