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Media coverage of government plans for testing at P1 is sure to ratchet up parental anxiety over the coming school year, leading to more 'schoolification' of early years care and education. So Upstart Scotland must increase our efforts to publicise the vital importance of play-based education for the under-sevens.


We'll continue to lobby politicians, appear on public platforms and develop media contacts. But we also need supporters around Scotland to spread the word about play's central role, not only in 'raising attainment and closing the gap' but in ensuring children's long-term health and well-being. So please pass on the Upstart message via personal contacts and social media, write to newspapers or contribute to their online debate, talk to local politicians and MSPs ... and take every opportunity to help reinstate play (especially outdoor play) at the heart of early childhood.

Upstart News
News round-up for the summer
Blog: Literacy, learning... and luck
Forthcoming events
Quote of the month

Upstart News


Forthcoming events

15th September: Upstart will be meeting with Mark McDonald MSP, Minister for Early Years and Childcare, and Aileen Campbell MSP, Minister for Public Health and Sport.  

19th September: Question Time event organised by Early Years Scotland: 'What age should children start school?' Dr Elizabeth Henderson will be representing Upstart, with other views from Dr Sue Ellis, Deirdre Grogan and Anne O'Grady. 4.30 to 6.00 in the Senate Suite, University of Strathclyde, Glasgow.  Please come along to support the Upstart case.  

21st September: Kate Johnson to represent Upstart at a Parliamentary Reception hosted by Scottish Book Trust.

1st October: Upstart will be hosting a stand at the SCMA Childminding Conference, Carnegie Conference Centre, Dunfermline.

If you'd like to come along and help please let us know via .

3rd October: Sue Palmer to give a presentation about Upstart to the Scottish Green Party, at St Thomas of Aquin's School, Chalmers Street, Edinburgh. 7.30 -9.30 pm.

13-15 October: Upstart to participate in the Common Weal Village of Ideas, to run alongside the SNP Conference in Glasgow (see below for more information).

News round-up for the summer


Scottish government

8th July: Sue met with Donna Bell, who leads on Education for the Scottish government, Lisa McLean (Curriculum lead) and Sam Anson (representing Childcare and Early Years).  While agreeing that Upstart's educational aims are consistent with Curriculum for Excellence, and that at present these principles are not being translated into practice in the majority of schools, the government representatives did not see the need for a kindergarten stage. They were sympathetic to our suggestion that children in P1/2 should spend more time outdoors but unconvinced by the evidence that testing at P1 will increase 'schoolification' of early years.

16th July: John Swinney MSP published details of a international committee of expert advisers who will monitor the government's educational policies. We immediately sent a letter querying why no early years specialists are included, but have as yet had no reply.  

12th August: Sue and Kate met with Joe Griffin, who leads for the Scottish government on Childcare and Early Years. He was more sympathetic to the Upstart cause than government officers for education, particularly our points about increasing outdoor time and ensuring that all teachers/practitioners working with the under-sevens should have specific early years qualifications.

Common Weal

21st July: Professor John Davis met with Marion McLeod of Children in Scotland, Maggie Simpson of the Scottish Childminding Association and Sue Palmer of Upstart to discuss the outline of a coherent policy for pre-birth to seven. He will prepare a paper for Common Weal, which intends to make Early Years one of their three key policy areas in the coming months. Upstart has also been invited to contribute to the Common Weal Village of Ideas at the SNP Conference in October. 

12th August: Article in Common Space about the inadequacies of the free childcare pledge, with Upstart comment.


SPTC survey

8th August: the Scottish Parent Teacher Council published a blog about Upstart (scroll down!), prior to conducting a Parents Voice survey about the idea of a play-based kindergarten stage for the under-sevens.


Sunday Herald

Upstart was mentioned in a Sunday Herald piece about teenage mental health. It's quite near the end but we think it's the first time a Scottish newspaper has linked children's early experience of education to problems in dealing with stress a decade or so later. One small step...

Teaching Scotland

24th August: Excellent article about Upstart on pages 20-22 of Teaching Scotland, the GTC magazine (immediately after a piece by John Swinney, so we hope he turns the page and notices us).


Upstart at the Book Festival

26th August: Sue presented a very well attended session with Alison Gopnik, author of The Gardener and the Carpenter: what the new science of child development tells us about the relationship between parents and childrenThis recent article shows how well Professor Gopnik's work supports the concept of kindergarten education, rather than the focused 'carpentry' of formal learning in the early years.

(Research from Singapore this summer backs up her case.)

