‘Upstart’ campaign begins in favour of extension of nursery years

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An ex-headteacher, now author of parenting books “Toxic Childhood” and “Upstart”, has begun a campaign to raise the age at which children start school to seven.

Based in Edinburgh, Sue Palmer is first focusing her campaign efforts on the Scottish education system to reverse the work done by British parliament in the 19th century, which she claims to have left a harmful legacy in current day education, including the attitude towards children learning through play.

She argues, “There’s so much research on giving children the time and space to play for their physical, social, emotional and cognitive development. Play is the in-born learning drive. All children benefit from having longer in the play-based environment.”

Sue Palmer reasons that the current system stemmed from the British Empire, and that it is no longer applicable to modern day students. “We’re trapped by history and tradition.” She said, “In 1870, the English parliament chose an early school starting age so that children’s mothers could provide cheap labour in factories.”

Her newest book to support her campaign, also named “Upstart”, calls the whole issue “a very British story”, and states that in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, 66% of countries around the world started children at six years old, while in 22% of the world’s countries they favoured starting school at seven years old.

That left only 12% of the countries around the world with the same starting age as the UK – four to five years old – and this 12% consisted solely of countries once ruled by the British Empire. Her book also states that the 19th century government’s decision was never made to benefit the children it regarded. She says, “The most important considerations in 1870 were economic ones, determined by the needs of big business rather than small children.”

Sue Palmer’s ‘Upstart’ campaign has already received some interest and encouragement and its launch meeting, held in Dundee at the beginning of February, attracted many parents. Overall the attendance numbered around 300.

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