Outside, we are buffeted by elements. A year 9 eccentric advises ‘we should put these clouds in the IER for throwing wet at people’ so we discuss if that would be foggy in a room. ‘No, but there’d be a lot of banging’. What?
We’ve had trouble with water all week. First we didn’t have enough, then it went a bit cloudy, now it’s falling from the sky. At least the roofs don’t leak. If they did, though, we’d have £50k to spend on it, thanks to the Budget. Tallis is lucky to be watertight, though we pay for the PFI privilege.
As the National Audit Office reckons schools need over £6.5bn just to bring buildings up to standard. The budget announcement was not warmly welcomed by school leaders. Tin-eared was used, also patronising. Demeaning was accurately applied by one Head who wrote:
This “little extra” certainly does not touch the real and ongoing burden of escalating salary costs which are crippling schools each and every year. These are not “Little Extras” they are the specialist Maths teacher in your child’s classroom, the LSA who helps your child learn to read, the specialist Physics teacher supporting your daughter in her A level, the pastoral support worker helping your son manage a family bereavement or breakup. What we needed was the improved annual per-pupil spending that allows us to pay teachers’ and support staff salaries.
What we needed and what we will demand from the Comprehensive Spending Review is a root and branch overhaul of the austerity shouldered by schools who now represent the 4th emergency service for our communities plugging gaps in social, emotional and health provision; at times providing transport, food and clothing for families where austerity politics have left children without.
We had sad news this week that the founding Headteacher of Thomas Tallis, Beryl Husain, has died. Her successor Colin Yardley wrote this piece which, with thanks to him, I reproduce here. Plus ca change.
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.
Please accept this wisdom from other Heads this week, as a respite from my ranting. I need to concentrate on communicating with the young after another child stopped me on the bridge. ‘Why is it’ he demanded ‘that every time I look up Thomas Tallis I just get a picture of some guy with long hair?’ So much for my September assembly on the man and his music. I’ll have to remind them about the ‘mild and quyet’ Tallis, ‘O happy man’. We’ll all have to remind the government that schools can’t run on thin air, insults and lies.