First: this one is some of what I said in the final assembly – do watch it if you haven’t already. It contains singing and everything!
This is what I said to the children:
We said goodbye in winter, and now it is summer and we say goodbye again. The word goodbye is a contraction of ‘God be with you’, a blessing or wish from one person to another as they part. It’s a hope of protection in uncertain times. Farewell means the same – I hope you do well, that nothing terrible happens to you until we meet again. All the other languages you speak will have similar words, usually based on an ancient ‘go with God’ or ‘until we meet again'. Although where I come from people say ‘ta ta’ or ‘ta ra then’, which doesn’t really mean anything, to be honest.
Since March, the words ‘stay safe’ have appeared instead of goodbye, all over the place. That’s very specific in some ways, it means ‘I hope you don’t catch the virus’ or even ‘I hope you don’t die’. It sounds new, but it’s really just a way of saying ‘God be with you’ or ‘until we meet again’ in a modern way.
When we said goodbye we didn’t really know what was about to happen. We didn’t know if we’d all be safe, or if we’d all meet again. Some of you, sadly, have lost people you loved to the virus, and that’s tragic. No one at Tallis has died. With the exception of year 11 and year 13 all of us who left in March will be back in September. That makes us very lucky.
We don’t know if the virus will come back and we don’t know what it will do if it does. We all have to be careful, so when you come back in September you’ll find a whole new range of routines and things which are designed to keep you safe, designed to fight it off. Be prepared for change!
And speaking of change. We know that the virus hasn’t been fair in the same way that lots of our experiences as humans aren’t fair. Most of the 60,000 people who’ve died have been old or ill. People were also much more likely to catch it if they are poor or live in overcrowded housing. Too many black and minority ethnic people in England are disadvantaged in these ways, so they were more likely to get sick than white people. And that’s not fair. The Black Lives Matter protests point out the other ways in which the way we live is unjust, and we all need to do something about that.
Fairness is big for us at Tallis. You expect your school to be fair and with your help we try to make it so. We are one big family from all sorts of backgrounds, but we’ve been lucky and we’ll all be together again.
As a way of celebrating our good fortune we should commit ourselves to fairness, to understanding injustice and to rooting it out. Be ready in September to change the world for the better.
Enjoy the sun. Stay safe. Fight injustice and come back to us fit and well in
When I was clawing my way up the greasy pole, what I really wanted to be when I grew up was a Deputy Head. I worked with 11 before I got there and they ranged from those who never left their offices or the staff smoking room to those who did absolutely everything, but who you didn’t dare ask a question because they looked as though they were about to burst. I became a young Deputy in a stable of three on a split site school: I learned the most when I went to manage the lower school site alone. In 19 years as a Head I’ve had 10 Deputies.
For me, the biggest wrench returning to London in 2013 was leaving a brilliant senior team behind which had taken me 6 years to gather. The Tallis I joined was emerging from choppy waters: I inherited 4 Deputy Heads and made some adjustments during the course of the year. Ashley Tomlin was Head of Sixth at the time, but I changed that to Pastoral Deputy at Easter 2014 – minutes before Ofsted appeared – then again to Curriculum when Douglas Grieg first took on Plumstead Manor in October 2014. I changed it back to Pastoral in September 2018: he has had a full training programme for headship here.
With typical thoroughness Ashley came to visit me in Durham before I started here. Ostensibly to see what we did with our sixth form but probably actually to see if the school was what I claimed it to be. He’d decided by then to give me a year and move on if I didn’t suit. It is with a certain amount of pride therefore that I say goodbye to him after 7. [The full contents of that speech contain anecdote, rambling, some violent references and occasional coarse language and are therefore unsuitable for the website!]
However, on behalf of us all, I’d like to say thank you for all of Ashley’s incredible hard work and determination, his tenacity and commitment – not only exemplified in his hands-on strategic work in school but also in his appearance at the Dover night after night: a feat of courage and determination to help our young people to live safer lives.
As you’ve gathered, I like to be busy in the wider school system in one way or another. This would be impossible without someone very reliable to hold the fort, someone whose judgement I trust completely. Without Ashley, the Ethical Leadership Commission would never have happened: the whole system owes him a debt for this. He’ll tell you that he’s moving largely because of the journey form Gravesend, but that’s not true. Ashley has been more than ready for his own school for years now but stayed here through loyalty to the children. Borden School don’t know how lucky they are in their new Head. We thank him for everything he’s done for Tallis.
On my desk this year I’ve had two small bits of paper. One is a newspaper cut-out of an artwork by Douglas Coupland. He has others more apposite in this year, but I like this.
The second is an extract from a David Harsent poem – I can’t remember which one.
If nothing’s changed
An hour from now, we’ve won:
Survivors of the wind, the streaming glass,
the life outside.
The hour has come to us survivors of the virus, the empty school, the life online. We hope for a different year in September, but if we don’t get one, it won’t surprise us: we know what to do.
Have a happy summer, whatever it brings and thank you for your support.