Old Timmy’s Almanac 2018

It’s that time of year when I wipe the Christmas pudding from my crystal ball, stare hard into the tea leaves and look up at the stars, to bring you the predictions that will shape 2018. Old Timmy’s Almanac will guide your way through the darkness. Or not.


After Storm Dylan fails to deposit much needed carrots over the Northern half of the country, storm Ermintrude arrives. Six foot high cheese-drifts appear on the M25, causing traffic to flow only a little more slowly than usual.


Theresa May’s government wins a vote in the House of Commons to ban beard and sandal wearing by 310 votes to 13. All 12 Liberal Democrat MPs plus Caroline Lucas vote against the measure. A newly clean-shaven Jeremy Corbyn argues that his principled decision to whip Labour MPs to abstain is simply another example of him playing the long game.


A snap general election is called, with polling day set for Thursday 29th March. After a campaign that sees former UKIP leader Nigel Farage being defeated in his ambition to become an MP for the 8th time, he accepts a peerage. The House of Lords votes to abolish itself before he can take his seat. In the Commons no seats change hands apart from Sheffield Hallam, which is won by the independent ‘We’re really, really sorry Nick’ candidate.


The Daily Mail finally finds a replacement columnist for Katie Hopkins. However after only three days working for the paper her replacement, Zebedee from the Magic Roundabout, resigns. In an interview with Graham Norton, Zebedee says that he should have listened to Dylan after all.


Derby County win the Championship by one point, thrashing Barnsley 8-1 in their final game. Nottingham Forest finish bottom, three points adrift of Sunderland and Birmingham. The city rejoices. Owner Mel Morris immediately sacks manager Gary Rowett for not playing in ‘The Derby County Way™’ and failing to crush the hopes of their fans during the second half of the season.


In a surprise move, Chris Grayling, secretary of state for transport, bans all cars that are not genuine Lotus or Caterham 7s from the roads for the entire summer. Caravan owners are seen weeping at the roadside.

Lotus and Caterham 7 ownership soars

Lotus and Caterham 7 ownership soars


US president Donald Trump is impeached. He immediately takes to twitter to complain that he is allergic to peaches and would prefer a banana instead. A small army of Minions led by Kevin and Bob are seen leaving the White House, bananas in hand, heading in the general direction of North East Somerset.


Arsene Wenger is appointed manager of Derby County. The first three games of the new season are all lost, with the worst being a 7-0 thrashing at Leicester City. Arsene Wenger says that he is content, as he is simply playing the long game.


A newly introduced tax on disposable coffee cups is hastily rescinded when people realise that most of the taste of their favourite high street brands comes from the cardboard the cups are made from.


Having lost all of their games of the new Premiership season up to this point, Derby County finally get a 9-8 win at home against Manchester United. Mel Morris immediately sacks Arsene Wenger for failing to adhere to the tenets of entertainment as set out in ‘The Derby County Way™’, page 94.


The eagerly anticipated John Lewis Christmas advertisement is aired for the first time. In a break with tradition, it consists solely of a cute cat holding up a sign that reads “Buy more stuff”. Sales rise 150%. Marketing gurus praise its “minimalist but honest” style.


Theresa May’s government calls another snap general election, with polling day set for Thursday 27th December. Vince Cable adapts the John Lewis Christmas advertisement, using a camel wearing a fedora holding up a sign that reads “Vote for Vince”. Liberal Democrats win 450 seats, with the Labour party being reduced to just two – Islington North and Bolsover. In an interview with John Humphrys, Jeremy Corbyn claims that by playing the long game at this election he will be Prime Minister by Christmas.

Derby in 1950 – according to the AA Road Book

This map and description of Derby in 1950 is taken from the AA’s Road Book of England and Wales. Much remains familiar. The Cathedral, Bridge Chapel, Art Gallery, Library and Museum (still boasting a Bonnie Prince Charlie room) are open for visitors. County cricket continues at the Race Course Ground. Royal Crown Derby will definitely welcome you, but there’s no need to apply by post in advance. Engineering is still a core activity, even though the Brexit the city voted for may put it in jeopardy.

Map of Derby UK, 1950.

But much has changed. County Hall relocated to Matlock in the mid 1950s. Derby became a city in 1977. St Alkmunds was demolished to make way for the Inner Ring Road in 1967 and rebuilt a few hundred yards away as a striking example of modern architecture. The railway stations at Friar Gate and near Chester Green are long closed. The A52 dual carriageway, the 1968 absorption of Spondon into Derby’s boundary and the creation of Oakwood have moved the city’s centre of gravity North-Eastwards. The locomotive works are now the site of the Pride Park industrial area, Wyvern retail park as well as being the home of Derby County.

Thank Trump or tackle homelessness this Christmas?

I received two Christmas messages from political campaigners yesterday. The first was from a right-wing US website. I have no idea how I ended up on their mailing list. I’ve tried to unsubscribe many times without success. Their endless stream of nonsense is now fed directly into my junk email folder.

The Christmas mailing asked me to thank Donald Trump for fulfilling 150 campaign promises by choosing one of “… six beautiful digital cards you can personalize and send to the president without cost … to counteract the constant attacks on his policies, his character and his dedication to putting America’s interests first.”

The second message came from Vince Cable. In it he asked us to do something to support a local charity tackling homelessness this Christmas. In Derby, the Padley Group have helped people with a range of issues including homelessness, debt and destitution, drugs, alcohol, mental health issues, physical disabilities, learning disabilities, severe autism and long-term unemployment since 1985. It’s challenging to maintain services when £250,000 in local and central government grants have been removed.

