It was in an assembly at Kidbrooke Girls’ School in the early eighties, when my close friend and teacher colleague, Di Bruce, leant over and whispered, “You know there’s a vacancy in the English department at Thomas Tallis!” I was supply teaching at Kidbrooke at the time, having had three children in quick succession. “Very progressive and exciting - Tallis,” she added, grinning.
So that was how I found myself in 1983 covering an English vacancy in a department, led at the time by Margaret Sandra, an ardent feminist, with the impressive Beryl Husein, as headteacher. Within weeks the Head of the English, Music and Drama faculty post became vacant, and I somehow found myself, taking it on temporarily, and then, quite surprisingly, permanently…not exactly the supply job I’d envisaged. I was Head of Faculty from 1983 to 1990. Colin Yardley became headteacher soon after I joined; an inspirational and incredibly diligent leader. It was hard work, exciting and challenging but also great fun and very rewarding.
The original school building was in awful condition by 1983. The flat roof was full of holes and when it rained buckets were places strategically in the corridors, which the kids dodged round or kicked over. The windows in the classroom and corridors didn’t close or fasten properly, so we cobbled them together with wire coat hangers. We often froze in the winter and boiled in the summer.
However, the ethos of the school was brilliant, with the clear aim of ensuring every single child achieved at their optimum level; the curriculum was broad and progressive and the collegiate spirit amongst staff was uplifting. It was an interesting time curriculum wise too. A debate was raging about the pros and cons of 100% coursework in English, which led to some lively discussions within and beyond the faculty. It was a challenge in the mixed ability classroom but we embraced it and dealt heroically with the endless marking. At the end of the day there was always a constant stream of kids lined up outside the Faculty Office seeking help with their coursework and English teachers gave them their time tirelessly.
After an exhilarating seven years working with such brilliant colleagues as Cath Green, Maggie Holland, Geraldine O’ Mahoney and Elliot Furneaux, the kindly District Inspector, Tom Barrowman, persuaded me that it would be a good idea to apply for the English Inspector post for Greenwich. The break up of the Inner London Education Authority had led to education being taken over by individual Boroughs and each one set up its own inspectorate.
And so it was that my relationship with the school changed. I visited several times in this role, happy to see the school I had sadly left – evolving and thriving. I was also in charge of the Advanced Skills Teachers in the borough and was delighted to be involved in the work of two brilliant ASTs at Tallis: Tony Hier and Doug Greig, both inspirational and dynamic members of the Humanities Faculty. They radiated creativity and were key members of the AST community. It was a joy to watch them teach.
With characteristic openness and a truly progressive spirit Tallis also became a part of the Royal Greenwich Teaching School Alliance, which, as the Local Authority lead on workforce and curriculum development at the time, I helped to form. This led to many opportunities for the school to share its good practice with others: for example, a project focused on Modern Foreign Languages in collaboration with Goldsmiths and University of Greenwich, for which I managed to secure funding from the Mayor’s Fund. Thomas Tallis was one of the ten secondary schools involved in this project and made a significant contribution: agreeing to host a group of colleagues from the other nine schools to observe two of their teachers. This was brave and generous of Juliette Robinson and her colleagues and much appreciated by the teachers from other local secondary schools from Greenwich and Lewisham. Tallis was also a key member of the Music Trust, another cross borough project I was involved with during my time with the local authority. Carolyn Roberts kindly accepted the role of Chair and gave generously of her time and the school premises for concerts.
And now I have two of my grandchildren at the school, one in Year 11 and one in Year 9, with a third due to start next September. They go willingly to school and come home happy. They find it friendly, tolerant with a comfy school uniform - which one of them has even slept in over night! The youngest one can’t wait to join them!
-- Maggie Croxford, former Head of English