View this email in your browser
Dear  <<First Name>>
Upstart is growing by leaps and bounds. By the end of March, there’ll be seven local networks around Scotland, with another two preparing to launch in April. Many distinguished figures in education, psychology, children’s rights and social justice are turning out to speak at our meetings and the media are showing plenty of interest. 

So it’s time to begin preparations for Upstart’s launch as a national campaign. Please make a note of 15th May in your diary...

    Upstart's national launch on May 15th 
    Guest blog: Learning through play
    News from the networks: launches, meetings, hustings, etc. 
    Upstart in the news
    Mental health and early years – time to join the dots
    The Importance of Being Little  
    'When performance is measured, performance improves' ?
    The economics of early years
    You can't teach self-regulation
    Useful resources
    News and views
    Quote of the month

May 15th – Upstart: lifelong learning starts here! 

So far, Upstart's support has mainly come from professionals who already appreciate the importance of play-based care and education for the under-sevens. The challenge now is to convince parents, politicians and the general public that play isn't just 'messing about' but a vital factor in ensuring children's long-term health, well-being and educational success. On Sunday May 15th, we'll therefore be launching the national campaign with the slogan 'Upstart: lifelong learning starts here!'

We hope there'll be events around Scotland to spread the message far and wide. Please help get something going in your area through your local Facebook group and keep in touch with developments nationally through the Upstart website Events section

Guest blog: Learning through play

This blog began as posts on the Upstart Facebook page by Alison Hawkins, headteacher of Wester Coates Nursery in Edinburgh. It's a highly-illustrated personal vision of the power of play in early childhood education...
Here are a few thoughts to illustrate how much learning can be accomplished in a morning of play....if ever I needed confirmation of the value of learning outdoors and the wellbeing it fosters, this morning gave it to me! 

Cold and frosty, but not wet – unlike our two previous excursions to 'Treespot', a very favourite area not far from our nursery and so named by the children because they feel they are out in a forest. The weather might well have put some people off, but not our well clad and enthusiastic explorers! They journeyed chatting away, collecting sticks and generally behaving like 'old hands'... read more 

News from the Networks

There were two successful local meetings in February: a panel event in Edinburgh with Heather Turnbull of Starcatchers and Professors John Davis and Colwyn Trevarthen; and a discussion in Dundee led by The Real David Cameron. Thanks to the speakers, the local conveners and supporters who organised the meetings and the two hundred people who turned out to give their support.

Local network launches: 

Three new local networks launch this month and Glasgow relaunches (this time, hopefully, without a hurricane!). All feature local and national speakers and opportunities to ask questions about Upstart, share ideas and help start planning for the national launch (see news item above). 

Everyone is welcome – parents, grandparents, teachers, EY practitioners, health and social work professionals and anyone interested in the welfare of the next generation. Please come along and bring a friend (or lots of friends).

Dumfries and Galloway

Date and time: Tuesday, March 8th 2016, 7.00 – 9.00 pm
Venue: Easterbrook Hall, Bankend Road, Dumfries DG1 4TA
Speakers: Marguerite Hunter Blair, CEO of Play Scotland; Sue Palmer, Chair of Upstart Scotland.
For more information, please contact local convener Kim Bannister at


Date and time: Wednesday, March 14th 2016, 7.00 – 8.30 pm 
Venue: Graham Hills Lecture Theatre (Rm GH514), Graham Hills Building, 
University of Strathclyde, George Street, Glasgow G1 (enter from George Street and take lift to Level 5)
Introduced by Dr Jonathan Delafield-Butt, Senior Lecturer in Early Years, University of Strathclyde
Speakers:  Hilary Long (Upstart Glasgow Co-Convener), Dr Suzanne Zeedyk, research scientist (The Science of Human Connection), University of Dundee.
For more information, please contact local conveners Hilary Long ( or Pamela Graham (


Date and time: Monday, March 21st 2016, 7.00 – 8.45 pm (if you'd like to join an optional tour of the new UHI Inverness campus, please arrive at 6.15pm) 
Venue: UHI Inverness Campus, Inverness IV2 5NA.
Speakers: Cris Ford, retired primary Head Teacher; Cathy McCulloch, Founder and Director of Scotland's Children's Parliament; Sue Palmer.
For more information, please contact local conveners Malcolm Baxter and Yvonne Fraser at Video Conferencing will be available in other UHI centres across the Highlands if there is enough demand so if you live near a centre (see list here:, please let the conveners know.


