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Dear <<First Name>>

As Brexit chaos rages around us, the need to ensure the best possible start in life for all Scottish children seems even more urgent. Upstart fully supports this statement, issued on June 29 by Children in Scotland.  

Our own first AGM on June 26 was an opportunity for supporters to get together and work out ways that everyone can contribute to take the movement forward.The Minutes will be posted on the website asap. In the meantime, we've summarised the main decisions below. We hope you’ll keep an eye on developments over the summer (see below) and contribute in any way you can. In the meantime, here's our usual monthly round-up of Upstart-related news, views and information.

Blog: Kirsty (the Holyrood baby) and the P1 tests
Taking Upstart Forward
Upstart in the news
Upstart news
Children's mental health – sickness, sadness or 'Shhh! None of your business!'
UNCRC The Right to Play
Upcoming events
News, views and information

Kirsty (the Holyrood baby) and P1 assessment

On 12th May 2016, thanks to Holyrood magazine, a fictional baby called Kirsty was born in one of Scotland’s most deprived communities. In a letter introducing Kirsty, Holyrood’s editor challenged all Scottish parliamentarians to improve her life chances over the next five years. Closing the attainment gap is, of course, central to this aim. And five years from now, Kirsty will be just about to start school... Read more

Taking Upstart Forward

Many thanks to everyone who attended the AGM and helped plan the next stages in the campaign. A group discussion activity, organised by Gillian Hunt and Morag Pendry, generated many ideas for taking Upstart forward, under the headings below. Co-ordinators for five areas were coopted on to Upstart’s national management committee.
  1. Growing the movement – communicating Upstart’s message to parents and professionals (Yvonne Fraser and Jeannette Murray)

  2. Lobbying for change – making the case to politicians and civil servants (Jennie Smith  and Heather McLean)

  3. Developing resources – creating materials about the advantages of a kindergarten stage (Maria Perez and Fran Mackintosh-Walker)

  4. Long-term policy – drawing up a strategy for introducing a kindergarten stage (Prof John Davis, working with Common Weal and Elizabeth Henderson)

  5. Making alliances with other organisations and interest groups (Ann Burton and Kate Johnston)

It was agreed that Upstart local networks should continue to operate independently, as appropriate to their particular circumstances. A sixth pair of coordinators was coopted (Rebecca and Meg Allan), to facilitate communication between local network conveners and the national management committee.

The other members of the Upstart management committee for the coming year will be:
Chair – public face of Upstart campaign, working closely with Vice-Chair (Sue Palmer)
Vice-Chair – day-to-day running of the organisation and coordination of other committee groups (Kate Johnston)
Secretary – official correspondence, organisation of committee meetings and AGM (shared: Morag Pendry and Fran Mackintosh-Walker)
Treasurer – managing finances, fundraising, annual accounts  (Michele Goldie).

How you can help

There won't be a Newsletter in August but we'll send out a full report of the ideas for taking Upstart forward before the end of the month. We'll also put details of suggested ideas/activities on the website and publicise them, in stages, on our Facebook page and in the local network Facebook groups.  We hope Upstart supporters who were unable to attend the AGM will log on and see how they can personally contribute to the campaign. To achieve our aims, Upstart needs to rally the skills, experience and expertise of everyone in Scotland who believes in the vital importance of play-based learning for the under-sevens.        

Upstart in the news

On June 16th, Lesley Riddoch summarised the Upstart case brilliantly in an opinion piece in The National which attracted a great deal of attention. Children in Scotland commissioned this summary of the Upstart launch for the June edition of their magazine and we were sent this link to the BBC radio news broadcast on 16th May. The Scottish Childminders Association magazine also included a feature on Upstart. And we were given this lovely mention in iPdiP, a UK playworkers magazine.

Thanks also to David Ashton for mentioning Upstart in an article for Yes Highland. The more often Upstart supporters can highlight the aims of the campaign in print and social media of every kind, the further and faster our message will spread.  

Upstart News

  • Early Education Scotland has offered to host a panel event in the autumn to discuss the case for a kindergarten stage.

  • Upstart has been asked to help bring a Reggio Emilio exhibition 'The Human Figure Multiplied' to Edinburgh next summer/autumn (anyone interested in helping with this, please email

  • An Upstart meeting has been arranged with the lead civil servants on Early Years, Education Strategy and Education Curriculum on 8/7/16. A further meeting has been agreed with the Minister for Public Health & Childcare and Early Years (date to be confirmed).

Children's mental health – sickness, sadness or 'Ssssh! None of your business!'

There's more and more evidence about increases in child and adolescent mental health problems such these alarming statistics in response to a UK Parliamentary question, and this piece in the Daily Record on June 27th.   

The World Health Organisation defines mental health as

'a state of well-being in which the individual realises his or her abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully and is able to make a contribution to his or her community'.  

A number of reports have appeared recently relating to children's mental health and well-being over the last month, of which this is a selection.

'Better mental Health for All' UK report

According to the Faculty for Public Health, 'the average classroom of thirty pupils is likely to include three with a mental health problem, seven who are being bullied and six who are self-harming.' Being a UK report, it assumes children are in classrooms from the age of five.  Its author stresses the need to prioritise protective factors but, while he provides plenty of information about the importance of parental nurture (and nurture from other carers), there's very little about the significance of play in establishing resilience.

