The boys of Eton College stand as headmaster Tony Little arrives for morning assembly. Photo: Getty.
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The NS debate: what should we do about education’s Berlin Wall?

Leading educationalists respond to the question of public schools.

In a wide-ranging essay in last week’s New Statesman, David Kynaston and George Kynaston challenged policymakers (especially on the left) to address the dominance of the private school minority in public life. This week, leading educationalists reply to the essay and offer their own solutions to what we are calling the “7 per cent problem”.

Anthony Seldon | Andrew Adonis | Laura McInerney | Tony Little
Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett | Tristram Hunt

* * *

Open up the private schools to the poor
Anthony Seldon

David and George Kynaston have written one of the most thoughtful recent contributions about private schools. Their question, why has the left not done more to address the private school problem, is more pertinent than ever. Labour’s private school prime ministers, Clement Attlee and Tony Blair, proved far more successful electorally, winning five general elections and losing only one, than its state school premiers. Many of Labour’s towering figures have indeed been public school products, as have many of its private donors and most influential supporters. The party has rattled sabres in opposition, but once in power it has been uncomfortable doing anything to challenge the entrenched position of private schools. It has equally been as silent on another topic not mentioned in the Kynastons’ article, the stranglehold that the better-off have over top state schools.

It is not only Labour that has been silent. The Conservative Party, guided for nearly 40 years after 1965 by leaders who had attended state schools – Edward Heath, Margaret Thatcher and John Major – and committed to equality of opportunity and a competitive economy, has been equally coy about private schools.

Private schools, for much of the past hundred years, and especially when the economy has been adverse, have had difficult periods. But since the 1980s they have forged ahead, in confidence and academic success. However much the state sector improved, and it has done so markedly in the past 15 years, the private sector has achieved still more. True, private schools in the north of the country and in rural areas have found it hard, but parents are still managing to find the fees. It has been a continuing misconception of the left that the private schools are full of rich children, sent by snobby parents who don’t want them to mix with those from ordinary backgrounds. Part of the left’s problem is its failure to understand the schools and their parents.

The myopia of the left about private schools does not stop there. It has taken as a given that parents of children in private schools should pay twice, through taxes and school fees, while refusing even to coun­tenance the possibility of affluent parents contributing to fees at top state schools. The left has proved equally out of touch in imagining that private school heads could not have any non-cynical reason for wanting to partner with state schools. It was risible hearing for years that the only reason why they wanted to do so, at heavy cost to the schools, was a cowardly wish to avoid losing their charitable status. Yet, since 2011, when the threat to the charitable status of private schools was lifted, charitable activity partnering state schools has increased. Many of the best-known critics of private schools on the left have never visited them. Those who have, like Melissa Benn, are often pleasantly surprised, even if it doesn’t change their outlook.

A January report from the Institute of Education argues that English education is among the most class-ridden in the developed world. It blames decades of inequality on the gap between the best schools and the worst. The problem of stagnating social mobility is worsening and we have no time to lose. To me, after a lifetime writing about education and working in schools, it has become clear that neither the Conservatives nor Labour alone will be able to produce the policies we need to give an excellent education to all, regardless of background.

Only a cross-party commission will be able to make the breakthrough that Britain so badly needs, as I argued in a report for the Social Market Foundation, Schools United, published last month. My particular focus is the bottom quartile. If we can advance their opportunities for education, we will transform the entire landscape. Only brave and radical change will solve the deep-seated problems we have. I thus propose that a quarter of places at private schools in Britain (as well as a quarter in the top-performing state schools) be reserved for bottom-quartile children. Places at top state schools could also be means-tested so that those who can afford to pay do so, which would bring much-needed money into the state system while guaranteeing that the principle of free state education for all stays untouched, because spaces at middle- and low-performing state schools would remain free even for the most wealthy. The affluent would either pay for the top places, or move to the less popular schools, where their muscle would drive up standards. True, some might switch to private schools; but as premium house prices in the catchment areas of top state schools often far outstrip private-sector fees, as the Reform Scotland think tank argued at the end of January, is that necessarily so unjust?

My own report proposes a series of further moves to build a more united school system, and hence a more united country. They include the cause I have long championed – all private schools should start named academies, and work with a proven academy provider or a successful state school to provide the necessary expertise. All state school pupils should have access to the breadth of educational experience and the preparation for careers that their counterparts at private schools enjoy. The left, sadly, has poured scorn on these ideas, preferring to cling to proposals that simply will not happen, such as the abolition of the private sector.

The left, as well as the right and centre, must be silent no longer: they must join forces along the lines I have suggested. Fail to do so, and in the next hundred years Britain will become even more polarised and fragmented.

