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Dear <<First Name>>

Welcome to Upstart Scotland's February newsletter. There are now over a 1000 subscribers (and massively increased interest in the Facebook page) so we've definitely started 2016 on an upward curve. Please help us keep this going by spreading the word about Upstart to friends, neighbours and colleagues.  

Please also let any worried parents know that a kindergarten stage wouldn't cause them financial problems! The campaign is absolutely committed to maintaining the current entitlement to state-funded education and care – we just want to ensure that what Scotland provides for the under-sevens is developmentally appropriate.

We've added an 'FAQ' section to the website, dealing with this and other Frequently Asked Questions, and will add to it as others arise. We've also added sections for 'Events' and 'Campaign' (with contact details for local groups and an archive of previous newsletters). Do check out the website occasionally as the movement gathers force. There's lots happening – here's this month's round-up:

    Guest blog: Living in interesting times
    News from the Networks (and Upstart in the news)
    Fit for life
    An equal start
    Reducing inequalities in the early years
    Play, not tests, is the way forward
    Taking parents seriously about deferment
    It really is 'too much too soon' in the USA
    Two videos about Finland... but not enough credit for Early Years
    More support for Upstart from British politicians!
    Research, events and news round-up
    Quote of the month

Guest blog: Living in interesting times

A secondary teacher makes the connection between play-based early education and long-term mental health

Working as a guidance teacher in large city secondary school I am used to dealing with the ups and downs experienced by our pupils. At the moment our senior pupils are going through the annual torture of prelim exams and yet again my colleagues are remarking on the emotional fragility of many of our young people... read more

News from the Networks

Upstart in the news

January saw three local network launches, which stirred up quite a flurry of media interest. The Dundee Courier reported on the Fife launch and guest speaker Lesley Riddoch wrote a great article in the Scotsman after attracting nearly a hundred people to a meeting at Collessie Village Hall.

BBC Scotland Newsdrive interviewed Sue about the campaign (with a follow-up report on BBC Online), then Suzanne Zeedyk inspired over three hundred new supporters who turned up to the launch in Dundee, which led to further coverage in the Dundee Evening Telegraph. The event stimulated lots of debate on Suzanne's Facebook page – you can see a selection here.

The Glasgow launch was a quieter affair but the dedicated Upstarters who turned out on a Friday evening in the face of Hurricane Gertrude (not great timing for bringing out the crowds!) are already planning a follow-up event with Suzanne as headline speaker.

Local networks for Aberdeen, Highland, Dumfries and Galloway

Launch meetings are being planned for March in Aberdeen, Inverness and Dumfries (to be followed by local Upstart Facebook groups to keep supporters in touch across these rural localities). If you live in any of these local areas and would like to help, please contact the local convener.

Aberdeen  (convener: Claire Hudson at

Highland (joint conveners: Dr Malcolm Baxter and Yvonne Fraser at

Dumfries and Galloway (provisional convener: Kim Bannister at

We'll announce details of the meetings on the Upstart Scotland Facebook page as soon as they're finalised (non-Facebookers contact to be kept in touch).

Follow up on Facebook!

There are now local Facebook groups for Dundee, Fife, Glasgow and Edinburgh/Lothians, so if you live in any of these areas, please join in. You'll find them at:  

 Upstart Dundee Network

 Upstart Edinburgh/Lothians Network

 Upstart Fife Network

 Upstart Glasgow Network

People 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 on May 15th. There's lots to do and many ways to help Upstart achieve its aim of the best possible start  for Scotland's children.
Edinburgh 'Any Questions'

Date:  Monday 8th February 7-9 pm
Venue: Royal High Primary School, 61 Northfield Broadway, Edinburgh, EH8 7R7
Event: Any Questions (about bringing a play-based kindergarten stage to Scotland), with:

  • John Davis, Professor of Childhood Inclusion, University of Edinburgh

  • ColwynTrevarthen, Emeritus Professor of Psychology (child development) University of Edinburgh

  • Sue Palmer, author of Toxic Childhood and Chair of Upstart

(Theresa Casey, who was also going to be on the panel, has had to withdraw because of a knee operation. We hope she recovers soon, and are in process of looking for a replacement panellist.)

Any Questions will be followed by a brainstorming session on events for national launch of Upstart in Edinburgh and the Lothians.

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.

Fit for life


In the same month that a paediatrician became joint convener of Upstart's Highland network, there were two news stories illustrating the centrality of play (especially outdoor play) for children's physical health and overall development.

'The Best Start in Life'

A briefing from the British Heart Foundation, published on 20/1/16, included the depressing information that 91% of UK children under four are failing to achieve the recommended level of physical activity to:

  • 'support brain growth

  • support achievement and attainment

  • develop social and cognitive skills and emotional well-being

  • help prevent overweight and obesity

  • enhance bone health and muscular development

  • progress their physical literacy journey

  • continue an active lifestyle into childhood and beyond.'

'More time outdoors could stop children developing short-sightedness'
An article in Nursery World tells how short-sightedness in children has doubled over the last fifty years, linking it to 'less time spent outdoors, use of electronic devices, poor diet and a sedentary lifestyle'. Play-based kindergarten would help all children develop healthy default habits of play during the most formative years of their education.

An equal start

Policy recommendations on childcare from Common Weal (31.1.16) were generally welcomed in the press but they were disappointing from Upstart's point of view, especially as an earlier document (A Common Weal Education) recommended introducing a kindergarten stage. In An Equal Start there is only the briefest mention of this suggestion on page 18, with a recommendation that the Scottish Government should set up a policy group to investigate it further.

