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Dear <<First Name>>

Scotland's forthcoming literacy drive is part of the government's attempt to close the ever-widening gap between rich and poor.  And, of course, education is critical in this respect ... but tests and targets for five-year-olds are far more likely to hinder than help.  This month's Newsletter looks at some of the reasons:   

  • A long tale of underachievement
  • The war on childhood
  • Building resilience in early childhood
  • Let's hear it for story and song!
  • News from Glasgow, Inverness and Edinburgh
  • Upstart talks
  • Links and resources
  • Quote of the month

A long tale of underachievement

The government's 'Fairer Scotland' website invites suggestions for achieving social justice.  Sue recently sent a submission on behalf of Upstart, including these pleas:

- Please stop seeing childcare as merely a way of getting mothers back into work -- it's also about caring for children in the best possible way.
- Please stop seeing education as a means of teaching children the three Rs as early as possible -- there's a mass of research showing that this is counter-productive, especially for the most disadvantaged pupils.
- And please start seeing that the quality of early years education (three to seven) is a critical factor in the achievement of social justice.

She attached this extract from the book she's writing about the significance of 'kindergarten' education.

The war on childhood

The UK isn't alone in struggling against the schoolification of early childhood.  This excellent piece from Psychology Today by Professor Peter Gray includes quotes from kindergarten teachers in the USA (the equivalent of P1) echoing the concerns we hear from all around Scotland: K and Preschool Teachers: Last Stand in War on Childhood

Psychologists and psychiatrists in the USA are becoming increasingly concerned about these developments, as indicated by this article from the Washington Post: Pushing children at early ages likely to be unproductive

Building resilience in early childhood

Upstart is gathering increasing support from psychologists and paediatricians because lack of play, combined with a too-early start on formal learning, affects children's long-term resilience – both emotional and physical.  

There are two key elements in building resilience in early childhood – supportive relationships and play.  Research from The Harvard Centre for the Developing Child emphasises the role of relationships but, as Professor of Paediatrics Kenneth Ginsburgh points out in this article (adapted from a paper for the American Academy of Paediatrics), children also need opportunities to build resilience through their own self-directed play.

Let's hear it for story and song!

As well as play, there are other activities (tried and tested through countless millennia) that contribute to children's all-round development but which the current obsession with early formal learning is squeezing out of children's lives. This week's post in the Upstart blog is about two of the most significant.

Story and song are vitally important components of early years practice, not just because they provide sound foundations for the three Rs, but because they contribute to human health and well-being.  


News from Glasgow, Inverness and Edinburgh

Thanks to everyone who came to the Glasgow Upstart gathering on 21st September. The discussion was very stimulating, and we hope a Glasgow network will soon start up.

Thanks also to the thirty-odd people who signed up to receive the Upstart newsletter at the CALA Conference in Inverness on 29th September – we hope you find this edition interesting and would like to become more involved. Do get in touch via

Willie French and Kate Johnston are planning an inaugural meeting of the Edinburgh network for all interested folk from Edinburgh and the Lothians in the week beginning 16th November. To receive further details, please email

Upstart talks

Sue Palmer will be talking about Upstart at three meetings in Edinburgh in the coming month

Freedom to Learn: what would a socially-just education system look like? 
An ESCR seminar at the Storytelling Centre on the Royal Mile, Thursday 8th October, 12.00 – 17.00

Wild: An Elemental Journey

A panel event with anthropologist Jay Griffiths  as  part  of the Edinburgh Radical Book Fair, at Out of the Blue , 26 Dalmeny Street, off Leith Walk, Sunday 1st November, 12 noon.

RSA members Edinburgh meeting on early childhood development, with Professor Colwyn Trevarthen  – Saltire Society, Wednesday 4th November, 18.00


If you'd like to arrange a talk about Upstart for a local organisation or neighbourhood anywhere in Scotland, please contact  


Links and Resources

Facing the Screen Dilemma: Young Children, Technology and Early Education is a very useful  document about balancing screen-based and 'real' play, produced by the international organisation, Alliance for Childhood.

Ip-Dip is a vibrant UK e-magazine produced for playworkers and others concerned about children's play.  If you'd like to subscribe, email

We recently posted this video from Carterhatch Infants School on our Facebook page. It's from a London school that manages to provide a developmentally-appropriate, child-directed curriculum despite England's highly schoolified  EY agenda.  Just shows what's possible!   

Quote of the month

I'm not singing because I'm happy;  I'm happy because I sing!

William James.

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 this Newsletter on to any friends, colleagues and networks that might be interested.   

Onwards and upwards!   

The Upstart Team

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