Anthony Seldon is the Master of Wellington College and executive principal of the Wellington Academy

* * * 

Academies can make the difference
Andrew Adonis

David and George Kynaston describe brilliantly the reasons we are where we are. But what is to be done? The imperative is for a bold and credible reform that has a realistic prospect of achieving system-wide transformation, rather than piecemeal initiatives or utopian gestures that signify nothing. Systematically engaging good private schools with the academies programme is the policy to make a real difference. Good progress has been made since the launch of academies 14 years ago. It needs to be continued resolutely; if that happens, the sum will increasingly amount to more than the parts.

There are two options for successful private schools within the academies programme, and both involve a fundamental change to the institutional character of private schools, making them in effect state-private hybrids. First, good private schools, too, can become academies – or “free schools”, in the Gove lexicon, which legally are the same as academies. This reincarnates them as state-funded but independently managed schools, sustaining their ethos, character and standards while accepting pupils without fees on the basis of fair admissions (in other words, no eleven-plus selection).

So far, more than a dozen leading independent schools have taken this course, and the number increases by a few each year. The biggest coup is Liverpool College, one of the founding members of the Headmasters’ Conference in 1869, which last year became an academy and opened its educational excellence, facilities and 28 acres to Liverpool children without fees. It promptly received 600 applications for its year 7 places. As part of its transition to being an academy, it is increasing its total places from 730 to 1,150, and will continue to run a boarding house.

Hans van Mourik Broekman, headmaster of Liverpool College, is frank about the combination of altruism and self-interest which motivated the decision to become an academy. The affluent middle class is increasingly thin on the ground in Merseyside. Liverpool College could have continued in the fee-paying sector, small and select, but academy status is enabling it to become large and open, true to the progressive social mission that animated its foundation by Gladstone and the Liverpool merchants a century and a half ago. A Dutchman who exudes in equal measure educational professionalism and mystification about the English class system, Broekman was well placed to make the change.

Like Liverpool College, the other private schools that have become academies are all of high quality and great popularity in their localities. Mostly in the less affluent north of England, they include Birkenhead High School, the Belvedere School in Liverpool, William Hulme’s Grammar School in Manchester and the King’s School Tynemouth. The first two of these are run by the Girls’ Day School Trust, which operates a historic national chain of highly successful private schools for girls, several more of which are ripe for conversion to academies to fulfil their original social mission.

Not all the “converters” are in the north: there are two in affluent Bristol – Bristol Cathedral Choir School and Colston’s Girls’ School. As the success of Liverpool College and the other converters becomes well established, the altruism/self-interest dynamic could easily yield another 50 or 100 nationwide within a decade, forming a substantial new private/state sector.

The second option is for successful private schools – or the foundations behind them – to sponsor academies or free schools, taking responsibility for the governance and management of a school or schools in the state-funded sector as well as their existing school or schools in the fee-paying sector.

There are now several dozen of these “new” independent school academies. Here, too, the past year has brought a significant breakthrough. Eton and Westminster, the two most prestigious private schools, have become academy sponsors, taking sole or joint responsibility for the management of their new state-funded institutions.

Eton is the sole sponsor of Holyport College, a free school opening near Maidenhead this September for 500 pupils. It will be half boarding and half day, leveraging Eton’s boarding expertise, facilities and curriculum. Eton’s governors will henceforth be responsible for two institutions: one private-funded, one state-funded; one (essentially) for the super-rich, the other (essentially) for local families and those with boarding need, both with Eton’s reputation attached.

Westminster School is also opening a free school in September – in the shape of a sixth-form college for 500 16-to-18-year-olds with top GCSE grades who have the potential for entry to leading universities. The Harris-Westminster Sixth Form is being established and managed in partnership with the Harris Federation – one of the most successful academy chains, sponsored by the carpet magnate and philanthropist Lord Harris of Peckham. The initial places are far oversubscribed. Outreach to poorer communities is a central part of the mission: 70 per cent of the applicants are eligible for the pupil premium, and one in five is a pupil at one of the 27 existing Harris academies, all of which are in deprived parts of the south-east (mostly south London).

Here again, the change for the sponsoring private school is profound. Westminster School is located in the precincts of Westminster Abbey, harking back to its original charitable mission, and the chair of the school’s governors is always the Dean of Westminster, one of the most senior clerics in the Church of England. John Hall, the current dean, is conscious that the Church’s social mission sits uneasily with England’s foremost cathedral being physically and institutionally conjoined to one of the world’s most exclusive private schools, with fees of £33,000 a year. The Harris-Westminster Sixth Form academy will also conjoin it to a state-funded school for the less affluent.

