Sol Lewitt All ifs or buts connected by green lines, 1973
We are a textbook school. By that I mean that we appear in textbooks, German ones, published by Klett of Berlin. Our young people help to make the content so that it is vaguely similar to real life, and we appear in the accompanying DVD. We even did a model assembly so that German children experience the full eccentricity of English school life. The book describes life in a range of London housing, school days, even has a diary entry from a dog called Sherlock. There was a dog in the German textbook I used at school in the last century (Lumpi ist mein hund) but we were not privy to its thoughts. It’s interesting to see our lives in text book form, simple but believable.
Tallis is therefore so well known that German tourists flock to us to check that we weren’t just made up by their English teachers. This week we had a visit from a consulting engineer taking time out from a university symposium to have his picture taken with me, and a visit from 30 12 year olds who spent the day with year 7. They sang us the song with which they start all their English lessons: ‘Let’s go to Greenwich, jump on the bus’. It’s wonderful that they think of us, fellow humans who’ve never met, every time they have an English lesson, and all the more remarkable as sadly we don’t actually teach German. Verzeihung!
On Wednesday I went to the Civic Centre to talk about teachers’ pay policies, an summer fixture. We talked about the challenges of the job and how we use and interpret government policy. Should we try to codify everything we do so it’s used as a checklist? How far does professional judgement and interpretation free or restrict schools? How detailed do policies have to be? Studies consistently show that performance related pay for teachers has very little effect on standards but that doesn't stop us spending a huge amount of time on it year after blessed year. We’re warned to plan for more pay appeals this autumn. Is that really a good use of education time?
The gods of public service provide the 178 from Woolwich to Tallis so I literally jumped on a bus to Greenwich at the end. Halfway along a young man who’s recently left us joined me for a brief symposium of our own on comparative education. We chatted about his new start and he offered a few tips he'd picked up. It was a general picture from a chap with particular outlook, but he remembered Tallis with pleasure, knowing the inside track on the textbook school.
We’re rewriting our own textbook at Tallis. National changes give us the chance to make a sensible unity of teaching, planning and assessment based on what we value. It might turn into an actual textbook one day – Tallis habits for Tallis praxis. It is in textbook clarity that the real strength of a school lies: what do we stand for, what do we value, how do we get there, annually judged against how are we doing? I’m not sure we need the dog, but perhaps we might: until recently I didn’t know they wrote diaries.
Arriving back at school I jumped off my bus while a small gaggle of Tallis got on the front, in acceptably orderly manner. Even before we write it each one of those young people should be able to tell us what’s in the Tallis textbook and whether what we represent, illustrate and illuminate is clear enough to them. If it’s a good text, they’ll always have a bus to Tallis in their heads that they can jump on to help them to the next stop.