Date and time: Tuesday, March 22nd 2016, 7.00 – 9.00 pm 
Venue: New King's Lecture Theatre 6 (NK6) The University of Aberdeen, King's College, Aberdeen  AB24 2TZ
Speakers: David Cameron, Scottish educationist and one of the architects of Curriculum for Excellence, Juliet Robertson, outdoor education specialist, Creative Star; Sue Palmer.
For more information, please contact local convener Claire Hudson at

More Upstart meetings



A meeting in Elgin for anyone interested in Upstart in the Moray area – an opportunity to chat, network, meet Polly Cheer (Upstart convener for Moray) and Sue Palmer. It's also a chance to help plan the Moray local network launch (featuring guest speaker John Carnochan, former director of the Scottish Violence Reduction Unit).  
Date and time: Wednesday, March 23rd 2016, 7.00 – 9.00 pm 
Venue: Activities Room, Elgin Library, Cooper Park, Elgin, IV30 1HS
For more information, please contact Polly Cheer at 

Upstart hustings

Two local networks have organised election hustings to quiz candidates from the political parties about their policies on childcare and education. 

Fife: Wednesday, April 13th at 7pm in the Elmwood Hall Cupar KY15 4JB
Chaired by Lesley Riddoch (for more details contact Jo Aitken:

Edinburgh: Thursday, April 14th at 7.00 (venue to be confirmed) 
Chaired by Prof John Davis (for more details contact Kate Johnston:

Join us on Facebook!

Upstart Supporters on local Facebook groups are already organising meetings, election hustings, coffee meet-ups, and action groups to work on publicity materials and ideas for the national launch. There's lots to do and many ways to help Upstart achieve its aim of the best possible start  for Scotland's children.

Could you set up a network in your area? 

If you'd like to help Upstart spread the word in your part of Scotland, please get in touch via We can put you in touch with others in your area who support the campaign and provide ideas and information to help get it off the ground.    

Upstart in the news

Media attention continued during February with a half-page article in Sunday Times Scotland, giving Upstart a good hearing but also including some negative comments by Professor Lindsay Paterson of Edinburgh University. However the following week, the Times published a letter from Upstart, refuting Professor Paterson’s suggestion that a kindergarten stage would be of no help to disadvantaged children. 

Nursery World published an article about Sue’s forthcoming book on the case for kindergartens and the Times Educational Supplement Scotland had a full-page Opinion piece, arguing the Upstart Scotland cause.

By the end of the month, interest was once more beginning in the local Scottish press about our network launches, with this piece in the Dumfries and Galloway Standard.

Mental health and early years – time to join the dots

Mental health was in the news again in February, with 1 in 4 people seeking support each year and an estimated 75% failing to receive it. A report from Place2Be, marking Children's Mental Health Week highlighted the difficulties of providing adequate counselling services for schoolchildren.  
Later in the month, the Guardian reported that children in England had yet again come near the bottom of an 'international happiness table' and eight-year-olds appeared to be particularly unhappy. 'There's  something going on in the UK', said Professor Jonathan Bradshaw, the author of the study, 'and it seems to be focused on self-esteem and confidence.' 
While mental health is a complicated issue, every medical authority we've spoken to agrees that more outdoor play and a less pressurised approach to early education could help improve children's long-term emotional resilience. As this letter to the Independent shows, today's adolescents are under increasing stress, and need all the resilience they can get. We urgently need to change the ethos of education for the under-sevens and pay more attention to their  physical, social and emotional well-being.    

The Importance of Being Little

A new book by Yale early childhood expert Erika Christakis, explains what it's like in America today, 'in a world designed by and for adults, where we have confused schooling with learning.' It's currently a No 1 best seller on Amazon in the USA and at present available only in hardback  but presumably the paperback will follow soon.

'When performance is measured, performance improves' ?

As the Scottish government prepares to introduce national tests beginning in P1, controversy continues to rage about the 'baseline assessment' regime already in use in England.  According to the  BBC, research commissioned by two teaching unions has found the tests 'unreliable and disruptive', while Nursery World reported that fewer than 8% of teachers believe they are fair and accurate.

English politicians, however, remain committed to baseline. In a piece for the Huffington Post, the Shadow Minister for Childcare and Early Years claimed confidently that 'when performance is measured, performance improves'. We wondered where she'd got that snappy soundbite and discovered it was first uttered by an elder of the Mormon church, in connection with fund-raising. 

The inability of mainstream politicians to understand teachers' objections to testing small children is deeply worrying. Surely, if there's even the smallest chance that a baseline assessment is unreliable, disruptive, unfair and inaccurate, any reasonable human being would think twice about imposing it on four- and five-year-old infants?      