Academy by academy, year by year, the private-state divide in education is being overcome. There is far, far further to go. But we have made a start.

Andrew Adonis, minister for schools under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, is the author of “Education, Education, Education: Reforming England’s Schools” (Biteback, £12.99)

* * * 

Follow the Indian model
Laura McInerney

Reading the Kynastons’ essay, one almost gives in to sympathy for the Labour Party. How difficult it must be to overthrow the private schools when so many politicians (and their children) have benefited from their hallowed halls. How tragic it would be to yank away the right of individuals to pay for tennis courts and Latin lessons. Your heart bleeds less, however, when you realise that India, a nation with a caste system, now requires all of its private schools to ensure that 25 per cent of their intake comes from the poorest children in a given area. And don’t think that they can pick out their favourites. The places are won by open, random lottery. Any child from a low-income family can enter; if he wins he must be admitted and taught. As far as India is concerned, if you want to be a private provider, you better be ready to take those most in need alongside those who can pay.

Much as the Labour Party has had to face continuous wailing over the private schools issue, India’s revolution was not quiet. Due to be introduced in 2006, the law was passed only in 2009, after agreement on the 25 per cent figure (a reduction from the 50 per cent initially posited). Predictably, wealthy parents complained. The irony of allowing lower-caste women to serve as their nannies while arguing that the children of these same women were unworthy to rub shoulders with their own children was lost amid complaints about “different sorts” of child.

The private schools also complained. Although the government reimburses every school for each poorer child it admits, it does so only at the same rate as any state school would receive for the child. With the extra cash for these children gone, the schools were concerned about the upkeep for their fancy facilities. Faced with being judged solely on their teaching – rather than their sports facilities and music rooms – many gurned. One can only imagine the long faces in England if we did likewise.

Nevertheless, India’s government persevered. It has sent watchdogs to tackle lottery rigging and the systematic mistreatment of students. Examples include poorer students being seated at the back of the classroom, or siphoned into separate classes altogether.

So, compare India’s bravery to the compromises offered, in the Kynastons’ article, by Peter Lampl of the Sutton Trust. It describes the generous-sounding proposal that private schools “open up” one-third of their places – just as long as they are funded by the government.

But read the original report and note the actual, complete proposal. It reads: “Open Access is a voluntary scheme that would open the best independent day schools to talented children from all backgrounds.” Did you spot the keyword? Private schools would open to “talented” children. But, one should ask, why? Why should private schools – with their extra cash and bundles of social capital – skim off only the most “talented” children?

And this is where a lie is made of the suggestion in the Kynastons’ essay that private schools are somehow of “intrinsic merit”. See, if private schools really are imbued with magic sauce why must they take in only the talented? Why not, instead, select 25 per cent randomly from among the ranks of the poor? (Assuming, of course, that they would wish to go.) Only it seems to me that the “inventory of privileged access” that the Kynastons say is bestowed on private schoolers can’t be attributed to intrinsic merit at all. It is merely down to a calculated selection of children. I wonder whether the private schools fear that if selection stopped, their not-so-greatness might be exposed after all.

Perhaps I am being harsh. Let us accept for a moment the idea that most private schools are superb and confer the best-quality teaching going (and, to be fair, this is true for some). Given such skills, why limit access solely to the talented? The poor-yet-dim child is surely at least as deserving of a great education as the poor-but-bright. In fact, given that a child who is both poor and struggling with school runs a greater risk of becoming unemployed, ill or homeless in the future, might it not even be prudent for him or her to be given such an excellent education?

The Kynastons provide us with a second option: Andrew Adonis’s idea of coaxing private schools into the state sector through the academies and free schools programme. (Rab Butler suggested a similar idea during the drafting of the Education Act 1944 but he was overruled by Churchill.) That only six schools so far have gone down this route suggests the policy is far from being a tide change. Oddly, though, the slow pace does not result from reluctance on the part of private schools. In the first year of the government’s free schools programme, 103 independent schools applied to convert to state-funded academies. However, only five were accepted. And of those five, three were labelled as “requiring improvement” at their first Ofsted inspection. Not the greatest sign that private schools are the answer to perceived state school problems.

Ultimately, the most important question is one posed by the authors: are private schools educating the wrong children? I’m not convinced by “wrong”; but they certainly aren’t helping. If Labour hasn’t the guts to get rid of the private schools it should at least ensure that their charitable status becomes dependent on them saving 25 per cent of places for children drawn at random from among groups with the most need – either those on a low income or those of low ability. Doing so will solve one of the main dilemmas outlined in the piece. It would allow the wealthy to exercise their right to buy a private education but stop them from any longer buying an “exclusive” one. Let us never forget that distinction.