How to keep in touch with Upstart Scotland


There's limited room in the Newsletter for all the news, blogs and research that comes through every month but we try to post anything of interest to our supporters on Facebook and Twitter. For instance, these two pieces (Why children fidget and Slowing down to real time) were posted on our Facebook pages on the same day in July. Taken together, they make a powerful case for plenty of real-time play for the under-sevens.   

And in August this fascinating piece from the Washington Post whipped up a lot of interest on Twitter.

Social networking is a great way of spreading the Upstart message so we urge supporters to follow us on Facebook and/or Twitter and pass on useful posts from FB Upstart Scotland and/or @UpstartScot to colleagues, friends and family.    

You can also keep in touch with your local network via local FB pages (listed here). And if there's an something you'd like to alert us to, please let us know via your local FB or

Blog: Literacy, learning... and luck by Sue Palmer

I’m a literacy specialist. Over the last forty years, along with battalions of other literacy specialists, I’ve earnestly researched the way children learn to read and helped devise teaching methods and materials for use in primary classrooms. You’d think that, with all this applied brain power, we’d have found ways to turn the majority of children into enthusiastic readers.

Unfortunately, we haven’t. As standardised testing proliferated in primary schools, we certainly got better at teaching children how to pass literacy tests – although, even in this limited field, quite a few still don’t make the grade.  But sadly, in the twilight of my career, I'm forced to conclude that children’s chances of becoming fluent, committed readers are significantly lower than they were fifty years ago... Read More

News and views summer round-up

When are children 'ready for school'?

New research on the concept of 'school readiness' in policy and practice concludes that the complexity of children's transition to school is often simplified into a series of practices or actions. This has led to the perception of school failure as a problem of individual children, and the 'pedagogisation' of parenting in pursuit of school focused outcomes.

Closing the gap?

Two recent articles from the States – Which comes first – inequality or an attainment gap? and Can standardised testing make a difference to children's achievement? – show that the same arguments about inequality and education are raging over there.


The biological importance of play

An excellent summary of the neuroscientific evidence from Dr Aric Sigman

The importance of stories

New research backing up the arguments in this month's blog.

Take Back Childhood – learning in nature

Great three-minute trailer for a new film from the USA. (We've asked Filmhouse Edinburgh if they'll show it – could you ask your local independent cinema?) It ties in very neatly with this blog post from a Forest School ranger. But they're both rather different from this report on outdoor learning from Natural England, and its associated video in which even the youngest children seem to have clip boards.

Escalating problems at CAMHS

As the NHS struggles to cope with child and adolescent mental health problems, a study from the DfE indicates that the problems continue to escalate, especially among middle-class girls. It suggests that the problems are now so widespread that ‘broad spectrum initiatives aimed at all young people would be valuable'.
The best initiative would be to stop schoolifying early childhood and give the under-sevens time and space to develop emotional resilience and self-regulation skills through play.   

Worldwide problems with schoolification

Blog post about school starting age from a highly-respected Australian psychologist and author.  Sue and (The Real) David Cameron met with Tasmanian MP Ruth Forrest in June to help with the campaign he mentions. The good news: it was successful!
Another blog post from Canada, where their school starting age is six, and which is currently the best performing of the English-speaking nations in the international educational charts. Nevertheless, the influence of the USA has led to increasing schoolification. Their new kindergarten curriculum, with an emphasis on self-regulation over academic skills, looks like an attempt to fight back.

Childhood Obesity Report

The long-awaited UK government report on obesity includes recommendations for early years settings (mostly about menus but 'active play' gets a passing mention) and 'an hour of activity' per day in schools (emphasis here on PE and sport). Ensuring all 3-7 year-olds have daily opportunities for active, outdoor play would be a better starting point, and would help solve a lot of other problems too.

Forthcoming events

19th September: Early Years Scotland 'What's the best age to start school?' (As yet, we haven't received details beyond 4-6.30pm at the Senate Suite, University of Strathclyde but will post on Facebook/Twitter as soon as they arrive).

1st October: SCMA Childminding Conference, Dunfermline.

8th October: Froebel Conference, Edinburgh.

Quote of the month

'It is during the early years, ages four to seven, when children’s basic attitudes toward themselves as students and toward learning and school are established.

Children who come through this period feeling good about themselves, who enjoy learning and who like school, will have a lasting appetite for the acquisition of skills and knowledge.

Children whose academic self-esteem is all but destroyed during these formative years, who develop an antipathy toward learning, and a dislike of school, will never fully realize their latent abilities and talents.'
David Elkind, Emeritus Professor of Child Development at Tufts University
Please keep spreading the word about Upstart Scotland!

Onwards and upwards,

The Upstart team

Copyright © 2016 Upstart Scotland, All rights reserved.

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