Membership Spotlight – Upstart Scotland

Every fortnight we highlight the work of our member organisations and outline how other individuals and NGOs can support them. This week Upstart Scotland are in the shining lights!

Tell us about the work of Upstart Scotland?

We set up in 2015 to campaign for a relationship-centred, play-based kindergarten stage for children between 3 and 7 years old, similar to the Nordic kindergartens. Over recent decades, play (i.e. social, active, outdoor play) has been in decline – and has practically disappeared from many young children’s lives. Since this type of play is vital for physical, emotional and social development during the early years, we believe that universal childcare/education services must reinstate it.

We have become a Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation, run by volunteers from a wide range of professional backgrounds, including education, public health, children’s rights, education for sustainability and, of course, early years. We are funded by donations from supporters and occasional income from training days, conferences and (since the publication of our book ‘Play is the Way’) even some book royalties. We have acquired thousands of supporters through our monthly newsletter and social media (10k+ on Facebook and 10k on Twitter) and believe we have helped shift thinking in Scotland in the general direction of our aims.

In February 2020, Education Scotland published ‘Realising the Ambition: Being Me’ – new practice guidance for the Early Level of Curriculum for Excellence (birth – age 6/7) which we believe is ‘practically perfect in every way’. We now aim to support schools and Early Years settings to translate ‘Realising the Ambition into action. Our book ‘Play is the Way’ published in October 2020 has been named one of the Books of the Year 2020 by the ‘Scottish Review’ and went into a second edition in early January. A crowd-funding campaign raised enough money to send copies to all MSP and Directors of Education in Scotland. However, Scotland’s cultural tradition of an early start on formal schooling means that many parents and policymakers do not really understand the developmental science behind ‘Realising the Ambition’, so there is pressure on schools to continue with developmentally-inappropriate practice.

We will be continuing the campaign until the ambitions of ‘Realising the Ambition’ are completely realised!

Let's give children time and space to Recover from adverse experiences of the past year. 
Reconnect with friends, family members, community and the real world. 
Rediscover the joy of being a child. 
Play is the way

What projects are you currently working on?

Because of the pandemic, we have not been able to provide much face-to-face training over the last year but have been using Zoom to do online conferences and training instead. At the moment we are organising a series of ‘Play is the Way’ book groups (which are proving very popular) and a contribution to the ‘Imagine If’ tribute to Sir Ken Robinson in March 2021. Our publisher is investigating a possible presentation at the Edinburgh Book Festival and we regularly support events and projects by other children’s organisations in Scotland.

How do you support children and young people to learn about their rights?

We have followed Together’s work for many years, attending consultations and submitting suggestions. We have been great supporters of the Year of Childhood since its inception and are covering progress on the incorporation of the UNCRC in our monthly newsletter and via social media. It’s likely that we will organise some events this year to inform our members about children’s rights (indeed, Cathy McCulloch of Children’s Parliament wrote a chapter for ‘Play is the Way’ and will be one of the speakers at the first book group). We are also always encouraging our supporters to find out about the UNCRC for themselves (especially General Comment 7!)

*General Comment 7 is on Implementing Child Rights in Early Childhood. You can read more about it here.

How can children and young people make their views heard to influence your work?

It is difficult to organise participation events for the age group we represent (3- to 7-year-olds) – although we’ll be looking into possible ways forward on this throughout the year. In the meantime, we have urged Together to ensure that the people who know this age group well – i.e. early years practitioners (EYPs) and teachers – have the opportunity to advocate on their behalf. Early childhood education and care tends to be the Cinderella of the educational system, so we are trying to raise the profile of EYPs as the educators who understand children’s developmental needs during highly critical stage for the development of lifelong well-being and learning.

Does Upstart influence policy development on issues affecting children and young people?

We believe that our presence and advocacy was influential in the decision by Education Scotland/Scottish Government to commission early years experts to write ‘Realising the Ambition’. Our ‘Play Not Tests for P1’ campaign in 2018/19 led to a vote in the Scottish Parliament to scrap the Primary 1 SNSA (assessments in literacy and numeracy) but unfortunately it was not acted upon. We have also been ardent advocates for the Give Them Time campaign (set up by two Upstart supporters) which recently secured a promise from the Scottish government to grant automatic deferral of school starting age for all four-year-olds whose parents request it (along with an extra funded year in nursery) from 2023.

What do you enjoy most about being a member of Together?

Access to the information Together provides about the progress of children’s rights in Scotland – through meetings and newsletters – and the opportunity to contribute our thoughts and evidence to its advice to government. It is wonderful that Scotland has such a professional organisation as Together to carry out this important work.

How can other organisations or individuals get involved or support your work?

  • Subscribe to our newsletter via and support our events.
  • Follow us on social media (Upstart Scotland on Facebook; @UpstartScot on Twitter) and help spread the word about our aims and the evidence behind them.
  • Find out more about our book ‘Play is the Way’ here.
  • Contact us if you have any ideas for ways forward in the quest for a statutory kindergarten stage (3-7) or if you can offer us a platform to speak/Zoom/write about our aims.
  • We’re always grateful for donations (however small) to keep Upstart on the road – scroll down the right-hand side of our website to find out how!

And something a bit silly to end – if Upstart was an animal what would it be and why?

A Border terrier: small and essentially cuddly (very good with small children and families) but terrier-like in pursuit of our aims – we yap very loudly and will never give up!

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