Laura McInerney was a teacher in London and is now a Fulbright scholar studying education policy

The landscape is changing for the better
Tony Little

We are where we are. David and George Kynaston are right to draw attention to the failure of the Fleming report and the half-heartedness of subsequent attempts to address the gap between independent and state schools. But we are where we are because successive broad-brush attempts to realign systems have not been able to accommodate the spirit of independence. We conceive of ourselves as a free country and parents must have the fundamental right to choose how to educate their children.

If independent schools were marginal or feeble, they would, I suspect, pass unremarked. They are popular because they are, in the main, very good schools, not just in terms of academic results but because they celebrate true breadth in education. Indeed, there is a strong argument that independent schools have been able to sustain their vision of holistic education precisely because they are one step away from the fickleness of government policy.

As the Kynastons observe, “Education is not just another item or service to be bought or sold.” The best independent schools thrive because they embody deeply held beliefs about the value of education.

In Shanghai recently, I was in conversation with heads of top-performing schools in one of the highest-performing regions in the world. These are the Olympic medallists of contemporary measurement culture. Yet all, they said, was not right. They realise that the driven approach to exam success was not equipping their students effectively to be citizens in an interconnected world. And to whom do they look for some inspiration? British independent schools.

The best British independents are world-class. We would be foolish to undermine them. The question is how best to use what they have to offer.

For decades, independent schools have turned in on themselves, in part through a comfortable insularity, but largely as a consequence of the hostility they have received. When I started as the head of an independent school 25 years ago, it was made very clear to me by the local state school that there would be no contact of any kind between us. Often, when attempts have been made to bring schools together, they have been ham-fisted, built on the assumption that there is one definitive model that can be readily transplanted. Mistrust and resentment have followed. In recent times, the drive to push independent schools to sponsor an academy as the route to preserving charitable status was misguided. Most independent schools readily acknowledge that they do not have the expertise to tackle the particular issues faced, for example, by an inner-city comprehensive and shy away from patronising intervention.

Yet, if independent schools see themselves as part of our national provision, they must take the initiative and seek to be better connected, not as a reaction to political pressure, but as a moral imperative. Independent schools that are expansive create a richer culture for their own people as well as opportunities for others.

One way to create that richer culture is by making independent schools as open and accessible as possible. Schools should state their intent by publishing targets for increasing means-tested bursaries. At Eton at present, 263 boys receive means-tested financial assistance averaging 60 per cent remission of the fee, with 63 paying nothing at all. The short-term target is to raise that number to 320 with 70 on full remission – and then move on to the next target, with the ultimate goal of being, in the American phrase, “needs-blind”: in a position to take all suitable candidates irrespective of their family’s financial situation.

But above all, independent schools should find practical ways to work alongside fellow professionals in the state sector. They can play to their strengths. In Eton’s case, experience with academic high achievers in the sixth form led us to join a consortium of independent schools supporting the London Academy of Excellence, an academically selective, state-funded sixth-form-entry school in east London. Our belief in the transformative power of good boarding education has led us to be the educational sponsor of Holyport College, a new state boarding school. Relationships with local state school heads, developed over years, have led to the creation of an independent state schools partnership and support for a multi-academy trust.

The key to all such engagements is identifying practical outcomes – what works well. Relationships flourish when there are seen to be reciprocal benefits. In all the projects we undertake, our teachers and students have something to learn and something to give. Their understanding and skills are enhanced as much as those in the partner state school, if perhaps in different ways. Real school partnership is short on rhetoric, long on pragmatism.

The landscape is changing for the better, as witnessed by the quality and frequency of conversation between heads of state and independent schools who recognise they share a common purpose and simply wish to do the best for their young people. This is a meeting of minds that was rare a quarter of a century ago.

By their nature, independent schools exercise their independence. Some are wholeheartedly engaged in seeking to embrace a bigger vision of their purpose: others are not. The Kynastons describe a clarion call. All independent schools should wish to respond to it.

Tony Little is the headmaster of Eton

* * *

How to reduce class bias
Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett

There is a tendency to regard disparities in education, income, status and power as equally important forms of inequality. But in trying to understand human social hierarchy or, for that matter, animal pecking orders or ranking systems, one must take into account that they are all primarily about access to scarce resources. Parents send their children to private schools to give them a better chance of securing the best-paid jobs. Wanting your children to speak “nicely” and to have the manner and confidence – or sense of entitlement – that go with private education are simply means to that end.

