by Martin Sullivan

Audio recording of the debate can be found here, courtesy of Steve Gove-Humphries.
This was an excellent meeting with a very good panel, and intelligent questions and discussion by the audience of 90 people. The Chair was Hilary Bills (retired head teacher and former national NUT president); the panel comprised:
-Adrian Blackledge (Birmingham Poet Laureate)
-Robert Brenchley (Left Unity candidate for Ladywood)
-Professor Tim Brighouse (Education campaigner)
-Kevin Courtney (Deputy General Secretary, NUT)
-Ann Gallagher (Campaigner from Friends of The Library of Birmingham)
-Councillor Brigid Jones (BCC Cabinet member for children & family services)

Ann gave an excellent introductory talk about our campaign, making all the key points. The first question was about libraries, asking why the huge investment of LoB was being wasted. The questioner had observed that far more people were studying, browsing and working in LoB than in the former central library, and all we would be left with after the cuts is a shell of LoB plus the cost of servicing the debt of £10m as yet unpaid building costs. Brigid Jones repeated the Cabinet line that BCC was suffering from a series of government cuts and that all of the remaining money has to go into children’s services. Points made by other members of the panel included:
i) libraries needed as many allies as possible and we should work with the local universities (Aston, BCU, Birmingham);
ii) criticism of David Cameron’s accusation that BCC was cutting libraries solely to make a political point;
iii) where were children going to learn and study outside school hours? Many had profitably supplemented their schooling by self-education in libraries;
iv) there should be less austerity and public sector cuts and much higher taxation on the rich and multinationals;
v) every school should have a properly resourced library – ‘schools should be more like prisons’, in that there was a statutory duty on prisons to provide a library.
vi) LoB was the best thing to have happened to Birmingham in years
vii) was there any mileage in seeking EU funding?

The remaining questions were about education, with Ann linking these to library issues, including the statement that libraries were weapons of mass instruction. Points made included:
i) overload on teachers from having to provide written (and sometimes photographic) evidence for OFSTED of activities undertaken in the classroom. There was criticism of OFSTED on a wide range of issues from many members of the audience, linked by a common view that it was not fit for purpose.
ii) opposition to the use of unqualified teachers in academies and free schools (13% of whose teachers were unqualified).
iii) discussion of the ‘Trojan Horse’ issue including criticism of the way in which the government had demonised teachers in east Birmingham.
iv) that this issue would not have happened had the local authority been in full control of all schools, many of which had been handed by the government to unaccountable organisations. We should have a fully comprehensive system in Birmingham encompassing the current academies, free schools and the private schools.
v) it was inappropriate to test 4-year olds.

The above is a very small selection of what was a very good discussion of the well-selected five topics.

We finished with Steve asking the panel to reveal their favourite memory of a library, and their favourite or most recent book.

Points for us to follow up were: i) EU funding; ii) involving the three Birmingham universities in our campaign – see messages to follow.

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