Two Scottish 'report cards'

On the other hand, an Active Healthy Kids Scotland Report Card, from the University of Strathclyde points out the mental as well as physical health benefits of outdoor play.  It points to the increasing amount of time children spend in sedentary, screen-based activity and the importance of getting them to 'unplug and play out'. A Scottish Public Health Network Report on addressing adverse childhood experiences (ACE) stresses the importance of building upon existing strategies to increase resilience in all children, particularly those in families with risk factors for ACEs

Crisis?  What crisis?  June 2016

Last month's Upstart Newsletter reported on the sacking of Natasha Devon, the English DfE's Mental Health Champion, after she suggested the education system is contributing to a mental health crisis among children and young people (see her concerns on this link). There's since been much heated debate, summarised in this post from Teacher Toolkit, on whether there is a crisis – or whether people like Natasha Devon, backed up by anecdotes from non-health professionals, are simply pathologising 'unhappiness'.  As a result, symptoms of growing distress among UK children are now in danger of being lost in an argument (summed up here by Tom Bennett) about whether the children are ill or just a bit miserable.  

It's the tests wot do it, June 2016

The 'Crisis, what crisis' argument came just in time to discredit a survey from the National Union of Teachers, which found that 90% of primary teachers believe England's SAT regime is harming children's mental health. The Year 2 tests, for seven-year-olds, come in for particular criticism. But although the NUT's acting General Secretary claims that 'the impact primary assessment is having on children's mental health and well-being, alongside what it is squeezing out of the school day, makes it irresponsible not to listen to teachers' concerns,' the DfE has no trouble brushing off the survey as irrelevant scaremongering.  
Upstart would be grateful to hear from mental health professionals who agree that there's a connection between the decline of active outdoor play, the schoolification of early years and reported increases in child and adolescent mental health problems. It seems that – at least in England – a tangle of thorns is rapidly being cultivated around this topic.

UNCRC The Right to Play


In its report last month on the UK’s progress in realising the aims of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the United Nations made the following recommendations relating to play:   

(a) Strengthen its efforts to guarantee the right of the child to rest and leisure and to engage in play and recreational activities appropriate to the age of the child, including by adopting and implementing play and leisure policies with sufficient and sustainable resources;

(b) Provide children, including those with disabilities and children in marginalized and disadvantaged situations, with safe, accessible, inclusive and smoking-free spaces for play and socialization and public transport to access such spaces;

(c) Fully involve children in planning, designing and monitoring the implementation of play policies and activities relevant to play and leisure, at community, local and national levels.

All would be furthered by a kindergarten stage 3-7 which could help all children develop healthy habits of play at a formative age, rather than habituating to a sedentary lifestyle as described in the Active Healthy Kids Scotland Report card mentioned in the previous section.

Upcoming events

Upstart at the Edinburgh Book Festival, 26/7/16

Sue will share a session at the Book Festival with US psychologist Alison Gopnik on Friday 26th August (5.30 – 6.30), talking about Upstart and Alison’s book The Gardener and the Carpenter.

Play Day 2016, 3/8/16

Don't forget that Play Day this year is on 3rd August and its theme is 'Play Matters'. If you want to get involved there is plenty of help and information available on the website. It's a great opportunity to spread the word about Upstart Scotland!

News, views and information


Play book by Julia Whittaker

Julia is one of the contributors to the Upstart video and wrote the March blog 'Playing for Health's Sake'. She is co-author of Play in Healthcare for Adults, of which another Upstart supporter, Suzanne Zeedyk has said 'This is a radical book...'


Risky Play through a SHANARRI lens

Great message in this Care Commission powerpoint about risky play. If this play-based approach were extended to the age of seven, it would nurture the resilience and self-regulations skills all 21st century children need.


Delivering Excellence and Equity in Scottish Education

This report, published on 28th June, outlines the Scottish government's current plans to implement the National Improvement Framework, including national assessment at P1, P4, P7 and S2. Upstart will continue to lobby the government to change its mind about testing at P1, and instead to look at the evidence supporting play-based learning for theunder-sevens.


What shapes seven-year-olds subjective well-being?

A summary of as yet (30/6/16) unpublished research from Glasgow University, which supports current thinking about the effects of parenting and poverty on children's well-being.


Play with friends and family

An excellent post by David Whitebread of the Cambridge Research Centre for Play in Education, Learning and Development (PEDaL)


Music, language and learning

Two reports this month about research on the links between music and early learning – one from Australia, one from USA. It's becoming ever clearer than music and song should be a critical element of kindergarten education (Finland swears by it).


Four short films from Inspiring Scotland

These films, celebrating the importance of active play for young children, were made with the aim of encouraging free play in Scotland’s most disadvantaged areas. Unfortunately, as recent research from Play Scotland (Scottish Play At Home Survey, Wave 1) has found, disadvantaged parents are more likely than others to be frightened to let children play outdoors, including being deterred by the weather. It does seem the only way to ensure all young children reap the benefits of active play is through a dedicated kindergarten stage.  


Schoolification in Australia

On June 30th, Ruth Forrest, an MP from Tasmania, visited Edinburgh and met with Sue Palmer and David Cameron to discuss Upstart Scotland. As this article shows, a growing number of Australian parents are concerned about the increasing schoolification of early years education.  

Quote of the month

'Childhood is not a race to see how quickly a child can read, write and count. It is a small window in time to learn and develop at the pace that is right for each individual child. Earlier is not better.'
                                               Magda Gerber

The Upstart newsletter will be back at the end of August, as thousands more Scottish four- and five-year-olds join the school-based race. We'll continue to make the case that, in an increasingly uncertain and stressful world, all children need two more years to learn through play. In the meantime, our very best wishes to everyone for a restful (and playful) summer break.

Onwards and upwards,

The Upstart team

Copyright © 2016 Upstart Scotland, All rights reserved.

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