As usual in Scottish politics, early years provision is classed as 'childcare' up to the age of four or five, and as part of the education system thereafter. The challenge for Upstart is to help policy wonks see 'early years' as a distinct educational stage, between three and seven. However, John Davis of Common Weal has proposed setting up a new policy group to take the case for a kindergarten stage forward, so maybe we're on the way.

Reducing inequalities in the early years

This animation about the findings of GUS (Growing Up In Scotland) is produced from a mainly medical perspective. It concludes that the three top ways to narrow inequalities and reduce disadvantage are:

  • a rich home learning environment

  • high-quality early education and care

  • one-to-one engagement with health visitors.  

The team of health visitors who attended the launch of Upstart's Dundee local network agreed that we could significantly improve educational outcomes for disadvantaged children if their 'pre-school' experience extended to the age of six or seven, rather than four or five.

Play, not tests, is the way forward

In this month's Opinion piece in Children in Scotland's magazine, Sue Palmer argues the case for Upstart.  Children in Scotland is setting up a round table event in March to discuss the evidence.


If you'd like to read the first chapter of Sue's book (the research for which sparked off the campaign) you can download it in the form of a 'sampler' booklet from the Floris website. Upstart: the case for raising the school starting age and providing what the under-sevens really need will be published in June. It's aimed at readers in all early-start countries, particularly England - where the idea of beginning formal education at four or five originated in the 1860s, and the 'schoolification' agenda is now second only to the USA.

Taking parents seriously about deferment

While Upstart campaigns for children to start school aged seven, we keep hearing from parents of children due to start school aged four who are finding it difficult to secure deferrals, or an extra year of funded nursery. The website Taking Parents Seriously provides correct information about parents' rights in these respects.

It really is 'too much too soon' in the USA

In a recent blog, we described the 'schoolification' of the kindergarten year in the USA (their equivalent of our P1) since the introduction of national tests. This article summarises a new research study confirming the anecdotal evidence that's been pouring out of the USA in recent years. Another recent article describes how, even when schoolification appears to pay early dividends, children forced into academic learning before the age of seven fail to thrive in the long run.  As research has repeatedly shown (see Upstart evidence base),  any early advantage 'washes out' by the time they reach their teens.

Two videos about Finland ... but not enough credit for Early Years

If you haven't already seen and heard enough about the wonders of the Finnish education system, this news report from the BBC and 'Eight Reasons Why Finland Has Cooler (and More Effective) Schools Than the USA' cover just about all the bases. Mind you, neither of them really acknowledges the huge contribution of Finland's excellent kindergarten stage to the country's success.

The educational methods described only work so well because children have well-developed self-regulation and language skills, and arrive at school bright-eyed, bushy-tailed and enthusiastic about learning.  Unfortunately, the general public worldwide believes that education is something that happens in school, not kindergartens. So even in Finland, the contribution of play-based learning to educational success is seldom recognised.

We have a Herculean task ahead, convincing people of the immense significance of play – but it's worth the effort!

More support for Upstart from British politicians!

A few weeks after the radio programme we reported in December, in which David Willetts, former Tory Shadow Secretary for Education, spoke up for a later start to formal schooling, a Labour politician has made a similar plea. Any Questions on 30th January included a question about the UK's poor school performance in international surveys.

After the first panellist's admission of complete bafflement about what's holding us back, Labour MP Gisela Stuart suggested that maybe it's just that we start too early. She herself was educated in West Germany, where she said she didn't start school till seven. Her suggestion was roundly applauded by the audience and endorsed by the next speaker, Caroline Lucas of the Green Party. You can hear the broadcast on the BBC website, and the comments occur about 29 minutes into the programme.

Useful resources

Playwork: what's so special?
Another useful information sheet from Play Wales, informed by the fast-growing 'science of play'. The perspective of playworkers may be different from that of educational practitioners but there is much to be shared between the two groups.

Literacy through music
October's blog, stressed the importance of music in laying sound foundations for literacy learning. This poster by Maria Kay – based on her research into this remarkably under-researched subject, sets out some of the key points. She's kindly said that anyone who'd like to print it out for display is welcome to do so.   

News and views

A few more snippets from around the world that support Upstart's case:

The French Way
The Gallic attitude to child-rearing puts far more emphasis on fun.
Creativity versus compliance
The New York Time tells parent 'How to raise a creative child. Step one: back off.'

Control versus stimulation
How free play creates emotionally stable children in an emotionally unstable world 

The importance of constructive play
The author argues that this stage in play development is sadly under-valued.  

Well, what do you know?
A Texan school reports that giving five-year-olds 15 minutes outdoor play four times a day resulted in better concentration.  

Quote of the month

    "Just over a hundred years ago it was considered normal for children to go to school without shoes and for women to be denied the right to pursue university degrees along with men. Today, both these are so normal that we take them for granted. Yet the changes did not happen naturally. They happened only because committed campaigners had a different vision for what childhood and education could be like. Upstart's argument that Scottish children need more play is simply the 21st century version of visioning a better life for our children. Yet we have an advantage that our forebears did not have: we have a strong scientific basis for our vision. Our children's brains need more time for play if they are to achieve the levels of learning we wish for them. The scientific case for play is already made. All we need to do now is change our society's vision of normality."

                                                        Suzanne Zeedyk, January 26th 2016

Onwards and upwards!  

The Upstart Team

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