'My book cost me my job, but now it's going to be published at last'

1st July 2011 at 01:00
New beginning for controversial novel that made heroes of unruly pupils

A teacher turned her most unruly pupils into fiction heroes in an unusual teaching exercise that kept them in school and improved their results - but also led to her dismissal.

In a successful attempt to re-engage them with education, Leonora Rustamova portrayed the most "severely disaffected" children in her class in a novel written specially for them.

But the book - which follows characters based on the pupils and contains passages about smoking, truancy and drugs - was deemed to have put the boys at risk after it was published on the internet, leading to Ms Rustamova losing her job.

Now she has published the novel, together with a description of the furore it caused.

The five pupils - Greg, Christie, Travis, Billy and Martin - will all receive a share of profits from the book. It contains the story written for them, described by Ms Rustamova as "part Shameless, part Famous Five", plus sections describing her work with unruly pupils and advice for other teachers.

The book tells the tale of five boys who break into their school to erase CCTV footage because it shows them misbehaving.

But they spot a gang hiding drugs in the school and, eventually, they do the right thing and tell the police.

One controversial chapter even describes two boys sunbathing shirtless as if they were "Mr Gay UK finalists".

When Ms Rustamova started teaching the group - on a special alternative education programme - they refused to read anything. But, when asked, they said they would be interested if she wrote a story about their lives.

Ms Rustamova started writing a book for them and read out a new chapter every Friday, but only if they had not been excluded. The pupils loved it.

At first she was praised for her work, and it played a part in her promotion to social cohesion co-ordinator at Calder High School in Mytholmroyd, West Yorkshire.

But then it went wrong. Governors and teachers at the school discovered that the book had mistakenly been posted on an online self-publishing website without password protection.

This meant it could be viewed by anyone, and the school decided that it was a safeguarding issue.

Students held a demonstration in protest at Ms Rustamova's suspension and set up a Facebook page in her support.

She told The TES this week: "For some reason, the situation had become inflamed and the book was described as a 'sex book', which it certainly isn't, although there is a sexual element to the first chapter.

"These boys suffered badly with self-esteem. This was an opportunity for self-reflection and for them to feel better about their lives.

"The whole point in using their name was so they would feel valued. These boys wouldn't read anything and my sacking had a terrible effect on them.

"This was the most positive thing they had ever done in school and neither they nor their parents complained. The community has shown me so much support."

Other teachers were interested in Ms Rustamova's work with the pupils and she emailed colleagues chapters of the book each week. She also showed them to her head, Stephen Ball, who she says was supportive.

But when the book was published online, the school authorities decided to take disciplinary action against her.

Whatever the rights and wrongs of the case, Ms Rustamova highlights the educational success of the project. Some four out of the five boys finished school, with one gaining a B in English and the others achieveing higher exam results than predicted.

The teacher, who lives in Huddersfield, is now waiting to hear if her case is to be heard by the General Teaching Council for England, but has been told the Independent Safeguarding Authority will not be investigating.

She still does not know who made the complaint that sparked her suspension on 19 January 2009, and is uncertain about returning to the profession.

"I wouldn't feel safe going back into a state school now. The experience has been very scary," she said.

STOP! Don't read this is published by Bluemoose Books on 16 July

Once upon a time ...

Hunt like a pack

I was asked to take half of the group for the final year of their course. They were well on the road to educational rack and ruin by then. One was said to be unable to read at all. They were described as overtly racist, violent and misogynistic in their presentation in school and the wider community at that time.

I was told: they are a pack, and they hunt you like a pack. I agreed to take them on.

My first encounter with them prior to our English lessons was in the corridor in July. They kind of swirled out of the crowd and came to a halt in front of me. Greg said, "We've got you for English in September and we're gonna break you!"

It would be funny how totally prophetic that turned out to be, given my current situation. Extract from 'STOP! Don't read this'.

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