We won’t know precisely how much private education contributes to the upper-class domination of politics, business, the judiciary, the media, medicine and so on, until we have managed to get rid of it and can see how much of the problem remains. We believe private education has very powerful effects, but even without it upper-class parents would still manage to pass on a large measure of privilege to their children.

The difficulty in abolishing private education springs directly from the way the establishment is dominated by its products. Abolition would provoke unified howls of abuse and ridicule from every powerful quarter which no government could withstand, unless it had the strongest backing from public opinion.

Our solution would be to implement policies that raise the price and weaken the value of private education as a means of gaining access to top jobs, so making abolition politically more feasible.

First, the data shows that societies with smaller income differences between rich and poor have higher social mobility. They also have higher overall standards and smaller differences up and down the social ladder. In measures of cognitive development among five-year-olds, in maths and literacy scores among older children, and in measures of child well-being, more equal societies achieve higher standards.

All the ways in which class and status imprint themselves on us throughout life are strengthened by bigger income differences. Because bigger material differences create bigger social distance, you cannot create a classless society without vastly reducing inequalities of income and wealth.

Policies to reduce income differences are therefore an essential part of any strategy to level the playing field from the earliest ages. That is not simply a matter of redistribution and the prevention of tax avoidance. It is also a matter of reducing differences in pre-tax incomes by supporting all forms of economic democracy, from legal provision for employee representatives on company boards to the expansion of employee ownership and producer co-operatives.

Second, we would also weaken the private school advantage in university entry, particularly to the better universities. This could be done partly by requiring that universities randomly allocate places to the highest-ranked applicants from each school. So pupils in the top 10 or 20 per cent coming from schools in the poorest areas would have the same chances as pupils in the top 10 or 20 per cent from Eton. Evidence shows that students from state schools do better at university than privately educated students with the same A-level grades, so this may raise rather than lower educational standards. This could be introduced to cover a low percentage from each school and then raised gradually. Each university would allocate places randomly among pupils who were among the best from each school applying to that university. There are several international examples of successful schemes similar to this.

To reduce further the class bias in entry to the professions and in job selection procedures, professional associations should be charged with the duty of monitoring progress and taking action against offending institutions.

As well as reducing the class bias in access to top jobs which private education perpetuates, measures should be taken to raise the cost of attending a private school. That would at least reduce the proportion of the population that felt it had a vested interest in protecting it. Private education’s charitable status should be withdrawn, and it should be taxed to pay for the external social costs that the perpetuation of injustice imposes on the rest of society. Policies of this kind would gradually change the class nature of our society and weaken the support for private education to a point where its complete abolition would become feasible.

Another reason why enormous inequality has survived in our society is that the public is unaware of its extent. To overcome this, the Equality Trust has developed a resource with information on the extent and effects of economic inequality in the UK.

Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett are the authors of “The Spirit Level: Why Equality Is Better for Everyone” (Penguin, £10.99)

What does Labour think?
Tristram Hunt

The shadow education secretary declined to comment on last week’s NS cover story or to write a reply.

This article first appeared in the 05 February 2014 issue of the New Statesman, Cameron the captive

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The New Statesman 2016 local and devolved elections liveblog

Results and analysis from elections across the United Kingdom. 

Welcome to the New Statesman's elections liveblog. Results will be coming in from the devolved legislatures in Scotland and Wales, local elections in England, and the mayoral contests in London, Salford, Bristol and Liverpool. Hit refresh for updates!

01:10: A word from the Local Government Information Unit (LGiU) who are kindly assisting me with keeping track of the results.  Their Chief Executive, Jonathan Carr-West, has this to say about the results so far:

“The main focus so far tonight continues to be the Labour vote and what it tells us about Corbyn’s leadership. Many Labour councils who have very different political outlooks from the national leadership may feel aggrieved by this relentless focus on the national: especially if, as is likely, it is costing them votes. This will exacerbate the rift that already exists between a radical leadership and a pragmatic local government base.
So far, Labour are holding safe councils (Newcastle, Liverpool, Sunderland and Halton) - but we expect to see them losing significant numbers of seats as the night progresses. To put this in context, the last time these councils were contested Labour gained 823 seats.

We’re also looking at a Labour wipe out in Scotland and losses in the Welsh Assembly. While a Khan victory will be spun as the story of the night, the reality is that no opposition has lost councils seats in this way for thirty years.”