The economics of early years

As events in England illustrate, developing a reliable, valid, useful standardised method for assessing 'literacy and numeracy' in Scottish P1 children is not going to be easy – if, indeed, it's possible at all. And, with limited funds for education and childcare, there are many other ways in which money could profitably be spent. On February 12th, the Herald reported on the serious decline in qualified nursery teachers ('Losing nursery teachers is an economy too far') while on February 21st the Daily Record recorded the First Minister's commitment to 'more hours and better teachers' for Scotland's most disadvantaged children. 

'The one idea I think that will potentially be the most transformative over the next generation,' said Nicola Sturgeon, 'is focusing on not just giving hours in nurseries but also the quality of the education and nurturing support'. Upstart couldn't agree more that what matters most is the quality of care and education Scotland provides for its youngest citizens. So we urge the Scottish government to pursue that aim for all children under seven, rather than spending money on a testing regime that may well be counter-productive.

You can't teach self-regulation 

There's widespread agreement among psychologists that the children most likely to thrive – both at school and in wider society – are those who can control their own behaviour, attention and thought processes.  As this 2014 study of six-year-olds shows, self-regulation skills can't be taught. The more tightly adults direct children's activities, the less children will learn how to control their behaviour and emotions for themselves. An article in Education Week sums up the research findings: 'When children spend more time in structured activities, they get worse at working towards goals, making decisions and regulating their behaviour.' 

One type of self-directed activity six-year-olds particularly enjoy is making dens. This  fascinating interview with 'the world's leading expert on why kids build forts' gives insights into this universal aspect of childhood play.

Events and Resources

Just Playing
A marvellous new website from Grounds for Learning has a wealth of ideas for opening up the outdoors around EY settings and P1/2 classrooms in primary schools.
Early learning and childcare trials – 1140 hours expansion
The Scottish government's discussion paper on the proposed expansion of ELC invites responses by March 18th.   
Children and nature
This page from the Forestry Commission website links to their research findings on children’s interactions with nature (see 'Publications', top left of the page), including an interesting paper from Norway: ‘How to engage children with nature: why not just let them play?

Arts from the Start Inspiration Days
A day of practical training and discussion for early years practitioners from the highly-acclaimed experts at Starcatchers for only £7.50!  Book on Eventbrite for Saturday 12th March in Dundee and Saturday 23rd April in Edinburgh

Why make time for play?
A fact sheet from Play Wales for anyone who needs to argue the case for children's active, self-directed play.  

News and views

City children sold short over the right to play
Continuing controversy over the Children's Wood in Glasgow inspired the Herald to look at provision for urban children to play out in 'green places' in Scotland. The projects it describes are all valuable community resources … and excellent models for providing similar facilities for 3- to 7-year-olds in all Scottish cities.  

Hard evidence: at what age are children ready for school?
Dr David Whitebread of Cambridge Unversity argues the case for a later school starting age. 

Lighting the Sparks – a vision for character, values and citizenship in Scotland
Upstart's aims for early childhood care and education take us in many directions. Sue was asked to provide  one of the 'Sparks'  for a paper about ‘Lighting the Sparks’, commissioned by Character Scotland.

Little boys beginning big school
Australian blog about the particular problems of boys in early-start countries, with plenty of useful tips for parents. 

Why play matters 
For anyone who isn’t familiar with Jaak Panksepp’s work on the developmental significance of play, this short video made in 2015 gives a brief (and humorous) introduction.

Quote of the month

This quote – one of Fife Convener Cathy' Bache's favourites – is an inspiring reminder of how cultural change comes about.  It just needs enough people to believe that change is possible!   
  "At first people refuse to believe that a strange new thing can be done, then they begin to hope that it can be done, then they see it can be done – then it is done and all the world wonders why it was not done centuries ago.”
                                                 Frances Hodgson Burnett, in The Secret Garden

At the moment, for most Scottish citizens who’ve heard about Upstart, the idea of a kindergarten stage is ‘a strange new thing’. Our job over the coming months is to convince them it’s not only something to hope for – it's absolutely essential for the next generation’s  health and well-being.   

Since high-profile support for a cause helps people believe it’s possible, we’re currently looking for Upstart Patrons. If you’re a personal friend of a famous Scot – such as a sporting hero, actor or writer (Julia Donaldson would be perfect!) – and you think they might be prepared to voice their support for the campaign, please get in touch via

Onwards and upwards!   

The Upstart Team

PS We hope you don't mind our sending this Newsletter. If you do, please email asking to be taken off the mailing list.  
Copyright © 2016 Upstart Scotland, All rights reserved.

Want to change how you receive these emails?
You can update your preferences or unsubscribe from this list

Email Marketing Powered by Mailchimp