SACKED: Leonora Rustamova and Steve Cann — two very popular and effective Calder High School teachers
In January 2009, Leonora Rustamova — known affectionately by her students as “Miss Rusty” or “Rusty” — was suspended from Calder High. Her offence? She wrote and published a book: Stop! Don’t read this, a story based around Calder High. Some students and staff are characters in the book. Miss Rusty wanted to create a book which would interest those of her students who won’t normally read. It was only ever available from Lulu, the Internet publishing site.
Students who demonstrated soon after Miss Rusty’s suspension were discouraged. An initital thread on the Hebweb Web Forum announced “she is virtually under house arrest: she has been banned from speaking to children, banned from speaking to parents, and banned from speaking to other staff at the school.”
From the beginning, opinions were divided. One parent wrote that he felt: “deeply frustrated that breaking a confidence in such a way is at best naive and at worst extremely damaging at a time when at least one of those featured should be concentrating on preparations for GCSE’s.”
Another wrote, “It’s therefore difficult to see her faux pas as a major misdemeanour that should threaten her job. Surely the most proportionate way to handle this would have been informally, discreetly and while keeping her in post.”
The gist of much of the comment has been, “In choosing the sledgehammer approach of suspension, with all its implied guilt, CHS has scored an own goal by badly underestimating Miss Rustamova’s popularity and so more or less guaranteeing the publicity it sought to avoid.”
The Save Miss Rusty’s Job Facebook Group began to take off, attracting hundreds of members, many of whom were students and ex-students singing Miss Rusty’s praises. The young woman who started the group, a former Calder High student, was pressured by staff at the school to remove the group. It was resurrected by the parent of 4 former Calder High students, and is gaining more members every day.
On 25th February 2009, one of the main characters depicted in the book wrote to the HebWeb Forum a long moving message in support of Miss Rusty: “Apart from the Biff, Chip and Kipper books I read when I was younger, STOP don’t read this is the only book that I have not only read but wanted to read again and again. So yes ladies and gentlemen we can all agree that what she has done is remarkable and should be commended.”
On 10th March 2009, it was revealed that a second highly respected and popular teacher, Steve Cann, had been suspended from the Calder High School. He had been suspended for some weeks but it was only now being made public. Once again, no information was made available to the students, parents or the community as to what the charges are. The Hebden Bridge Web wrote to Mr Ball, the Head Teacher who was unable to give us this information. Until his suspension, Steve Cann had been NUT union representative.
The next morning, police were called to Calder High School as hundreds of students walked out of lessons to demonstrate in support of the two suspended teachers.
On Tuesday, 17th March 2009, Calder High teachers and local police confiscated badges made to support the two teachers. The Hebden Bridge Web has been informed that one student widely believed to have been suspended was in fact
removed from school by his father in agreement with the school.
It is still the case that we have no idea what these two teachers have been charged with, that they are forbidden from speaking to anyone about the case and that their current students are worried about their exam prospects given their teachers’ prolonged absence.
The Facebook group membership was growing rapidly. Here’s a sample of some of the contributions, just from 2-3 days (15th-17th March)
“Mr C and Ms R are two of the best teachers in Calder High. It seems completely nonsensical that this has happened. Are they going to eradicate Calder High of any teachers who actually care about kids and teaching and who have personality and enthusiasm?”
“Mr. Cann added character and enjoyment to our A level English Lit lessons. He always engaged everyone in the class and gave us more insight than any text book could. He shared stories, marked quickly and fairly, respected individuals and was clearly very passionate about his subject.”
“I know that my A level English Lit lessons with Mr Cann will never be forgotten by any of our class. We all learnt so much from him, about English and other worldy matters. He is one of the most enthusiastic teachers I have ever met! And I have never heard a bad word about Miss Rusty. The amount of support shown for them is amazing, completely inspiring!”
“The Head teacher and Governors should be considering whether to remain in post.”
“Miss Rusty and Mr Cann were always there to help students with any problems whether it be personal issues or school work.”
“Those two represent the word teachers, they are fantastic, been teachers, friends and advisors for many of the pupils and staff at Calder High School.…”
“How often do you come across teachers who inspire this much support from parents and more importantly students?”
“He has never read a book for pleasure, because he finds reading a real chore. He was therefore very surprised to find himself really enjoying his English classes and working towards his target A grade. His teacher was Mr Cann.”
“I just think it’s absolutely shocking that 2 of the best teachers in the English department and Calder High in general have been suspended. They are both inspirational teachers and actually care about their students.”
“M--- sloped in well after the others. Like he’d been in two minds whether to give it a miss. But like I said before, once you’ve noticed M--- you wouldn’t forget him so we’ve brought him chocolate just in case. Almost anything for a smile from M---. His approval feels like such a blessing. Because he’s so guarded with it. When he does come out with some thought or feeling its like he’s speaking for the first time, and you get a little look at just how much there is about M---. I can see why some people find him unnerving. Maybe they haven’t seen the smile!”From Stop! Don’t read this
Friends of Rusty and Steve: Public Meeting
Thursday, 27 March 2009
“How dare they suggest we are being used. We are not being used. We have opinions of our own. Aren’t Hebden Bridge kids known for having their own minds!”