However, they’re trying hard to attract new supporters to their Padley 4000 scheme which you can subscribe to for £2 a month – less than the price of a cup of coffee. They’ve asked their existing supporters to publicise the scheme this Christmas. If you are local to Derby, please think about joining it. There are also opportunities to volunteer if you’d prefer to donate your time.


A Happy Christmas and peaceful new year to you all.

Three ideas for encouraging lifelong learning

Following on from my recent post about the decline of lifelong learning in England over the last decade, I’d like to offer three broad suggestions that could help to reverse this depressing trend.

1. (Re)introduce greater flexibility in course choices

One impact of the changes made over the last decade has ensured that more funding goes to institutions whose students register for and complete pre-defined qualifications (for example, an undergraduate degree). While this makes some sense for students enrolled on full-time qualifications, as it’s a good idea to encourage universities to do all they can to try to ensure these students don’t want to give up, it makes little sense to insist on a rigid qualification framework for part-time, mature learners.

For example, prior to the 2012 funding changes, Open University degrees were almost a side-effect of taking a number of courses. There was no expectation that registering for a course would always eventually result in a degree. You could tackle their courses in (almost) any order you chose. If you were a confident learner you didn’t have to make up your 360 points for an honours degree from specified difficulty levels, provided that you had obtained enough points at the higher levels.

Current Open University procedures mandate a far less flexible approach. You have to register on a degree pathway when you first enrol. You must then obtain 120 points at level 1, before being allowed to study at level 2 and then at level 3. The expectation is that you will study for a degree, rather than taking a couple of courses that you might need to help your development. Had these rules been in force when I had been studying with the Open University, I would probably never have taken the management course I did in 1990, nor the course I took 15 years later (at level 2) which eventually led me to gain a psychology degree in 2011.

So the first change I’d make is to ensure that funding for part-time students with further and higher education providers isn’t contingent on a multi-course qualification being nominated or achieved. Successful completion of a single course would be sufficient to release the ever-decreasing proportion of direct funding from government.

2. The “Open” qualification

Since the Open University was founded, one of its more interesting innovations has been the Open degree. An Open degree allows a student to study any subject offered by the university, across faculties and disciplines. In the context of lifelong learning this is an excellent approach, as it is another way of rewarding continued study. I’d like to see more FE and HE institutions offer the equivalent of “Open” qualifications as an incentive to learners.

3. Paying for lifelong learning

The current student loan system is broken for part-time students in general, and even more broken (yes, that is possible!) when considering the needs of mature, part-time students. Mature students have voted with their feet over the last decade. A lifelong learning account might help to address this issue.

For example, an account that allowed contributions from individuals and employers, match-funded by government, but used as and when individuals saw fit would be a good starting point for discussion. It should be possible to use this account towards any recognised vocational, FE or HE course – including equivalent and lower qualifications – to support re-skilling.


The Ship Inn

The Ship Inn. A random image, found in amongst pictures of caravans and a family holiday at the seaside. The film it was on was developed in September 1968. Does anyone recognise this particular Ship Inn and could tell me where it is?

I’m also intrigued by the man and the cart. I wonder if the cart was his or if it belonged to the pub?

The Ship InnUpdate:

It’s The Ship Inn at Long Sutton. Many thanks to Mary Mayfield for suggesting Lincolnshire and for Jonathan Calder for suggesting the specific pub. Google Streetview confirms. The man with his cart seems to be long gone, however.

The Ship Inn, 2016

The consequences of kicking the can down the road

Kicking the can down the road is sometimes a useful tactic for avoiding short-term political pain, but often results in significant long-term damage. If a politician can kick a particular can far enough away, they may avoid personal damage for poor decisions, laziness and lies. Instead it’s the people in the can that’s being kicked who suffer. I’m fairly certain that’s the strategy of the current government when it comes to finalising the exit process from the European Union. When it proves to be the national disaster everyone with any foresight predicted that it would be, the culprits will be long gone from office. No doubt they’ll manage to scrape the odd book deal or two from the wreckage. As for the rest of us, we need to make whatever contingency plans we can.

The EU exit can appears to have been successfully kicked away for a few more months. However, one that’s been kicked down the road by politicians of all parties for the last decade or so and has largely been forgotten about has been found hiding in the long grass by the National Audit Office (NAO). Their report into the higher education market makes grim reading and not only because of the seemingly unstoppable trend towards the marketisation of HE. Nick Hillman, the director of the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI), remarked that “There is a world of difference between buying a tin of beans and making the right decision about higher education“. Quite.

Far and away the biggest losers from the last decade of funding changes in HE in England have been part-time, mature students. The charts in the NAO report show the scale of the disaster for this group of learners since 2011, but in truth, the damage to this group had already started under the previous Labour government with the withdrawal of funding for equivalent and lower qualifications.

Since 2010/11, the number of part-time students has fallen dramatically, both in real terms and as a proportion of learners:

Figure 4

Part-time enrolments for undergraduate study in England have declined markedly since 2010/11.

… with mature, part-time undergraduates feeling the brunt of these changes, through policies that have created an especially hostile environment for this group.

Figure 14 - Mature students

Mature and part-time undergraduate student entrants in England 2011-2016.

Peter Horrocks, the Open University vice-chancellor tweeted this morning that the fall in part-time mature learners had mostly hit “… the career learners who need new skills”, adding “This is an own goal for government’s aims on productivity and social mobility.”

He’s right, of course. This is a can that the government needs to stop kicking. Proper policy and investment in lifelong learning will be essential if the UK – inside or outside of the EU – is to thrive in future.