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On 15th May, Upstart Scotland launches as a national campaign calling for a kindergarten stage for three- to seven-year-olds. Hundreds of supporters around the country will be running  open days, holding picnics and play-based events and giving out leaflets about the need to change our national attitude to early childhood. At the Edinburgh press launch, we'll build a tower of evidence about the importance of play-based learning with giant building blocks. More Upstart events around Scotland during the following week will show that this just the beginning of a concerted drive to transform early years education.  

Upstart is not challenging Scottish policy about early years education – we greatly admire the developmental principles underpinning the Curriculum for Excellence and other policy documents – but deeply ingrained cultural attitudes to early childhood (connected with our very early school starting age) are, more often than not, preventing those principles from being put into practice. A serious change in young children's habits of play over recent decades, coupled with an alarming rise in physical and mental health problems, means that we urgently need to emphasise active creative play (as often as possible outdoors) in the early years of education. Please help start this conversation among your colleagues and friends. And see below how you can help us launch the movement on 15th May!

In this month's newsletter:

Guest blog: Let's all become Upstarts!
National Launch 15-5-16
Upstart national news
News from the networks
National tests – a tale of two countries ...
… And another country that gets it right
News and views
Quote of the national launch month

Guest blog: Let's all become Upstarts!

This month's guest blogger is Gillian Hunt of the Scottish Educational Leadership, Management and Administration Society (SELMAS):  

Though I am not new to education, having been an educator of children, and teachers, for the last 28 years, I am a new Upstart! I believe that Scotland should want its children to be allowed to be children, to have a happy, fun-filled childhood, to be exposed to many and varied positive learning experiences, to form warm and meaningful relationships with other children, their teachers and other adults, to be well-supported by the educationalists around them, to be supported to reach their potential and to go on from education to have successful lives, supporting themselves and making a contribution to society.... Read more  

Correction: The author of last month's blog was Julia Whittaker (not Julia Wilkinson, as incorrectly printed in the newsletter). Many apologies for the error.

Upstart National Launch 15-5-16

Nine months ago, ten people decided to campaign for a kindergarten stage in Scotland. We agreed that – if we could rally enough support – we'd launch Upstart Scotland shortly after the 2016 election. None of us could have guessed how enthusiastic and widespread that support would be.

On May 15th, hundreds of 'Upstarts' from nine local networks the length and breadth of the country will hold launch events and leaflet the public; at five o'clock, high-profile 'Upstarts' from health, education, play, psychology, criminal justice and children's rights will attend our press launch; and Upstart-related events will continue throughout the week.  

We can't even begin to express our gratitude for everyone's commitment and efforts on Upstart's behalf – they've exceeded our wildest dreams! Briefing sheets for leafleters will be available here from 9th May and for more details about what's going on in your area please contact your local convener or see your local network Facebook page – details here. If there's no network near you, contact and we'll find a way you can be involved!

We hope everyone enjoys their launch events. And we hope you'll then help take the campaign onwards and upwards till Scotland provides the best possible start to education for our under-sevens.

Upstart national news

The start of a coalition...

Last month, two major Scottish organisations voted to support Upstart Scotland – the Scottish Childminding Association (SCMA) and the Scottish Parent Teacher Council (SPTC). We welcome them warmly and hope this will be the start of a massive coalition of organisations committed to a coherent, evidence-based early years policy. And many thanks to the SCMA for publicising Upstart at their annual Childminding Day at D&T's Theme Park on May 15th.  

Talking politics

Upstart came to political attention at many election meetings during April. We hosted our own hustings in Fife (see report) and Edinburgh. Both were well-attended, stimulating events and candidates of all parties were impressed by the contributions from the floor. Our supporters also turned out at other hustings and, over the month, Scottish Labour's Kezia Dugdale and Iain Gray expressed interest in  further discussions, while Lib Dems (including Willie Rennie) and Greens said their parties would almost certainly support a kindergarten stage. James Mcenaney revealed that 'upstarting' is already in the RISE Manifesto. Only the Conservative and SNP candidates said their parties had no plans to change policy.

Upstart AGM

The first Upstart Annual General Meeting will be in Perth at the end of June/beginning July (date and venue to be announced in the next Newsletter). We've chosen central location in the hope that as many supporters as possible will come along from around the country. And we'll make it a weekend in case anyone feels like staying to socialise!  

Holyrood Prevention Conference

As part of the election coverage, Sue was interviewed by Holyrood Magazine, leading to an invitation to put the Upstart case in June at an oddly-named conference ('Youth: Prevention') about preventing inequalities.

