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Miss Rusty tells her story for the first time

Miss Rusty interviewed by Victoria Derbyshire on Radio 5 - 7th July 2009

See below for details of Channel 4 interview
of Sunday, 12th July 2009

See below for details of Radio Leeds interview
of Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Miss Rusty tells how Head Teacher Stephen Ball was "absolutely delighted" with the controversial book she wrote. "It was a triumph," he said. Mr Ball gave it the "complete green light" and asked if he could help in any way.

Miss Rusty tells how Head Teacher Stephen Ball was "absolutely delighted" with the controversial book she wrote. "It was a triumph," he said. Mr Ball gave it the "complete green light" and asked if he could help in any way.

Miss RustyLeonora Rustamova was interviewed on Radio Five this morning (7th July), and for the first time was able to give her side of the story, and provide some of the missing background to the story of her suspension from Calder High School, the secondary school for most children in the Hebden Bridge area. And where she had taught for eleven years.

Since 19th January, when she was suspended within 4 minutes of an interview with Headteacher Stephen Ball, Miss Rusty has had to sit at home in silence, not talking with anyone. While suspended she was ordered not to speak to any colleagues, anyone in the media or anyone in the community about the issues involved. It was especially difficult when the issue attracted media attention to not be able to give her side of the story.

Miss Rusty told Radio Five listeners that the book "STOP: Don't Read This" had its origins back in September 2007, when she was given a group of very challenging teenage boys -"probably, the most challenging group I have ever had. They were in their last year of school and they were on work placement for three days a week. I was given the group for English and I tried to get them interested in all sorts of books, all manner of short stories and they refused to get involved. They weren't interested. They were very disaffected. I asked them what they would listen to. They said they would listen if I wrote a story about them."

The boys said that they wanted the story to be about them, how they feel about school, their normal school life and they wanted something exciting to happen. "I tried to palm them off at first by writing a jokey story where I made them all into woodland animals." But this didn't work. It wasn't what they wanted.

"So then I tried to write a fictional version of them, how they were perceived by teachers at school, which wasn't very positively at the time, to give them some sort of opportunity for self reflection, to get involved in a book."

"There is a lot of swearing in the book but no more than in your average junior yard. Being a difficult audience, the material had to be quite risque to give them an excuse to listen to it."

Victoria Derbyshire: When you showed the first 30 pages to the Head Teacher, what did he say about it?

Leonora Rustamova: After the first five chapters I gave it to my Head Teacher, just for his approval and explained about the effect it was having on them. And he was absolutely delighted with it. He described it as a triumph. He thought it was a fascinating project and he thought it was a good method of involving these sort of children.

Victoria Derbyshire: So he really liked the way you were trying to engage them. Did he comment specifically about the content or the language? Or the way you describe these pupils?

Leonora Rustamova: Well, he did know the group very well because they were often in trouble. He gave it a complete green light. He asked if he could help in any way.

Victoria Derbyshire: How did it end up on the Internet?

Leonora Rustamova: It was a simple mistake. It was never intended to go on the Internet. It was only written for an audience of five. In conversations with my Head Teacher, he did suggest that it would be nice, at the end of term, to bind it up into some sort of commemorative book to give to the students when they left school. I looked into the costs of getting it bound into a book and it was tremendously expensive to do that in this country. My husband came up with the idea of using a print on demand website. He arranged for them to be printed. It was a pure Internet mistake that it ended up still available on the self publishing website for some time after that.

Victoria Derbyshire: How was it discovered and what did that lead to?

Leonora Rustamova: I'd pretty much forgotten about it by the time January came round. I gave a copy to my Head Teacher in September last year and I didn't actually give a copy to the boys until a month after that. He said he thought it was a lovely gesture, he was very pleased with it and then I really never thought anything else about it. My husband did say we would be able to print off extra copies. We thought that the availability was password specific and that it wasn't generally available . . . There was an internal complaint from a senior member of staff at school who'd realised that it was available on the Internet. And then I was suspended from that point.

Victoria Derbyshire: Did you agree with that suspension?

Leonora Rustamova: I was utterly stunned when I was suspended. I've worked at the school for eleven years and we'd never known of a teacher being suspended. It was a huge surprise to me. I had no idea when I went into the meeting with my Head Teacher on the Monday morning what the meeting was about. Within 4 minutes, I was suspended. I was told that I wasn't allowed to communicate with any staff, any parent, students, anyone from the community or the media. My husband removed the book instantly from the Internet. Many staff are still not aware of the intricacies and implications of the Internet. From a small mistake like that, a suspension was quite a severe reaction.

I had just been promoted in school to be the Social Cohesion Co-ordinator which is a very important role in school and was crucial to our school improvement plan. It was also quite a challenging role because we do have problems in the school with social cohesion. If there had been any sort of risks with me I certainly wouldn't have been given that role.