01:04: For those of you just joining us. In Wales, Labour is set to remain the largest party though the Conservatives are rumoured to make gains in the constituencies. In Scotland, the SNP will not win every seat after failing to displace the Liberal Democrats in Orkney. They are confident in Motherwell and Glasgow, but Edinburgh is anyone's game.  In England, Labour are on course to do worse than their first year under Ed Miliband and fall back on 2012 (it was 2012 when these seats were last contested). 

01:01: In terms of the battle for second place, there was also a 7.5 per cent swing from Labour to the Conservatives in Rutherglen. If that keeps up, the Tories will beat Labour to second-place - but only just. 

00:59: The SNP have taken Rutherglen with a nine point swing, putting them on course to take all of Labour's seats. 

00:56: Labour have been whomped by the SNP in Rutherglen, with James Kelly losing his seat by close to 4,000 votes (that's a lot in a Holyrood constituency). 

00:51: That is really a thumping win for the Liberal Democrats. Elsewhere, I am hearing bad news for Labour in Portsmouth, good news in Norwich, where they believe they may have taken three seats off the Greens, and that the Tories have made gains in Nuneaton, which is Labour-dominated at a local level but has sent a Conservative to Westminster since 2010. 

00:48: Rats! The Liberal Democrats have held Orkney, and I am down £20. They are up 32 per cent of the vote there. 

00:45: Turnout from Ogmore, where Labour are fighting both an Assembly seat and a by-election to, is above 40 per cent. Labour are confident of holding it. 

00:42: Labour have gained a seat from the Conservatives in Birmingham and are doing real damage to the Liberal Democrats in Newcastle. My comment about the Liberal Democrat revival is aging really, really well. 

00:40: Scotland incoming! Rutherglen result imminent! Scotpocalypse! Scotpocalypse! 

00:38: McDonnell is beasting Nicky Morgan on BBC doing a very good "more in sorrow than in anger" routine. 

00:34: For an alternative view on Zac Goldsmith, Andrew Boff, a Conservative member of the London Assembly, said this earlier today on Newsnight:

"I don't think it was dog whistle because you can't hear a dog whistle. Everyone could hear this"

00:31: Duncan Smith droning on about how Zac Goldsmith's campaign is not at all racist, oh no. I'm not getting paid enough for this. 

00:29: Iain Duncan Smith has appeared on screen. He says he is "hopeful" that Zac Goldsmith will be elected tonight. In Wales, the Conservatives have walked out of the count in marginal Delyn. Labour are sounding fairly pleased about that, as you'd expect.

00:27: I have made two discoveries. The firsts is that the lights in the New Statesman offices are motion-sensitive. The second is that sitting and typing is not quite enough motion. (It's just me here tonight.)

00:26: Council seats so far: Labour have 59, the Liberal Democrats have four, Ukip have none, the Greens have none. The SNP are hopeful of picking up all the Scottish Parliament seats in Motherwell and Glasgow, but Edinburgh is trickier territory. 

00:25: Speaking of bets...I look likely to owe Wings Over Scotland £20 (I bet on a clean sweep for the SNP in the constituencies), as Labour are buoyant about Edinburgh Southern and the Liberal Democrats are hopeful in Edinburgh Western.

00:19: John McDonnell doing a good job putting a brave face on some grim early numbers for Labour. This line about needing only do better than a general election is nonsense, psephologically speaking but he's making it sound like good sense. A validation of Jeremy Corbyn's decison to ignore even some of his closest allies and put him in as shadow chancellor. And still only 9 to 1 on Betfair as Labour's next leader. 

00:10: People on the BBC and keep talking about 2012 as a "high point for Labour". Is this true? Well, sort of. It was Ed Miliband's best year. However, that doesn't mean that Labour doesn't still have room to gain seats tonight - governments tend to lose seats in opposition and Labour lost seats pretty consistently in the areas up for election tonight throughout their 13-year-stay in government. So they still can and should make gains. And bear in mind, even Ed's good years were padded out with gains in safe Labour seats, which went from Labour strongholds with say, 40 Labour councillors and 20 Liberal Democrats to 58 Labour councilors and three Greens. In the places Labour needs to win at Westminster to get back into government, there is real room for growth. Which is why I wouldn't worry overmuch about losing some* seats in safe seats if when the marginals report Labour is making headway there. 

*Some is key. Going from a majority of 10,000 to 5,000 in Labour heartlands is fine if Corbyn is putting on 5,000 votes in seats Labour lost by that kind of margin. Going from a majority of 10,000 to -1,000 in Labour heartlands, less so. 

00:06: Labour look likely to lose Crawley

00:02: Labour have kept control of Newcastle Council, taking a seat from the Liberal Democrats. (I knew that would happen the second I typed the words "Liberal Democrat revival"). 