The top floor of Salem Mill was full yesterday evening for the meeting called by the Friends of Rusty and Steve, and most of the discussion was by students or ex-students.
Calder High School should be proud of the young people who attended. They spoke well, listened, didn’t interrupt, made excellent points and showed they genuinely cared about the fate of the two teachers.
However, the youngsters were very indignant about the recent coverage in the HB Times, where it was suggested that that adults were behind the protests, and “stoking the fires of discontent”.
The meeting was excellently chaired by Cllr Janet Oosthuysen. Ms Oosthuysen explained that she had children at Calder High who spoke very highly of Miss Rusty and Steve Cann. She has also been an English teacher and NUT representative.
The meeting started with an outline of the background to the suspensions given by Nahim, Travis and two young members of the Woodcraft Folk.
Nahim said that he was a former pupil of Steve Cann who he described as a “wonderfully inspirational gentleman” who inspired him to have an appreciation of literature, the arts and music.
Nahim explained very firmly that the Friends of Rusty and Steve were not against Calder High. On the contrary, they had the school’s best interests at heart. But he had “grave concerns” about the process surrounding the suspensions. These concerns were over the length of time the process was taking, the lack of information being given to the students and the guilt by accusation. He couldn’t understand why the Head chose to suspend the teachers when other options were open to him.
Travis Downs, now at college in Leeds and one of the main characters featured in the book, described Miss Rusty as “an amazing teacher”. Travis claimed that it was not just 250 students which took part in the demonstration of 11th March. It was more like 600-700. When they tried to use more acceptable ways of protesting such as making badges, the school still called in the police to confiscate the badges.
There followed an ordered and good natured discussion for the rest of the meeting about how best to support the two teachers.
One parent who spoke said that none of us can know exactly why the teachers have been suspended. The condition of silence is imposed on the teachers in such cases to protect them. There are certain things that the school can’t talk about, but they certainly could have said more about the process.
Here are some points which were made, mainly by students and ex-students.
- The students at the school didn’t know what was going on. While the suspended teachers were forced to be silent, some teachers lied to the children. When they asked where Miss Rusty was they were told “She’s ill” or “She’s in Russia”.
- Coursework has been lost
- Parents and students should now make official protests to the local education authority.
- Steve Cann was suspended for having “the guts to stand up for Rusty”.
- Students should have the right to be heard
- Suspension is not the answer
- How much longer?
- For the discipline process to be fair, it should be available for everyone to see. No-one had yet been able to find details. It is certainly not on the Calder High website.
One ex-student said she had come to the meeting to show her support for Mr Cann. “He is the only reason I got into my first choice university and I am where I am today”.
Another student explained that she was halfway through an assignment with Miss Rusty. When Miss Rusty was suspended, Mr Cann took over, but then he was suspended. “We’re all getting behind.”
The question was raised about whether those featured in the book gave their permission. Travis replied “Yes”. What about their parents? Not all of them were originally asked but all have since given their permission. (One of the parents has since contacted the Hebden Bridge Web to say that he did not and has not given permission).
When one person suggested that it might be better if the investigation was taking time as it would be more thorough, Travis explained that after two and a half months, the school still hasn’t talked to anyone mentioned in the book.
A parent who is also a lawyer asked how could the suspended teachers possibly prepare a defence if they are not allowed to talk with people?
A young women who travelled to the meeting from university in Lancashire said that the real investigation should be into how Calder High have gone about this whole affair.
So the plan was to meet up behind the science block at half nine when it would be sure to be dark. As it turned out, it was well dark before nine and they didn’t all get there till after ten. But that’s plans for you. Standing together in the road at night, they didn’t look as much like a gang. Like you can tell in a bar whether a group of people are out together because they are mates or they’re out together ‘cause they work together. Like something outside of them formed the gang, not something inside of them if you know what I mean.From Stop! Don’t read this
Monday, 23 March 2009
Guardian article Pupils rally behind teacher suspended for writing school novel. Police halt protest in West Yorkshire in clash over ‘inspirational’ teacher who named children in classroom book.
Tuesday, 24 March 2009
Radio Leeds - interview with Travis Downs
Friday, 3 April 2009
Halifax Courier front page article
Tuesday, 26 May 2009
In spite of the large community campaign, demonstrations and nearly 1000 members of the Facebook group, Calder High Governors make the decision to dismiss Leonora Rustamova.
Miss Rusty tells her story for the first time
7th 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.
Leonora 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.
It’s funny when you get to the last chapter. It feels like by the end of a story you should have learned something about the world along the way. Don’t even get me started on ‘learning’. The way we learn things is a pretty hefty chapter all by itself. Like you can spend five years going to Maths lessons four times a week (how many is that in total? You do the maths!) and come out at the end feeling you know less about Maths than you did at the start.From Stop! Don’t read this
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.
Channel 4 interview:
Sunday, 12th July 2009
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.”