It was a mistake. I would never have willingly put the book on the Internet. It had probably had a readership of about 15 people by the time I was suspended, including the boys' families.

I think all the publicity could have been avoided if it had just been dealt with in house.

Victoria Derbyshire: Good morning Travis. What did you think of the chapters in this book which featured you?

Travis: I thought it was excellent with fairly accurate descriptions. I thought it was a good way of getting us to read. And it did work.

Victoria Derbyshire: Had you ever read a book before that?

Travis: No. Not on my own. It was the first one I ever read. I thought it was brilliant that a teacher was willing to go home and work on something for us rather than just giving us loads of crap and insulting us.

Victoria Derbyshire: Did that get you into reading after that?

Travis: Yeah, I've read a few since then, mostly ones about building things and survival guides.

Victoria Derbyshire: Did you show the book to your parents?

Travis: My mum loved it and my dad thought it was one of the best books he'd ever read. Out of all those involved in the book, there is only one person whose parents have a problem with the book.

Leonora Rustamova: The issue of consent didn't really come up because it was never intended that the book would be on the Internet or be published. If it had been, I wouldn't have dreamed of doing it without the parents' consent. That would be highly disrespectful. It was just a mistake.

The relationships I had with these students weren't inappropriate; they were more like mentoring roles.

I wanted them to have an interest in books. I wanted them to realise that a book is like a world you can fall into but it gives you opportunities to learn about yourself along the way.

Listen Now

Radio Leeds interview - Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Radio Leeds: Do you have regrets?

Leonora Rustamova: Of course I do. I was absolutely devoted to my job. Calder High School is a good school. I absolutely love the kids at Calder High. The parents have been extremely supportive as well and I feel terrible to have let down my school. I still feel that there are many mistakes that go on in schools every day. It's a very busy job. This could have been treated in a different way. I feel I could have been better supported by my Head Teacher when this mistake arose.

Rob Goode, on behalf of the governors in an email: The Governors have examined all the relevant information in the case, given careful consideration to the defence which was presented by the National Union of Teachers. Miss Rustamova is guilty of misconduct in relation to the unsanctioned publication of material about the school and its students on the Internet.

Leonora Rustamova: Usually, we use books that are available from other people but I'd tried reading perhaps every book that was available that was pitched at that age group. They were so put off by education. They really were quite sick of education and other than just punishing them, it didn't seem like there was any other option than be prepared to do something a bit special for them. They would get a perception of how they were perceived by the staff at the school who didn't have a very positive perception of the the kids.

Travis: We didn't have any concept of ever passing with a decent grade and we were just told repetitively that we would get the same thing but we might as well keep on trying. We couldn't be bothered. What was the point to do it again for the same thing?

Leonora Rustamova: It was never intended to go to the Internet. The same as with the MI6 guy these kind of pitfalls occur. I was using a print on demand website to make bound copies for the students for when they left school. It was actually the suggestion of my Head Teacher that it would be nice to give them a commemorative copy. The Head Teacher absolutely approved of it going out into the community as a printed book. Obviously not as something that was available on the Internet. I wouldn't have considered it acceptable to be on the Internet. It was just an accident.

My Head Teacher was fully aware of the book and gave it the green light. More needs to be done for disaffected readers. It's a national problem. The Governmental are crying out for people to get involved in risk taking and creative approaches to draw in these kinds of students.

Listen now to the 13 minutes interview.

Miss RustyChannel 4: Sunday, 12th July 2009

See the interview now on YouTube

Channel 4: Supporters of its author English teacher, Leonora Rustamova, say she succeeded where many teachers have failed; to get five disaffected teenage boys to not only read a book but to enjoy it.

The Channel 4 piece concludes with Melvin Burgess who won the Carnegie Medal in Literature for his book about heroin addicted teenagers. He thinks "STOP: Don't Read This" is a model of its time. "It's really closely observed and it takes those young people really seriously, and it thinks about them, and it engages them as individuals and as a group. We have no strategy nationally for dealing with disaffected kids. It's all as if they are all the same, all ready to learn at the same time, all ready to start taking their exams at the same time. And they are not"

See also

HebWeb Feature - giving full background to the story

Yorkshire Post: Former pupils greet sacked teacher Miss Rusty at picnic

Hebweb Forum: Miss Rusty revisited

Radio Five - Listen Now to Leonora Rustamova giving her story for the first time.

Hebweb News: SUSPENDED: Leonora Rustamova and Steve Cann - two popular Calder High School teachers

Facebook Group

Hebweb Forum: Teachers suspended from Calder High

BBC News - Racy novel teacher defends book: A teacher suspended over a racy novel written about her pupils said it was intended to encourage a challenging class of teenage boys to read. (Tuesday, 7 July 2009)

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