00:00: For those of you just joining us: welcome. Labour is projected to lose seats but remain the largest party in Wales, where the Conservatives seem to be gaining ground. In England, the Liberal Democrat revival appears to be a thing and not just a Twitter meme. In Scotland, the SNP are sounding buoyant while the Conservatives believe they may beat Labour into third. London won't count until tomorrow but everyone - Labour, Tory, Cannabis is Safer Than Alcohol - is getting jittery over low turnout. 

23:55: That early worry I heard from Wales has vanished completely from the Tory side. Vale of Glamorgan is rumoured to be close - a close to six point swing to the Conservatives. So we have biggish swings away from Labour so far tonight. 

23:52: Labour are down 17 per cent in the six seats we've had so far (from 2012 when last contested). Still not very much data, but that would put the party in the mid to low 20s in terms of nationwide share. Personally I think it's unlikely to be that bad when all the results have rolled in. 

23:48: How about that Liberal Democrat fightback, huh? The Liberal Democrats have won a seat in Sunderland from Labour. 

23:47: The knives are already out for Kezia Dugdale in Scotland, where Labour may come third. 

23:42: Bad news for Labour from Wales. Clywd South is in play and the Tories may well win it. Cardiff North, which is Conservative-held at Westminster, looks likely to go the same way in the Assembly having been Labour-held since 2011. Newport West and Llanelli are worth looking out for too. 

23:39: Good news for Labour - they've held the first seat to declare out of Newcastle, and the Liberal Democrats, their main opposition, have privately conceded that Labour will remain large and in charge in Newcastle. 

23:35: Speaking of the Liberal Democrats, they are feeling cautiously optimistic about winning a seat in Edinburgh Western from the SNP, while they expect to recover a bit from 2015. (Things could hardly get worse, I suppose.)

23:32: The first Labour gain of the night, as a Liberal Democrat councilor in Stockport defects. 

23:30: Labour sources are gloomy about their chances of holding onto Exeter Council, where Ben Bradshaw is the party's only remaining MP in the South West. Looks like it will slip into no overall control. Party is also nervous about holding Derby. 

23:25: Tory mole in Wales tells me that things look bad for them - potentially worse than the losses shown in YouGov's poll. The election has become "a referendum on steel", apparently. 

23:20: Early results from Sunderland show Labour doing fairly badly (you know, for Sunderland) and Ukip doing very well. But one swallow doesn't make a summer and we need more data before we know anything. 

23:15: We should get our first result from Scotland in 45 minutes or so. Rutherglen, Labour-held since the Scottish Parliament's creation in 1999, and highly likely to go to the SNP. 

23:13: And what the results mean so far, according to ace numbercruncher Matt Singh:

23:07: Those numbers from Sunderland, where Labour have held in St Anne's ward. Labour down 15 points on 2012, when these seats were last fought, Tories down 3. It's Ukip who are making the headway (they didn't stand last time and expect them do post performances like this throughout the United Kingdom tonight and as results roll in over the weekend). 

23:04: Back to Wales - YouGov's poll "looks about right" according to my Plaid Cymru source. What does that mean? Labour could go it alone and do deals on a vote-by-vote basis - they govern alone now with just 30 seats. If the poll is even a little out - let's say either Labour or the Liberal Democrats get one more seat - they might do a deal if they can get a majority with the Welsh Liberal Democrats. 

23:01: Pallion Ward in Sunderland is the first to declare, and it's a Labour hold! More on percentages as I get them. 

22:58: Why isn't it an exit poll, I hear you ask? Well, an exit poll measures swing - not vote share, but the change from one election to the next. People are asked how they've voted as they leave polling stations. This is then projected to form a national picture. Tonight's two polls are just regular polls taken on the day of the election. 

22:57: The Sun's poll - again, not an exit poll, I'm not kidding around here - of Scotland has the SNP winning by a landslide. (I know, I'm as shocked as all of you) But more importantly, it shows the Conservatives beating Labour into second place. The Tories believe they may hold onto Ettrick as well. 

22:55: What news from Scotland? Labour looks to have been wiped out in Glasgow. Liberal Democrats think they might hold at least one of Orkney or Shetland, while the seats in Edinburgh are anyone's game. 

22:52: Hearing that turnout is low in Waltham Forest, Lewisham, Hackney and my birthplace of Tower Hamlets (the borough's best export unless you count Dizzie Rascal, Tinchy Stryder or Harry Redknapp, that's me). Bad news for Labour unless turnout is similarly low in the Tory-friendly outer boroughs. 

