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.