Upstart Organisers


Sue Palmer, Chair

SueSue Palmer trained in primary education at Moray House, then taught in Edinburgh and the Borders. For the last thirty years she has been an independent writer, presenter and literacy specialist but, since researching Foundations of Literacy (2004) and Toxic Childhood (2006), her work has mainly focused on early childhood education and play. She was a founder member of the UK Save Childhood Movement, Chair of the Scottish Play Commission and a member of the Scottish Government’s Early Years Task Force.


Kate Johnston, Vice Chair

KateKate Johnston trained at Moray House as a primary teacher and then after meeting Sheena Johnstone, returned to train as a nursery teacher. Having been influenced in her practice by Froebel, the work being undertaken in Reggio Emilia and the writing of Tina Bruce, she is passionate about allowing children time to develop their social and communication skills while exploring their environment. She has spoken at EIS AGMs on the necessity for highly qualified early years staff and has joined this campaign to highlight the issues of an early start for our children’s lives.


Francesca Mackintosh-Walker, Secretary

Fran graduated from Moray House as a primary teacher 5 years ago and has spent the majority of that time teaching the Early/First Level (P1-3).  She has a particular interest in outdoor learning and the role of play and creativity in child development. Having been brought up on a remote island on the North West Coast of Scotland, she had first-hand experience of the benefits of outdoor, ‘risky’ free-play. Now, as a teacher and a mother of two girls (aged 4 & 2), she finds the decline of such play opportunities for Scotland’s children combined with the very early start to their formal schooling extremely detrimental to their social, emotional and cognitive well-being. Fran is delighted to be a part of the Upstart campaign and strongly believes in its principles, which will ensure Scotland’s children are given the ‘best start’ to life.


David Ashford, Treasurer

Throughout much of his worDavid Ashfordking life, David has been supporting young people’s clubs.  He has also had an eclectic interest in other groups focused on the betterment of society and the natural environment as a whole.

Since 2004, he has utilised his legal background to volunteer – from his home on the Isle of Skye – for a wide range of Scottish organisations.  These include the Lochalsh Youth Community Trust, Youth Scotland and now Upstart Scotland.  He is particularly enthusiastic about the challenge of connecting children and young people to nature and regards them as the most important humans on the Planet!


Network Conveners


Willie French, Edinburgh and Lothian

WillieHead Teacher at the Royal High Primary School in Edinburgh, trained as teacher at Moray House College and has worked in primary schools for thirty-two years. He has held a number of posts including class teacher, assistant head teacher and head teacher, and has amassed a variety of experiences during his career, including working in the independent sector, in areas of multi-deprivation, in rural environments, in urban areas, for the voluntary sector, in special education and in mainstream education. Willie has a particular interest in developing pupils’ abilities and their health and well being through sport and the arts.


Hilary Long, Glasgow


Hilary lives in Glasgow where she is Manager at Woodland Outdoor Kindergartens. She writes: ‘I am delighted to be involved in the campaign. I have forty years experience in various capacities in early learning and childcare. I also have three grown up children and remember their first day at school vividly. I suppose ever since then I have intuitively known things needed to change and research confirms this. Glasgow is a big place. I live in the East End so any willing helpers across the city please do get in touch.”


Karen McConnell, Fife

With a background in Sociology and setting up various community projects supporting children and families for a number of third sector organisations, Karen joins the Upstart campaign from out with the education profession. Her experiences, both personal and through work have opened her eyes to the lack of free play available for so many children from a variety of family backgrounds and a general lack of understanding from parents of what play can offer in terms of both short term and long term benefits. As a mother of two young children now herself, Karen can see first hand that children are born to play and develop exclusively through it until a more structured environment is imposed on them. She’s excited to play a part in working towards extending the time where children can learn through play for as long as possible.


Claire Hudson, Aberdeen

Claire-Hudson-photo-1Having spent many years working as a project manager in the NHS, a career change has found me working as a Forest School Leader in playgroups, schools and the woods of Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire, primarily with early years children.  I am passionate about the UpStart campaign, and its efforts to not only introduce a kindergarten stage, but also to ensure more outdoor play and a focus on social and emotional development.


Kim Bannister, Dumfries and Galloway

kim_bOwner and Manager of The Orchard Nature Nursery based in Dumfries. Since achieving her BA in Childhood Studies in 2008 and opening her own successful business in 2013, she has been passionate in providing children with real experiences, both indoors and out, where play takes over and the real learning begins.  Watching children grow through child led, risky play based experiences provides the proof this movement can make a difference to Scotland’s children.


Malcolm Baxter, Highland

After graduating in Melbourne, Malcolm trained and worked as a paediatrician in Australia, Yorkshire and the Highlands. Special areas of interest were developmental, social, and behavioural paediatrics, childhood disability and child protection. He was influenced by the writings of John Holt and Michael Rutter among many others. He has four children and six grandchildren.


Yvonne Fraser, Highland

YvonneCurrently primary teaching in Highland. Yvonne worked for many years in Early Years Care and Education  and Support for Learning in mainstream (primary and secondary), undertaking SVQ III modules. She took the step to study BA Child and Youth Studies at UHI and PGDE in Primary Education at Strathclyde University. She has a particular interest in the role of play in child development and believes a delay in formal schooling would lead to an increase in attainment levels and health and well being for all children.


Polly Cheer, Moray

PollyDelighted to be part of this campaign to change the experiences of our youngest children. She initially trained as a primary teacher and then had her own Montessori nursery school in Orkney. She then taught in Primary schools for children with additional needs across Glasgow. Her last job was as a Sure Start Children’s Centre Teacher across South Manchester which involved training in Reggio Emilia approaches and creativity. Looking forward to changing the future of education across Scotland!


Ali Laver, Shetland

Ali is a primary teacher who is currently full time ‘at home’ with her two children, 4 and 2 years old. As a teacher, Ali experienced the limitations of starting formal learning with 4 and 5 year olds, which made her question the current set up. This led to research into other systems of education, and she has developed a keen interest in outdoor learning, the ethos of forest school and the importance of play. Ali was incredibly relieved and excited to discover Upstart Scotland and believes passionately that introducing a kindergarten style approach to early years education would be wonderfully beneficial to our children in Scotland.


Chris Orr, Inverclyde

I am an Early Years Practitioner who works at an Integrated Children’s Centre In Greenock. I have a passion for play, creativity, the arts and children’s rights. I feel as though I have an excellent understanding of what children need for healthy growth and development. This has come from a mix of my profession, bringing up my 3 children and the recent completion of the BA in Childhood Practice at Strathclyde University. While studying towards this degree and through professional dialogue with my fellow students, it became apparent that we seem to be losing the value and importance that is attached to play and the learning that can come from it. Its great to be part of the Upstart campaign and I feel we have to change our early years practice to help close the achievement gap as we work towards making Scotland’s Education System one of the best in the world.

Lindsey McLeod, Central Scotland

lindseymcleodLindsey has a background in careers guidance and development but also studied Forestry many moons ago. She lives near to a local community woodland in Doune in which a number of outdoor learning and play activities happen; this is what got her started in looking into kindergartens and the Upstart movement. Having recently become a Mum she is already noticing the value and necessity of play for her young son.  She would love to see Upstart succeed in its aims and change the future of education for all children in Scotland.