22:47: YouGov have done a poll (note: not an exit poll, it should not be taken as seriously as an exit poll and if you call it an exit poll I swear to god I will find you and kill you) of the Welsh Assembly. Scores on the door:

Labour 27

Plaid Cymru 12 

Conservatives 11

Ukip 8

Liberal Democrat 2

There are 60 seats in the Assembly, so you need 30 seats for a majority of one. 

22:40: In case you're wondering, how would closing a seven point deficit to say, six, compare to previous Labour oppositions, I've done some number-crunching. In 1984, Neil Kinnock's Labour turned a Tory lead of 15 per cent at the general election to a Conservative lead of just one per cent. In 1988, one of 12 per cent went down to one per cent. (He did, of course, go on to lose in both the 1987 and 1992 elections). In 1993, John Smith's Labour party turned a deficit of eight points at the general to a Labour lead of eight points in the local elections. William Hague turned a Labour lead of 13 points to one of just six in 1998, while Iain Duncan Smith got a Tory lead of just one point - from a Labour lead of nine. In 2006, new Tory leader David Cameron turned a 3 point Labour lead to a 13 point Tory one. Ed Miliband - remember him? - got from a Tory lead of seven points to a two point Labour one. 

22:35: John McDonnell is setting out what would be a good night as far as the party leadership is concerned - any improvement on the 2015 defeat, when the party trailed by close to seven points. Corbyn's critics say he needs to make around 400 gains.

I've written about what would be good at length before, but here's an extract:

"Instead of worrying overmuch about numbers, worry about places. Although winning seats and taking control of councils is not a guarantee of winning control of the parliamentary seat – look at Harlow, Nuneaton, and Ipswich, all of which have Labour representation at a local level but send a Conservative MP to Westminster – good performances, both in terms of increasing votes and seats, are a positive sign. So look at how Labour does in its own marginals and in places that are Conservative at a Westminster level, rather than worrying about an exact figure either way."

22:31: Oh god, the BBC's election night music is starting. Getting trauma flashbacks to the general election. 

22:22: A few of you have been in touch about our exit poll. Most of you have been wondering about that one vote for George Galloway but the rest are wondering what happens - under the rules of the London mayoral race (and indeed the contests in Salford, Bristol and Liverpool), 2 votes would not be enough for Sadiq. (He needs 2.5). However, all the other candidates are tied - which makes it through to the second round. What happens then is the second preferences are used as a tie-break. Of the tied candidates, Sian Berry has the most second preferences so she goes through to face Sadiq Khan in the final round. Final round is as follows:

Sadiq Khan: 3

Sian Berry: 2

3 votes is above the quota so he is duly elected. An early omen? 

22:19: Burnham latest. A spokesperson for Andy Burnham says:

"Approaches have been made to Andy Burnham to give consideration to this role. It is early days and no decision as been taken. Whatever the decision, he will continue to serve the leader of the party and stay in the shadow cabinet."

22:17: Anyway, exit poll of the office. We've got:

Sadiq Khan: 2

George Galloway: 1

Caroline Pidgeon: 1

Sian Berry: 1

22:15: Update on Andy Burnham. He has been asked to consider running. More as we get it. 

22:13: People are asking if there's an exit poll tonight. Afraid not (you can't really do an exit poll in elections without national swing). But there is a YouGov poll from Wales and I am conducting an exit poll of the four remaining members of staff in the NS building. 

22:11: It's true! Andy Burnham is considering running for Greater Manchester mayor. Right, that's it, I'm quitting the liveblog. Nothing I say tonight can top that. 

22:09: Rumours that professional Scouser Andy Burnham is considering a bid for Greater Manchester mayor according to Sky News. Not sure if this is a) a typo for Merseyside or b) a rumour or c) honestly I don't know. More as I find out. 

22:06: Conservatives are feeling good about Trafford, one of the few councils they run in the North West.

22:03: Polls have closed. Turnout looks to be low in London. What that means is anyone's guess to be honest. There isn't really a particular benefit to Labour if turnout is high although that is a well-worn myth. In the capital in particular, turnout isn't quite as simple a zero-sum game as all that. Labour are buoyant, but so are the Tories. In Scotland, well, the only questions are whether or not the SNP will win every single first past the post seat or just the overwhelming majority. Both Labour and Tory sources are downplaying their chances of prevailing in the battle for second place at Holyrood, so make of that what you will. And in Wales, Labour look certain to lose seats but remain in power in some kind of coalition deal. 

22:00: Good evening. I'm your host, Stephen Bush, and I'll be with you throughout the night as results come in from throughout the country. The TV screens are on, I've just eaten, and now it's time to get cracking. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. He usually writes about politics.