'What is making children so unhappy'?

Parenting Across Scotland is a partnership of charities offering support to children and families in Scotland. They asked for this blog post for their April newsletter.    

News from the networks

Last month (April)

As well as the Upstart hustings in Fife and Edinburgh (mentioned above), April saw the launch of a Moray local network, at a meeting addressed by John Carnochan, former Director of the Scottish Violence Reduction Unit.  Thanks to convener Polly Cheer for all her work on this.

A network was also established in Argyll and Bute, with the convenership shared between Elizabeth Henderson (in Oban: and Anne Paterson (in Inveraray – but we're not giving out her email at the moment because she's been ill and needs a rest!). Until Anne is better, Fiona Hamilton (in Tigh-na-bruaich: is standing in.  

Next month (June)

The networks will presumably be having a well-deserved rest. But the national committee will be preparing for the AGM (see above). June 16th is also publication date for Sue's book Upstart: the case for raising the school starting age and providing what the under-sevens really need. It was research for this book that led to the meeting last August at which Upstart Scotland was born.    

National tests: a tale of two countries ...

The SNP Election Manifesto makes it clear that national testing (starting at five) will be introduced during the forthcoming Parliament: 'We will implement the National Improvement Framework and introduce national standardised assessments in primaries 1, 4 and 7 and S2....' There's no doubt that these tests will be 'high-stakes' because: 'We will publish information – school by school – on how many children are meeting the required levels of Curriculum for Excellence.'

Ironically, this is happening just as the government in England has withdrawn tests for five-year-olds because they turned out to be 'unfit for purpose' (a re-run of what happened last time England introduced tests for children of this age, back in the early 2000s). Meanwhile, English parents are so concerned about the stress caused by high-stakes testing that they've set up a campaign called Let Kids Be Kids  and thousands of them are taking their children out of school for a day on May 3rd.   

We wish the Scottish government would read some of the comments on the Let Kids Be Kids website. At a time when children's play is in serious decline and mental health problems among children and young people are increasing alarmingly, it's madness to be introducing baseline assessment for five-year-olds.

… and another country that gets it right

Meanwhile, Finland continues to flourish – no tests, no homework, one of the shortest school days in the world and children don't go to school till they're seven. Here's yet another YouTube tribute, this time from film-maker Michael Moore.

Unfortunately – like most commentators – Moore doesn't mention the contribution of the Finns' excellent kindergarten system in developing children's self-regulation skills, self-confidence, emotional resilience and motivation.  After four years of play-based learning (sensitively supported by knowledgable EY practitioners), almost every child arrives at school bright-eyed, bushy-tailed and ready to learn.

One of the most important tasks for Upstart in the coming months and years is to help Scottish parents, politicians and the general public recognise the huge importance of play in laying firm foundations for lifelong learning... and, indeed, for life itself.  

News and views

Too much too young

Last month, one of our supporters found this YouTube link to a wonderful Channel 4 Dispatches programme called Too Much Too Young. It was made in the early days of England's tests and targets regime so is a timely reminder of the unintended consequences of national standardised testing. It's also a fascinating insight into kindergarten practice in Switzerland, Belgium and Hungary.

Children's rights

Scotland's Children's Commissioner has published a pack of materials about children's rights, 'Seven Golden Rules' which we hope anyone working with young children will find self-evident, since good early years practice is naturally rights-respecting. Unfortunately, many adults (including a lot of politicians) don't seem to notice that there are developmental differences between young children and older ones, so the Save Childhood Movement has just published a Children's Charter of Developmental Rights

Eco-Schools invitation

The  Eco-Schools programme is holding three meetings (Fife 16/5/16; Cumnock 17/5/16; Aberdeen 18/5/16) to which anyone working with schools in environment or sustainability education is invited. Click here  for details.

Fairness for Children

In its latest Innocenti report, released last month, UNICEF looks at inequality in childhood well-being in rich countries. As usual, the UK's performance is unimpressive – 25th out of 37 nations, for instance, in reading, maths and science. Finland, Estonia and Switzerland (all of which have kindergarten stages till seven) continue to out-perform us on all reported measures.

Quote of the month


'Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come'  

                                   Victor Hugo

We hope you don't mind our sending this Newsletter. If you do, please email asking to be taken off the mailing list. But If you agree with Upstart's aims, please help us spread the word by forwarding the Newsletter on to any friends, colleagues and networks that might be interested.   

Onwards and upwards!   

The Upstart Team

Copyright © 2016 Upstart Scotland, All rights reserved.

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