Picnic for Rusty and Steve
Thursday, 16th July, 3.30pm
Pressure was allegedly put on Salem Archery Club and Trades Club not to allow the picnic on their grounds or premises. (See response to this from Nigel Smethurst of White Rose) In the end, the very Hebden Bridge summer picnic took place in Calder Holmes park. Eight police and a police van had been drafted into the area as authorities feared Facebook inspired “vandals”. Parents, students and former students came along to thank Steve Cann and Leonora Rustamova for all their inspired help over the years. Parents told the Hebden Bridge Web that they felt the reputation of Calder High School had been seriously undermined by the affair.
See also: Yorkshire Post: Former pupils greet sacked teacher Miss Rusty at picnic
Miss Rusty talks to the Yorkshire Post one year on
24 June 2010
Employment Tribunal Date
Leonora Rustamova is appealing against her unfair dismissal. The hearing will take place in Leeds from 11–14th January, 2010
Legal costs are expected to be in the region of £2000. If you would like to donate please click here
Employment Tribunal - daily reports
Reports by Hetha Duffy, Calder High School parent who is attending the Tribunal and writing reports for the HebWeb. Both parents and former pupils have attended the hearing as observers and to support Ms Rustamova. Read more
Friday, 18 March 2011
Unfair dismissal claim rejected but it was a majority judgment and the minority judge was the employment judge who took a very different view to the two non-legal members.
Miss Rusty's solicitor, Keith Lomax, told the HebWeb: "Whilst the two lay members of the panel were against us, the Employment Judge found in our favour. Importantly, he found that the difference between the school governors' attitude to Miss Rusty as opposed to Mr Ball was clear evidence that the Governors were not objective. That finding is encouraging as we consider whether to lodge an appeal. We have 6 weeks within which to appeal."
Tuesday, 5 July 2011
Tuesday, 12 July 2011
STOP! DON'T READ THIS - the story. Miss Rusty's book is finally published this week for all to read, and includes her account of being sacked from Calder High along with ideas for working with disaffected teenagers. Read HebWeb review
Stop! Don’t read this - the story by Leonora Rustamova will be available this week from local bookshops and online from Amazon
Latest: Reading and signing planned for Saturday 16th July 2011
Stop! Don't read this - the story
AKA 'Miss Rusty', Leonora Rustamova's book will be published in July. There will be a signing session and Leonora will read from the book on Saturday 16th July at the Hebden Bridge Bookshop 12-2pm.
The HebWeb has been told that it is a wonderful book full of insights and interesting observations on teaching, teenagers and more. And of course the original story is in there too, as well as an account of what happened to Leonora Rustamova because of it.
Friday, 4 November 2011
MISS RUSTY WINS COURT RULING.
Case now returns to Employment Tribunal.
Read report of the hearing. Employment Appeal Tribunal agreed with Ms Rustamova's counsel that the Tribunal had not given sufficient reasons for their decision that her dismissal was fair.
Guardian Northerner - on "latest chapter in teacher Leonora Rustamova's fightback . . . the judge asked why no-one had a list of the allegations and he said it was like Stalinist Russia." (5 Nov 2011)
Sunday, 12 February 2012
GTC DROP PROCEEDINGS
Leonara Rustamova is celebrating a further victory. She is now free to teach in schools again, as the General Teaching Council drop proceedings against her.
Halifax Courier - Miss Rusty cleared by GTC and lands job in prison (13 Feb 2012)
Daily Mail - Teacher wins three-year battle to clear name after publishing racy novel about students' fantasies (13 Feb 2012)
HebWeb Forum - Where was the union?
HebWeb News - Tribunal hearing - Jan-March 2011
HebWeb News - Initial HebWeb news report (Feb 2009)
Open Letter from the Friends of Rusty and Steve group
HebWeb Forum - Teacher Suspended from Calder High
HebWeb Forum - STOP: Don’t Read This
Hebweb Forum - Miss Rusty revisited
HebWeb News - Miss Rusty tells her story for the first time (July, 2009)
Observer - Leonora Rustamova: I taught my pupils to enjoy books - and got fired. - Sunday, 27 March 2011
Women's Hour on 25th March. Listen on iPlayer - it's the first item.
Guardian - Teacher loses appeal against dismissal over raunchy novel featuring pupils - Friday, 20 March
Daily Telegraph - Teacher sacked over racy novel to publish work - Sunday, 20 March
BBC - Racy novel teacher loses unfair dismissal claim - Friday, 18 March
Huddersfield Examiner - Huddersfield author and teacher 'Miss Rusty' loses unfair dismissal case
Independent - We should hire more people like Miss Rusty, not fire them
- 15 Jan 2011
12th March 2009 - Hansard Society - Citizenship in action - 250 pupils walk out of school in protest! March 2009
13th March 2009 - Yorkshire Post - Pupils join school protest over teacher suspensions
24th March 2009 - Radio Leeds - interview with Travis Downs
24th March 2009 - Guardian
26th March 2009- Courier: Letter from 17 parents against the campaign
27th March 2009 - Courier: Campaigners demand probe into barred Calder High School teachers
3rd April 2009 - Halifax Courier front page article
Radio Five - Listen Now to Leonora Rustamova giving her story for the first time. (July 2009)
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)
Channel 4 interview - 12th July 2009